Kris Meeke upbeat despite letting victory slip away
Kris Meeke put on a brave face and talked about the positives he had gained, but there was no getting away from the fact that he had let the biggest win of his career slip from his grasp. Presented with the lead of Rally Deutschland with just three stages remaining, the Citroen driver from Dungannon crashed, hitting a wall in a Mosel Valley vineyard and tearing a wheel off the car.
He said the accident was the result of "an over optimistic" pacenote but it proved an enormously costly mistake, not just for Meeke, but for Citroen who had their hopes of an unlikely 12th successive German win raised then dashed.
Initially the former Intercontinental Challenge champion had been in his almost customary third place, best of the rest behind the all-conquering Volkswagens of Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala before the unthinkable happened – World champion Ogier crashed. Not once but twice.
Throughout the Saturday leg Meeke tracked leader Latvala while fighting off the determined challenge of Hyundai's Thierry Neuville. He looked to have gained the upper hand when he beat the Belgian on the final two stages to carry a 4.5 second advantage into yesterday's final leg.
Latvala was 55 seconds in front and out of reach but Meeke's highest ever WRC finish was the target. Then it all changed on the first of the final four stages when the Finn, inexplicably, flew off the road and out of the rally.
Meeke, fastest on the stage, found himself in the lead with his advantage over Neuville extended to eight seconds. He was, it seemed, on the brink of his maiden WRC win, the first by a Briton in over a dozen years.
But the euphoria lasted little more than a mile into stage 16 of 18. In the damp, slippery early morning conditions the DS3 Citroen skated wide into a wall, reportedly ripping a wheel off.
"It might look like I got nervous and dropped the ball but that wasn't the case," explained Meeke. "It didn't change the approach I had adopted throughout the rally.
"I was still driving at my own rhythm, not taking chances, but unfortunately the pacenote I had made was over optimistic in the conditions and I went in too fast. We hit the wall and the damage was too bad to continue.
"I'm gutted for the team, for myself and everyone who has supported me but I have to look at the weekend as a whole, at the positives, and this will make me stronger."
Meeke's exit handed a first victory to Neuville and the new Hyundai team; indeed, they make it a one-two with Dani Sordo second ahead of the VW of Andreas Mikkelsen.
Alastair Fisher finished 22nd and fourth in the Junior WRC category in his Citroen.