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Meeke fighting at the front in close Argentina battle

 

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke is locked in a tight fight at the top of the leaderboard after day one of a rough, dusty Rally Argentina.

The Dungannon driver, who won his first World Championship rally in Argentina in 2015, was in second place, just over 11 seconds off the lead in his Citroen C3 after the first six stages. In the lead was Toyota's Ott Tanak, the young Estonian clawing his way to the front from ninth place after he hit a rock and spun on the first stage of the day.

World champion Sebastien Ogier was in third place, his Ford Fiesta three seconds behind Meeke with Hyundai's Thierry Neuville fourth, four seconds further back as they headed into the repeat run through the morning loop of stages

Neuville's team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen had led after the first group of stages, just a second ahead of Tanak and three up on Meeke. But the Norwegian's Hyundai suffered a puncture on the first stage after the service break and he fell back to eighth, 40 seconds off the pace.

In puncture trouble, too, was former Circuit of Ireland winner Esapekka Lappi, his Toyota slipping back to ninth.

Their problems allowed Meeke's Citroen team-mate Craig Breen to move into the top six, seven seconds behind the Hyundai of Dani Sordo. He had struggled initially to see through the clouds of thick dust kicked up by the cars running ahead of him but light winds in the afternoon helped to ease the problem.

Waterford-born Breen is, of course, a former winner of Motorsport Ireland's Billy Coleman Award and used the £40,000 bursary to further his career in the early days. The current recipient of the award is Co Derry's British Junior champion Callum Devine who is contesting this year's World Junior Championship.

However, this weekend Devine returns to the British series to lead a strong contingent of young Irish drivers in the first round of the 2018 BRC Junior Championship on the Pirelli International which starts from Carlisle this morning. He has taken his little R2T Ford Fiesta to the event to stay sharp ahead of the next round of the JWRC series in Portugal.

Looking to emulate Devine is another Ulster youngster, William Creighton, who only lost out in a last round shoot-out in 2017. They are joined in the junior line-up by Marty Gallagher, Josh McErlean, James Wilson and Johnnie Mulholland.

Belfast Telegraph

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