Kris Meeke put his competitive instincts to one side on the Rally of Spain — until the final stage, that is.
Having “kept his wise head on” to guide his Mini Countryman WRC to a steady fifth place, the former IRC champion from Dungannon moved up a gear on the televised Power Stage to set the fastest time and finish with a flourish.
With four retirements on his CV since moving up to the World Championship with the John Cooper works Mini team — largely down to mechanical issues — Meeke was under pressure to get to the end of the Spanish round of the series.
“I kept my wise head on and took no chances,” said Meeke. “Once we were caught up in the dust clouds kicked up by the cars in front on the gravel stages on Friday and lost touch with the leaders it was the only sensible thing to do.
“Those were the most difficult stages I’ve ever driven, especially the last one in the dark.
“I ended up in a kind of no-man’s land — too far behind to catch Sebastien Ogier’s Citreon in front before he retired but under no real threat from the Fords behind.”
But Meeke couldn’t resist the temptation to cut loose on the final Power Stage in which the top 10 cars run in reverse order for bonus points. Sixth to start, he set the quickest time but then had to wait on the “winner’s podium” as the final four drivers tried to dislodge him.
Team-mate Sordo tried and failed. So did the Ford pair of Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala. Even Citroen’s seven-times World champion Sebastien Loeb couldn’t topple him.
“Awesome — my first World championship stage win. In fact the first time I’ve done a Power Stage so I’ve got a 100% record,” laughed Meeke.
It did little, of course, to change the overall result which Loeb won to take an eight point lead into the last round, but Ford kept Hirvonen in contention for the World title by again dropping Latvala back behind his fellow Finn before the final stage.