Belfast Telegraph

Masterful Meeke cruises to second victory in Worlds

By Sammy Hamill

A cool, composed Kris Meeke drove over the finish line of Rally Portugal to secure his second World Championship victory by a comfortable margin of nearly half a minute.

In contrast to his first win in Argentina last year, when his emotions came close to boiling over, the Dungannon driver was calm and matter-of-fact.

Sure he was happy - more like ecstatic - but he took it in his stride.

This win was his from Friday morning and he never looked like letting it slip from his grasp despite being chased by World champion Sebastien Ogier and his Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen.

As he climbed onto the roof of his Team Abu Dhabi Citroen DS3 at the end of the final Fafe Power Stage, celebrating with co-driver Paul Nagle, Meeke knew this was the most significant win of his career.

The Northern Ireland had controlled the rally virtually from start to finish, making the most of running further back in the pack than Ogier to set a string of fastest times.

"Nearly perfect, a textbook rally," he called it as he hugged his brother Barry and shook hands with a spectating FIA president Jean Todt.

"Huge thanks team, they did a superb job and this shows the DS3 is still a great car," the Dungannon man added.

Officially Meeke is not contesting the World Championship this year, Citroen electing to take a gap year to concentrate on the development of their new C3 car for 2017.

It was just his third rally of the season, his first in three months, and his appearance in Portugal was, he said, all about keeping a competitive edge.

His focus - 'the big picture' as he calls it - has been on the new car but Meeke stepped back into the 'old' DS3 like he had never been away, taking the lead on the first gravel stage on Friday and steadily building an advantage over Ogier.

Just over 30 seconds ahead by Friday evening, he stretched the gap to over a minute on Saturday morning before adopting a safety first approach in the afternoon, minimising the risk of a catastrophic loss of time through punctures by taking two spare wheels and having his engineers raise the suspension of his Citroen to cope with the increasingly rutted forest roads.

Meeke knew it would cost him valuable seconds but he was so in control he was confident he could manage the situation. Which is what he did, allowing Ogier and Mikkelsen to narrow the gap by 18 seconds but maintaining a healthy 45 seconds advantage going into yesterday's final four stages.

And he managed the risks yesterday, letting Ogier and Mikkelsen fight it out between them for second place.

The Norwegian edged it by just a handful of seconds, but they were still half-a-minute behind the dominant Meeke who took everything they could throw at him and chalked up World Rally Championship victory number two.

And further down the finishers, Dani Sordo came home in fourth place for Hyundai, with Ford's young Frenchman Eric Camilli in fifth and Jari-Matti Latvala sixth in the third Volkswagen.

Belfast Telegraph


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