Belfast Telegraph

Meeke eyes Mexican glory minus repeat of any parking lot drama

 

By Sammy Hamill

It was the most heart-stopping finish ever to a World championship rally and has been viewed more than half-a-million times on YouTube.

It left Kris Meeke shaking with emotion, unsure whether to laugh or cry.

But it was alright in the end, Meeke winning Rally Mexico despite an unplanned trip through a car park on the final stage.

Leading by 37 seconds, Meeke only had to safely negotiate the last stage for his fourth WRC victory. But then dramatic TV pictures showed his Citroen flying off the road, over a ditch and into a parking area.

The cameras followed the C3 as Meeke weaved his way past spectator's cars and hospitality tents, co-driver Paul Nagle shouting and pointing, before they emerged back through the hedge and onwards to the finish line.

"I was a lucky boy," the Ulsterman admitted afterwards. "It was certainly one way to finish a rally but we didn't need that.

"I wasn't pushing hard but, after a jump near the end of the stage, the car hit a sharp bump and took off. I was in the hands of God.

"I finally made my way between the cars but had punctured the front left tyre. When I crossed the line, I didn't know whether I had won or not."

He had, by a reduced margin of 13 seconds, earning himself the accolade of the WRC's 'Moment of the Year', but it is not an experience he wants to repeat as he prepares to start the 2018 version of Rally Mexico from Leon tonight with nine-times World champion Sebastien Loeb as his team-mate.

"I would settle for the same result but without the drama," he laughs. "With a rally like Mexico, you never know, it's very unpredictable.

"It is a rally I like, similar to Spain, but the high altitude can take its toll on the cars. It makes it harder for the engines to breathe so you don't have full power which means keeping your driving as clean as possible.

"It worked last year - just - and I'm optimistic, especially given we have a good starting position, seventh on the road, and it will be important to take advantage of that on the first day."

After a strong start to the 2018 series with fourth place in Monte Carlo, Meeke failed to score in Sweden where the engine was damaged after he slid into a snowbank.

But despite Citroen team regular Craig Breen achieving a career-best second place, he was controversially left out for Mexico to make way for the return of Loeb - one of three events the grand master will do this season.

He is a six-time Mexican winner but he has been away from the WRC for five years, a period which has seen a raft of new winners like current championship leader Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak, Andreas Mikkelsen, Meeke and especially Sebastien Ogier, the five times champion who sits second in the series.

All eyes will be on Loeb as he tries to turn back time to the glory days when he was the record-breaking king of the road.

Belfast Telegraph

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