Belfast Telegraph

Meeke defies his critics and stands tall to score dominant Spanish win

 

By Sammy Hamill

"It's not how many times you get knocked down that matters, it's how many times you get back up again. I've been down a few times in my career but I'm still standing."

Now Kris Meeke is standing tall again after a stunning Rally Catalunya victory which showed his resilience and fighting spirit in the face of a season of disappointments and disasters.

Yes, Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle won in Mexico back in the Spring but it all spiralled downhill from there, leading to them being dropped from the team for Rally Poland.

A crash on the opening spectator stage of Rally Deutschland was the lowest of a series of low points, even threatening their future with the Abu Dhabi Citroen team.

But the World Championship's six-week break transformed Meeke. Helped by the introduction of a new technical director, Christophe Besse, and trust in the troublesome C3 WRC on tarmac, he was the old Meeke in Spain - calm and confident.

In a close-up third place after the initial group of gravel stages on Friday - the C3's Achilles heel - he shot to the front when the rally switched to tarmac on Saturday morning and coolly held off the challenge mounted by the M-Sport Fords of world champion Sebastien Ogier and his Estonian team-mate Ott Tanak.

Indeed, such was Meeke's soaring confidence that, with a 13-second advantage starting yesterday's final leg, he stepped up the pace and rattled off five straight fastest times to extend the gap to almost half a minute.

He even finished with the second quickest time on the final Power Stage, climbing on to the roof of the car to celebrate before jumping down to hug his little daughters Alexandra and Isabella who had travelled down to their first rally with their mother Danielle from their home in Andorra. Meeke described it as "a very special win - not just for myself but the team as well. It has been an exceptional weekend."

Ogier's second place, five seconds ahead of Tanak, extended his lead over Hyundai's Thierry Neuville at the top of the WRC standing as he bids for a fifth successive world title.

It proved to be a disastrous rally for the Hyundai team with Neuville going out from fifth place yesterday after breaking the steering of his i20. On Saturday, Andreas Mikkelsen, who had led through the gravel stages on Friday, and Dani Sordo, in second place behind Meeke, both hit the same concrete drain cover on the penultimate Saturday stage, breaking the suspension.

Former Circuit of Ireland winner Juho Hanninen finished fourth for Toyota but his team-mate Esapekka Lappi, another Circuit winner, crashed out yesterday as Mads Ostberg (Ford) and Stephane Lefebvre in the second Citroen completed the top six. Lefebvre was almost three minutes behind Meeke.

Further back Jon Armstrong finished 23rd overall, ninth in the WRC2 division in his DMACK Fiesta R5 after punctures on the first two stages and then losing his power steering.

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