Meeke is in the driving seat for Finland success
He may have been missing from the World championship for over two months but Kris Meeke picked up where he left off in Portugal and dominated the opening leg of Rally Finland.
Last night, the Ulsterman and his Killarney co-driver Paul Nagle had built up a lead of 20 seconds in their Abu Dhabi team Citroen DS3 as they headed into the short Harju street stage to conclude a successful first day.
They took the lead on the first of the rollercoaster gravel stages yesterday morning and increased their advantage through the 10 stages, setting four fastest times as they edged clear of the Volkswagen Polo of last year's winner Jari-Matti Latvala.
Like when he won in Portugal, Meeke - who has spent the last two months focusing on the development of Citroen's 2017 car - insisted he was "driving my own rally".
"I'm driving at my own pace and feel comfortable but there is a long way to go and it will be a challenge to keep Latvala at bay on his home stages," Meeke said.
World champion Sebastien Ogier had been in third place but he made a rare mistake late in the day, his VW sliding off the road at a hairpin and getting stuck for over 15 minutes. Hyundai's Thierry Neuville moved up to third, 46 seconds behind Meeke.
Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth in the third of the VWs but he was just five seconds in front of Meeke's team-mate Craig Breen, the Circuit of Ireland winner enjoying an outstanding run in just his third appearance with the Citroen team.
"I'm so, so happy," said Breen afterwards. "I struggled a little bit on the second pass through the afternoon stages when the roads had cut up but it was a mega day for me."
There was disappointment for Fermanagh's Jon Armstrong who had been fourth in the DMACK Trophy category but rolled his Ford Fiesta on the fifth stage yesterday.