Meeke finally loses his fight to stay in front
Kris Meeke fought long and hard to hold onto the lead of Wales Rally GB but finally had to give way to his Toyota team-mate Ott Tanak on the last of the Friday stages.
As darkness descended on the Welsh forests last night, World Championship leader Tanak edged in front but Meeke continued to keep the two other title contenders, Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville, at bay. It was, however, so very tight with just eight seconds covering the top four positions.
Meeke had led the rally from the opening stage at Oulton Park race circuit on Thursday night and the Dungannon driver continued to resist all challengers as the action switched to the wet, muddy, slippery forest stages yesterday.
The Championship front-runners were all queued up behind, Hyundai's Neuville, Citroen's world champion Ogier and team-mate Tanak hounding him and co-driver Seb Marshall throughout the morning loop and into the afternoon.
By then Meeke (below) had extra pressure thrust on him when the third member of the Toyota team, Jari-Matti Latvala, crashed heavily, making it imperative he finishes tomorrow to support their manufacturers' Championship bid.
Latvala's accident caused a delay to the schedule and it was only when Tanak got the advantage of being first on the road and the only driver to tackle the penultimate stage in daylight that the Estonian shot from fourth to second, closing to less than a second behind Meeke.
The final stage of the day was in full darkness for everyone but again it was Tanak who set the pace, five seconds faster than Meeke to take the overall lead. And Ogier slipped into third place by two-tenths of a second as Meeke concentrated on playing the team game to ensure he was in the mix to resume the fight for points on day two.
Craig Breen had been as high as fifth on his second appearance for the Hyundai team but lost ground over the two night stages, dropping behind team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen and falling over half a minute off the lead. Elfyn Evans, the 2017 GB winner, was fighting back after damaging the suspension of his Ford Fiesta on the second stage of the day and last night he was up to eighth place.
There was disappointment for Josh McErlean, who was making his WRC debut in an R5 Hyundai as reward for winning the British Junior title. The 20-year-old from Kilrea belied his lack of experience to sit seventh in WRC2 and 24th overall after the morning loop but was forced to retire immediately after the lunch service break with a mechanical issue.