Breen in fight with the Finns as Meeke struggles
If the Citroen hierarchy thought dropping Kris Meeke from the team in Poland would “re-charge his batteries” for Rally Finland it was a tactic which is failing miserably.
On a day when Craig Breen took the fight to the home-grown Finns, Meeke struggled and admitted he was low on confidence in himself and his car.
“I’m hesitating and if you hesitate on this rally you are gone,” said the Dungannon driver as he slumped to ninth place at the end of yesterday’s first leg.
Team-mate Breen was fourth but for most of the leg he had been in the top three, battling with a quartet of Finns including Esapekka Lappi and Juho Hanninen who, like himself, are former Circuit of Ireland winners.
Now driving for Toyota, it was Lappi who led his first World Championship rally from team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Teemu Suninen with Hanninen fifth. Breen lost ground after damage to the suspension of his C3 Citroen following a heavy landing off one of the countless jumps and his launch control system failing towards the end.
But he continued to battle with the Finns, targeting a repeat of his podium finish last year as Meeke, who won in such stunning style last year, drifted further down the leaderboard.
He had talked before the rally of his confidence being eroded by a lack of support from “some elements” in the Citroen team but still responded by setting the fastest time in Thursday’s shakedown stage.
It didn’t last, however, and yesterday his usual full commitment was missing and he explained: “I can’t trust the grip and when you start to hesitate it quickly unravels. What can I do? I don’t know. What I can’t do is put it in the trees.”
His troubles increased when he clipped a rock which bent the steering and he had to nurse the car through the final three stages, dropping from seventh to ninth despite Ford’s World champion Sebastien Ogier being an early casualty along with Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon.
The Fords of Mads Ostberg and Elfyn Evans were sixth and seventh ahead of the Hyundai of Thierry Neuville.
Meanwhile, a partnership which won the Irish Tarmac Championship back in the nineties is back together again today on the Tyrone Stages Rally.
Kenny McKinstry is re-united with his old co-driver Robbie Philpott for the Cookstown Club’s round of the Northern Ireland Championship.
They won the Tarmac title in 1991 and ’94 before Philpott, who also won the Circuit of Ireland in 1996 with Stephen Finlay, moved to the Far East to pursue his business interests. He and McKinstry last teamed up on the Dogleap Rally in 2009, finishing second.
Today they start the Tyrone Stages at No.2 in a McKinstry Motorsport S14 Subaru, part of a 100-strong line-up which includes current Northern Ireland champion Derek McGarrity and last year’s Cookstown winner Peadar Hurson.