Belfast Telegraph

Meeke forced out in Argentina

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke was forced to retire in the closing stages of Rally Argentina as Skoda rivals Juho Hanninen, Guy Wilks and Jan Kopecky filled the top three places.

A winner in Brazil a fortnight ago, Meeke set fastest time on the Friday night superspecial stage to lead the rally but on Saturday he quickly dropped back to second behind Hanninen when a gearbox sensor failed, resulting in the engine cutting out at frequent intervals.

It got worse in the afternoon when Meeke made a bad tyre choice — “I made the call and it was wrong,” he said — and he was overhauled by his big British rival Wilks.

Rubbing salt into the wound was a puncture on the final stage of the day which dropped him to 51 seconds behind leader Hanninen, 20 adrift of Wilks.

But these problems were just a prelude to a disastrous final leg yesterday when his S2000 Peugeot mysteriously lost power. Dropping over 20 seconds a stage to the two front runners, he began to fall back perilously close to fourth placed Kopecky.

Initially he thought it was another sensor problem but the mystery deepened when he returned to service in Carlos Paz and an analysis of the engine data by his Kronos engineers concluded all was working fine.

They eventually ‘guessed’ it was being caused by thin air — yesterday’s stages were at a higher altitude — and heavy atmospheric pressure caused by an approaching storm.

They re-mapped the engine management system and, with fingers crossed, sent Meeke back out to defend a 26-second advantage over Kopecky. It worked — up to a point. Meeke was able to keep the fast-finishing Czech at bay until the steering broke on the penultimate stage.

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