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Meeke has Dakar finish in his sights after strong day in the desert

 

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Dust up: Kris Meeke’s Zephyr buggy kicks up a sand storm

Dust up: Kris Meeke’s Zephyr buggy kicks up a sand storm

Dust up: Kris Meeke’s Zephyr buggy kicks up a sand storm

Kris Meeke's persistence is paying off and he is now just one day away from completing his first Dakar Rally.

This marathon two-week trek across the Saudi Arabian deserts, covering close to 4000 miles, has cost him days of frustration and more than 60 hours in penalties, but the World Championship rally winner from Dungannon has refused to give up despite continuous mechanical issues with his Abu Dhabi Racing Zephyr buggy.

He has mixed three stage wins with having to be towed out of the desert four times, and yesterday was one of those days which have made him all the more determined to come back and try again next year.

Meeke and navigator Wouter Rosegaar were at the front of the lightweight category field through the first half of the long Al-Ula to Yanbu stage, fighting for the lead with American teenager Seth Quintero.

They lost time towards the end, eventually finishing 18 minutes behind the 18-year-old Red Bull USA driver, who had been the class leader for several days before he, too, hit mechanical problems.

He won the T3 prototype class again yesterday - with Meeke in second - but Czech driver Josef Machacek finished sixth to stay in the lead.

Mansour al-Helei, who is being navigated by Bangor man Michael Orr, was 10th on the stage and sixth overall going into the final day, which sees Stefane Peterhansel lead the rally outright by 15 minutes from Nasser al-Attiyah.

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Peterhansel, who has already won the rally 13 times, conceded less than two minutes in finishing second on the stage in his X-Raid Mini behind Al-Attiyah's Toyota. Carlos Sainz was third in the second of the Minis but is more than an hour adrift of his team-mate.

Today's final stage takes the surviving crews along the Red Sea coastal sand dunes to the finish in Jeddah.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed the Arctic Rally will replace Rally Sweden in this year's World Championship and that's good news for Craig Breen.

He misses out on next week's opening round, the Monte Carlo Rally, but was scheduled to join the Hyundai team for Sweden which has been cancelled because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

Now the Irish driver is expected to join World champion Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville in the Hyundai line up for the February 26/28 snow event.


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