KRIS Meeke put his reputation on the line and came through with flying colours in the Orchard Motorsport Lurgan Park Rally.
The former Intercontinental Challenge champion confessed he could have ended up with egg on his face if, like so many top ranked drivers in the past, he had been caught out by the notoriously tricky and treacherous lanes of the town centre park.
But in a performance which oozed class and professionalism he dusted himself down from six months on the World championship sidelines to steer a McGeehan Motorsport Mini WRC to a comprehensive victory over Kenny McKinstry and Garry Jennings.
“It would have been easy to embarrass myself, especially with the conditions changing virtually every stage, but it was awesome to be back on the pedals again,” he said. “I’ve really missed the buzz.”
There were a few raised eyebrows when Meeke was beaten on the opening stage by Derek McGarrity in a sister Mini, the five-times Circuit of Ireland winner nosing into the lead by just over a second, but he calmly explained it was just an early ‘sighter,’ saying: “You don’t win a rally on the first stage and I wanted to get a feel for the car and the grip level of the tyres.”
From there he took off, setting fastest times on all of the remaining seven stages to pull himself clear of the chasing pack.
McGarrity dropped away with a couple of errors which resulted in the radiator of his Mini having to be replaced and it was 11-times winner McKinstry who emerged as the man to keep Meeke honest.
“When you are up against Kris Meeke, being best of the rest isn’t bad,” he said.
Showman of the day was Donegal International winner Jennings who abandoned all caution to slalom his way to third in his aging Subaru 555, three seconds ahead of a recovering McGarrity.
Northern Ireland’s youngest champion Stuart Biggerstaff, entrusted with his dad Denis’ British rallycross title-winning Metro 6R4 from two decades ago, mastered the treacherous conditions to keep it intact and take seventh place with Danny O’Carroll, one of Mrs Brown’s Boys, along for the ride.
Circuit of Ireland record-breaker Jimmy McRae won an all-Escort battle in the historic category.