Kris Meeke takes it to the Mex with heart-stopping late drama
Only Kris Meeke! Only Meeke could take a detour through a car park with a World Championship victory within his grasp - and still win.
And win he did even if he blew most of his 40 second lead on the final Power Stage of Rally Mexico with a heart-stopping moment which saw his C3 Citroen fly off the road close to the finish.
Dodging spectator cars and skirting hospitality tents, he steered his way back to the road and on over the finish line shaking his head in disbelief.
"I'm a lucky boy. A lucky, lucky boy,' he admitted. '"I got caught out by a bump and off we went. I managed to find a way out through the parked cars and a through a gap in the hedge. It's a hell of a way to end a rally."
But in the end he silenced the critics with a stunning victory to thrust himself back into the race for the 2017 World title. Leader from the moment they hit the high altitude gravel stages in central Mexico on Friday morning, Meeke remained solidly in front, eventually bringing his C3 Citroen back to Leon last night with a 13 second winning margin over the Ford Fiesta of World champion Sebastien Ogier.
After worrying performances in Monte Carlo and Sweden, it was confirmation that Citroen's new C3 is a title contender. "More than anything I'm pleased to have been able to show the potential of the car. I knew we hadn't done a bad job - it was just we got our preparations wrong for the conditions in the first two rounds," he said.
Meeke was pleased, too, he was able to go head-to-head with serial winner Ogier through the Saturday stages, on equal terms, and beat him; indeed it was the champion who cracked, his spin on stage 13 allowing the Dungannon driver to double the lead to 40 seconds.
Having won the battle Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle were expected to ease back and consolidate their position but, instead, the final stage had the Citroen team, and Ogier, gasping in astonishment as the C3 skirted with disaster.
Behind Ogier, Hyundai's Thierry Neuville was third with Ott Tanak (Ford) fourth, Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) fifth and Rally Sweden winner Jari-Matti Latvala sixth for Toyota.
Meanwhile, Derek McGarrity returned to the top of the NI championship with a start-to-finish win in the Bishopscourt Rally. Second behind Jonny Greer on the opening round in an R5 Ford Fiesta, McGarrity switched to a WRC version for Saturday's second round and won by a comfortable 24-second margin from the WRC Mini of Derek McGeehan.