Belfast Telegraph

Meeke misses out on podium but he plays team game as Tanak wins again

 

Charlie Eastwood
Charlie Eastwood

By Sammy Hamill

Disappointed to miss out on the podium place he probably deserved, Kris Meeke still played an important role for Toyota as team-mate Ott Tanak won Wales Rally GB for the first time.

And as Tanak's victory saw him increase his lead at the top off the drivers' standings to 28 points over World champion Sebastien Ogier, Meeke's fourth place helped Toyota close to within eighth points of Hyundai in the all-important manufacturers' title race with two rounds remaining.

The Andorra-based Ulsterman might have hoped for more when he led the rally through the first nine stages before Tanak edged in front by less than a second on the last of the Friday night stages.

But by then the situation for Meeke had changed. After Jari-Matti Latvala crashed heavily in the third of the Toyota entries, the pressure was on for him to put his "sensible head on" and contribute to the team's points total by ensuring he finished yesterday.

It meant abandoning his initial all-out attack mode in favour of a risk-free approach and even though it allowed Hyundai's Thierry Neuville and Ogier to move ahead as they pursued leader Tanak, it was still job done for Meeke and co-driver Seb Marshall.

Craig Breen fought back from a huge crash on Saturday - his Hyundai rolling five times - to finish in eighth place behind the Ford of Elfyn Evans, Andrea Mikkelsen's Hyundai and the Ford of Pontus Tidemand.

Teenager Kale Rovanpera won the WRC2 World title for Skoda in ninth place.

Meanwhile, Charlie Eastwood ended his run of second places in the World Endurance Championship with victory in Japan as the Belfast driver and his Aston Martin team-mates Salih Yoluc and Jonny Adam won the LMGTE/AM category in the six-hour race at the Fuji Speedway.

Having finished second four times last season, the TF Sports team dominated the GTE class in the second round of the WEC series, with Eastwood qualifying on pole position and taking over from Yoluc to build a commanding lead which allowed Adam to bring the car home with over a lap to spare.

"The race was perfect," said Eastwood. "Salih controlled the first stint and then I was able to bridge the gap to our rivals. A brilliant strategy call from the team put us in a great position.

"Taking victory in Fuji was amazing, I am delighted for the team that we were able to convert our pace into victory."

Fellow Ulsterman Andrew Watson finished eighth in GTE/Am with the Gulf Porsche team as Toyota scored a one-two success in the overall race.

• Video gamer Jon Armstrong failed in his bid to win the World eSports Rally Championship for a second time when he finished second to Frenchman Lohan Blanc in the final in Wales.

Blanc won a Hyundai car but Armstrong still came away with a Anonimo Militare Chrono WRC watch.

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