Meeke content with tricky start in Mexico
Kris Meeke declared himself "happy enough" after a solid start saw him in fifth place, just over 10 seconds off the lead, halfway through the first full day of Rally Mexico.
The opening leg featured two long gravel stages and Meeke, who had been third after the opening superspecial stage in the World Heritage city of Guanajuato on Thursday night, figured in the top six times in both to be the leading Toyota driver.
Fourth in the World championship after the first two rounds in Monte Carlo and Sweden, Mexico is just the Ulsterman's third rally with the TGR team and his first on gravel in their WRC Yaris.
It was Hyundai's Andreas Mikkelsen who set the pace, fractionally ahead of the Citroen of World champion Sebastien Ogier with Dani Sordo third in another Hyundai. Former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans was fourth for Ford, just a second ahead of Meeke who was followed by the second Toyota of Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi, the 205 Circuit of Ireland winner now with Citroen.
"Happy enough with my start," said Meeke, the Mexican winner in 2017, as his car was prepared for the second loop of stages late last night. "It's slippy and tricky in places and I tried to stay on the clean lines.
"I'm still learning the car obviously and this is a difficult rally with the high altitude and the heat but it's working well so far."
Meeke's team-mate Ott Tanak, the World championship leader, didn't enjoy such a smooth start. He missed the shakedown stage on Thursday when his Yaris stopped with an electronic fault and yesterday his position of first on the road saw him struggle to cope with the loose stones on top of the gravel surface.
The Rally Sweden winner was eighth.
Later runners, like Mikkelsen, Sordo and Evans, benefited from the cleaner road conditions to edge in front although Ogier and Meeke, starting third and fourth respectively, kept themselves in the fight.
Not so Thierry Neuville. The Hyundai team leader lost over 20 seconds with a puncture on the first stage of the day and was back in ninth place.
"Tanak had pulled a rock out into the road and I couldn't avoid it," said the Belgian who started the rally second in the championship.
After service, the crews headed out for a further four stages which includes re-runs of the signature El Chocolate and Ortega.