Kris Meeke sacked by Citroen after latest crash in Portugal
Kris Meeke has been dropped from the Citroen line-up for the rest of this year's World Rally Championship.
In a sensational move, the French team have cited "an excessively high number of crashes" for axing the Ulsterman and his Kerry co-driver Paul Nagle.
Meeke was airlifted to hospital for precautionary checks after a violent accident on Rally Portugal at the weekend, a rally he won in 2016 and which he led again until he was delayed by two punctures at the end of the first leg.
He and Nagle were due to contest Rally Italia in Sardinia in two weeks' time but Citroen will now field just two cars for Craig Breen and Mads Ostberg.
Citroen team principal Pierre Budar said Meeke's accidents meant he had decided to change the line-up on "safety" grounds.
"This wasn't an easy decision to make because it affects a driver and a co-driver, but it is largely founded on safety issues which come under my preoccupations as team principal," said Budar.
"We have consequently chosen to make this decision as a preventive measure."
The Citroen statement announcing Meeke's departure underlined that he was being dropped "due to an excessively high number of crashes, some of which were particularly heavy and could have had serious consequences with regard to the crew's safety" and added that the risks Meeke took "were unjustified by the sporting stakes at play".
The decision came out of the blue, apparently even catching Meeke unaware.
Little more than an hour before Citroen released their statement, he had written on Facebook: "So Portugal's over now, and we're already looking forward to Sardinia in a couple of weeks. Our starting position should help us again and we've a pre-event test coming up where I know the Citroen Racing team will be able to try a few more ideas on set-up, having learned more on the car last weekend.
"It'll be good to put those changes and improvements into practice, and I'm optimistic that we'll be able to give our season fresh momentum again as we head into summer."
Meeke made his Citroen debut back in 2013 and has won five World Championship rallies, including Rally Finland with a record-breaking performance in 2016.
But while he is considered one of the fastest drivers in the championship, his career has been pockmarked by numerous accidents, including two in Argentina last year, one of which saw his C3 Citroen roll multiple times.
He is eighth in this year's points standings with a best finish of third in Mexico, a rally he won in 2017. He is more than 60 behind the current leader, Hyundai's Thierry Neuville.
Meeke won the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2009 driving for Citroen's sister company Peugeot before moving to the World Championship with the new Prodrive Mini team. But it folded before the start of the 2012 season and he was recruited by the then Citroen boss Yves Matton as a test and development driver.
He has been with the team ever since, although the relationship has not always run smoothly and last June he was dropped for Rally Poland, Matton saying he needed time to regain his confidence.
Meeke has also criticised the team at times for their lack of support but, ironically, was full of praise for the changes made to the often troublesome C3 WRC ahead of Rally Portugal.
But the huge accident has brought things to a head, with Budar admitting he thought Meeke and Nagle must be seriously injured as he watched them crash into trees at more than 80mph last Saturday.
However, they both climbed unaided from the wrecked car, although Meeke was flown to hospital in Porto as a precaution. He was released later that evening.
His present three-year contract was due to run out at the end of this season.
Meeke lives in Andorra with his wife Danielle and young daughters Isabella and Alexandra. Last night his phone was switched off.
Citroen will announce a revised driver plan shortly.
Belfast Telegraph Digital