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Meeke's Portugal challenge goes flat

 

By Sammy Hamill

In a bizarre ending to a dramatic opening leg of Rally Portugal, Kris Meeke finished with just three tyres on his Citroen but still maintained a place in the top 10.

Twice the Dungannon driver led the fifth round of the World Championship but he was thwarted when his C3 Citroen suffered a puncture on the sixth stage, dropping him and co-driver Paul Nagle to fifth.

Meeke chose to complete two-thirds of the 18km stage on the flat wheel, dropping around 20 seconds to the new leader, Hyundai's Hayden Paddon.

With no spare wheel for the longest stage of the rally, the 27km of Ponte de Lima, he adopted a cautious approach but still climbed back to third - only to find another tyre had been damaged.

It meant Meeke had to complete the final two short street stages with no tyre on the left rear of his Citroen, costing him over a minute as he clattered round on the wheel rim. He dropped back to a provisional ninth place.

The drama, which had seen Rally Argentina winner Ott Tanak and his Toyota team-mate Jari Matti Latvala retire early on with damaged suspension, followed by the demise of World champion Sebastien Ogier who crashed his Ford Fiesta into trees on stage five, continued with the departure of Paddon.

The New Zealander crashed his Hyundai on stage seven, blocking the road and delaying the rally. Co-driver Seb Marshall was unhurt but Paddon was taken to hospital as a precaution.

Out too went Andreas Mikkelsen when his Hyundai suffered power steering failure.

Meanwhile, Craig Breen, in the second of the Citroen team's C3s, had been as high as third but he lost more than two minutes due to a puncture, electing to stop and change the wheel. He dropped back to eighth.

It all left Hyundai's Thierry Neuville in the lead, 15 seconds ahead of the Ford of Elfyn Evans with Dani Sordo up to third in his Hyundai.

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