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Meeke's struggles in desert continue after strong start



Kris Meeke

Kris Meeke

Kris Meeke

It was another troubled day for Kris Meeke in the sand hills of Saudi Arabia on the longest stage of the Dakar Rally.

After the Saturday rest day, the Dungannon driver started the second week strongly on the Ha'il to Sakak leg - 457 miles in total, 280 timed against the clock - and led the T3 lightweight prototype class in his PH Sport Zephyr buggy.

But the mechanical issues which have plagued the Zephyr from the start intervened again and he fell steadily back, finishing some 90 minutes behind the T3 stage winner Cristina Gutierrez of the American Red Bull team.

However, she remains almost two hours behind the class leader Seth Quintero, her 18-year-old team-mate who finished less than a minute behind.

Meeke won the opening prologue stage on his Dakar debut, but has been dogged with trouble ever since his buggy caught fire last Monday, the exhaust igniting a spare tyre which then burned out the electrics. Three times he and co-driver Wouter Rosegaar have been left stranded in the desert for hours, although they did win the fourth stage on Thursday.

With huge penalties imposed, it has all resulted in them being an incredible 80 hours behind leader Quintero, although amazingly not in last place such are the time deficits on the Dakar.

Yesterday's leg was part of a double header which today saw the crews head into the Sakaka to Neom section without the back-up of their service teams. Any repairs had to be carried out in the bivouac by the competitors themselves.

Up at the front of the rally, Dakar master Stefane Peterhansel increased his lead over Nasser Al-Attiyah to around eight minutes, the French 13-times winner finishing second in his X-Raid Mini ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz who is some 40 minutes behind after navigational problems last week.

The stage was won by the Toyota Hilux of Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi who has been regularly partnered in the World Championship in the past by Bangor co-driver Michael Orr.

This year Orr is navigating Mansour El Helei under the same Abu Dhabi Racing banner as Meeke and they are 30th in the lightweight category.

Former bike winner Cyril Desprès, Meeke's Andorra neighbour who has been largely responsible for getting the Ulsterman involved, was seventh yesterday in another of the Abu Dhabi cars, a Peugeot 3008DKR, 17 minutes behind Al Rajhi.

Belfast Telegraph

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