Only sixth but Meeke has reason to smile again
It may not have been the result he had hoped for but Kris Meeke was still a happy man as he left Monte Carlo and headed back to his base in Andorra last night.
Two punctures, caused by broken wheel rims, cost the Dungannon driver dear but sixth place plus the bonus of five extra points from fastest time on the final power stage sees him sit fourth in the World Championship after his first appearance with the Toyota team.
And as Sebastien Ogier snatched a seventh Monte win in the Citroen Meeke used to drive, edging out Hyundai's Thierry Neuville on the last stage, the Ulsterman couldn't stop grinning.
"It's brilliant to be able to drive with a smile on my face again after the problems of the last 18 months," he declared. "I love my Yaris!"
Sacked by Citroen after crashing in Portugal last year, Meeke spent over eight months on the sidelines until he was thrown a career lifeline by Toyota boss Tommi Makinen. Now he is back with a new team, new car and a new co-driver, Seb Marshall, and he showed he still has the speed to be a title contender again.
The punctures cost him close to five minutes, spoiling all hopes of the podium finish he believes he might have achieved but for most of a tricky, at times treacherous, rally he kept pace with his precocious team-mate Ott Tanak who went on to finish third.
They ran one-two after the opening stage on Friday night but then both their hopes were deflated by punctures - one to Tanak, two to Meeke - and they fell out of the fight for victory.
A flurry of fastest times by the young Estonian took him on to the podium behind World champion Ogier and chief rival Neuville but Meeke had too much ground to make up although he was rarely out of the top five on every stage.
Then came the flying finish. "After our earlier problems I always had my eye on the power stage and the bonus points but we had to put it on the line when there was less than half a second between the rally leaders. So to come away with fastest time amid all of that was really nice," he said.
"I'm excited for the future and I'm finally smiling again, too! It seems that for once, the pieces in the puzzle could be falling into place at the right time."
Ogier, who grew up in the area around Gap, claimed another Monte win by just two seconds from Neuville with the Belgian's new team-mate, nine times champion Sebastien Loeb, fourth on his return the WRC series. Jari-Matti Latvala, the one Toyota driver to stay puncture-free, was fifth.