Kris Meeke feared he would risk the wrath of his Peugeot bosses if he had returned to the service halt leading the Ypres Rally after the opening trio of stages.
He had been fastest on the first stage of the Belgian round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge series — which he leads — but eased back on the next two to settle into second place, which is a full five seconds behind his Peugeot team-mate Freddie Loix.
“I surprised myself by being quickest on the first stage and realised I was probably pushing a bit too hard,” he said.
“It is my first time on this rally and its difficult to judge the pace.
“I backed off just a fraction on the next two.
“I knew I would be in trouble with my team boss Marc van Dalen if I came back in the lead”
Meeke has already won the two previous rounds of the IRC series, in Brazil and the Azores, but Peugeot are keen that he doesn’t get involved in a battle with local favourite Loix, a Belgian who has won the Ypres event five times.
Last night they were running in first and second places ahead of the Skoda Fabia of Czech driver Jan Kopecky.
The big threat that was expected to come from two more of Meeke’s big rivals, Francois Duval and Nicolas Vouilloz, was effectively over.
Former Ford and Citroen World championship driver Duval crashed his Skoda on the first stage and retired.
Vouilloz, the reigning IRC champion, also crashed his Peugeot on the first stage but continued with the loss of over two minutes.