Meeke cannot do the full Monte
The Monte Carlo Rally again proved a bridge too far for Kris Meeke.
In an incident so similar to 2009, he lost control of his Peugeot 207 on black ice approaching a bridge on the first stage of the second leg and smashed into the parapet, the car then sliding down a bank where it remained stranded.
Although the damage was much less severe than a year ago, and Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle were unhurt, the result was the same — their rally was over.
It was a calamitous error by the reigning Intercontinental Challenge champion who had driven carefully and strategically through the first leg to hold second place behind the Ford Fiesta of Mikko Hirvonen.
The Dungannon driver was 42 seconds down to the Finn, all of which he had lost when he became disorientated by the fog which cloaked parts of the massive 45kms second stage on Wednesday. He backed off rather than risk an accident but by the end of the day had emerged again as the closest challenger to World championship runner-up Hirvonen.
But then it all went wrong yesterday. A chastened Meeke explained: “I knew the right-hander at the bridge, I knew there was ice on it and I knew that Nicolas Vouilloz went off there last year.
“So I was careful and had all my big braking done early. Then I saw brake marks in front of me and thought everyone was going in way deeper than me. I came off the brakes a bit, got to the corner and hit the slushy black ice.
“I was five miles per hour too fast and there was nothing I could do. It was as if it happened in slow motion.
“The car wasn’t badly damaged but there was no way of getting it back up the bank.”
And he added candidly: “Everyone knows how easy it is to fall on your face on this rally and unfortunately that’s exactly what I did.”
Meeke’s exit left Hirvonen clear at the front and although he came under pressure from the Skoda of fellow Finn Juho Hanninen and the Peugeot of a recovering Sebastien Ogier, the Ford driver maintained his position at the front and led by 49 seconds after nine stages.
Guy Wilks was in sixth place and further back Irish privateers Eamonn Boland and Danny Barry were 21st and 27th respectively in their production Mitsubishis.
Meanwhile, Citroen, the dominant force in the World rally championship, are spreading their wings to Ireland’s premier rally series.
The French manufacturer will become the title sponsor of the 2010 Irish Tarmac championship which kicks off with the Galway International at the beginning of next month.