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Rally d’Italia: Great start for Meeke followed by a mini crisis

Elation quickly turned to despair for Kris Meeke and the new Mini team on the Rally d’Italia in Sardinia.

The Ulsterman made a stunning start to his first World championship rally as a member of the Mini team, setting the sixth fastest time on the first stage and then fourth on the second to take the new Countryman WRC car to fourth overall on its debut.

He was just 15 seconds behind Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen, 13 adrift of World champion Sebastien Loeb’s Citroen and 15 ahead of his Mini team-mate Dani Sordo.

Happy with his start, Meeke said: “This means we’re on the money with the car — but we’re here to judge it over the whole rally, not just the first couple of stages. I just wanted to play myself in.”

But on the third stage Meeke reported the throttle stuck open, sending the Mini sliding wide on a corner and into a rock which tore a wheel off.

The team planned to repair the damage overnight to allow Meeke to re-join under super-rally rules for day two.

Meanwhile, Loeb carried a 33-second lead into day two with Petter Solberg and his Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson second in their Citroen despite dropping more than half-a-minute when a turbo pipe came loose. Hirvonen was third.

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But there was more bad news for the Irish contingent in the WRC Academy section of the rally with both Alastair Fisher and Craig Breen retiring their Polish-prepared M-Sport Ford Fiestas with engine problems.


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