Pressure mounts on Meeke after Portugal crash
The harsh, dusty gravel roads of Sardinia have never been kind to Kris Meeke, so the prospects of him making amends for his disastrous late exit from Rally Portugal do not look promising as he prepares to start Rally Italia on the Mediterranean island tomorrow evening.
Meeke was on course to bring Toyota their first one-two finish of the season in Portugal two weeks ago until he spun his WRC Yaris on the penultimate stage and then broke the steering as he charged through the final Power Stage, ending his rally with the finish in sight.
These were damaging errors, costing Toyota crucial points as they battle to retain the all-important manufacturers' championship, which is currently being led by Hyundai.
However, Sardinia is unlikely to be Meeke's road to redemption judging by his past record there. True, he has usually been quick, and he led for Citroen in 2016 before crashing out, but that has mostly been the story of his past trips to the French island.
He was missing last year, of course, having been sacked by Citroen a week after his horrendous crash in Portugal. It was Tommi Makinen who threw him a lifeline with a Toyota contract for 2019 and, in general, was doing a good job, sitting fourth in the drivers' standings and contributing to the team's manufacturers' points haul.
But then came Meeke's Portuguese calamity, for which he offered no excuses.
"It was completely my mistake and I take full responsibility for it," he admitted afterwards. "I was gutted for the team because we had such a strong weekend. We were running one-two-three for more than half the rally, so it was really hard for everyone to take that we only ended up with one crew on the podium.
"I have to take some positives from Portugal and the fact that it was my strongest rally so far this year, running so high up throughout all three days. It didn't end well but we have to pick ourselves up and start again in Sardinia."
But it is a difficult rally, run on narrow rock-lined tracks where even small errors can have consequences. Not the easiest place for Meeke to get himself back in Toyota's good books.
Team-mate Ott Tanak made it back-to-back Chile and Portugal wins to move to second in the championship, two points behind world champion Sebastien Ogier, after deliberately slowing in the Portuguese Power Stage so as to avoid the bonus points which would have seen him lead the series and face being first to sweep the loose gravel off the Sardinian roads.
Hyundai's Thierry Neuville is third but Meeke has slipped back to fifth place behind Ford's former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans.
The rally is being based in Alghera and begins tomorrow night with a short show stage before the action begins in earnest on Friday morning.