Kris Meeke may have given the Citroen squad an almighty fright as he veered off stage and among parked cars of spectators towards the end of Rally Mexico on Sunday, but he also gave the French squad the win they had been expected to score since the start of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season.
Touted as the driver most likely to challenge Sebastien Ogier’s domination of the WRC, Meeke and Citroen had got off to anything but a stellar start to the season. A retirement in the opening round at Monte Carlo and a lowly 12th at Rally Sweden had left Meeke at the tail end of the championship standings. Two points thanks to fourth place in the Sweden power stage was the only saving grace.
But on the first gravel rally of the season, Meeke showed the speed and commitment that had allowed him to win Rally Finland last year and emerge as a legitimate challenger for WRC wins. Minus the hiccup at the end, Meeke steadily kept stretching his lead over four-time defending world champion Ogier until it swelled to over 40 seconds.
Part of that was down to Ogier spinning in his pursuit of the Northern Irishman but the Frenchman’s chase ultimately concluded with a 13.8 second deficit.
With Rally Sweden winner Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota struggling with engine overheating and brake issues, the Finn was never really able to mount a serious challenge for victory. In fact, he spent a lot of the first day of the event having to switch his Yaris WRC’s engine to the ‘road mode’, a setting used on transport sections, rather than the full rally mode that unleashes its full potential.
After falling as far down as ninth, Latvala ultimately finished sixth, but Ogier’s second place means that the M-Sport Ford driver retakes the drivers’ world championship lead by eight points over the factory Toyota driver.
RELIEF FOR HYUNDAI
Thierry Neuville took third place while Ogier’s M-Sport teammate Ott Tanak was fourth. Like Meeke, Neuville’s podium was a welcome relief for him and for Hyundai who lost the chance to score a win and at least a podium in Monte Carlo and Sweden, respectively due to retirements.
Neuville had previously taken first and third place in the power stages in Monte Carlo and Sweden and managed to win it in Mexico too. That helped bring his season points tally to 28, Just two points behind teammate Dani Sordo.
M-Sport Ford consolidated their lead in the manufacturers’ championship with 103 points as compared to 67 for second placed Toyota. Hyundai’s strong Rally Mexico outing sees the Korean auto giant just two points behind its Japanese rival with Citroen a further ten points adrift.
France is the next stop for the WRC with the Tour de Corse – Rallye de France being held from 7th to 9th April.