After enduring months of frustration, there was sheer relief for Dungannon’s Kris Meeke and his Killarney co-driver Paul Nagle as they clambered onto the bonnet of their Citroen C3WRC to celebrate victory in RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de Espana, round 11 of the World Rally Championship.
The duo were under immense pressure to deliver this much-needed win and, as he took a deep breath to savour the moment, Meeke said: “It’s been an exceptional weekend, probably it’s not so important how many times you’re knocked down, it’s more important how many times you stand up again.
“I’ve had to stand up a few times in my career, yeah, a special win.”
An equally delighted Paul Nagle added: “It’s been a difficult period for Kris and myself over the last number of rallies, but this weekend is something special. We were under massive pressure before the rally and we needed to put on a performance. When that car went on to Spanish tarmac yesterday we were away and to put in five fastest times today was incredible and a massive credit to the team. A lot of weight off our shoulders.”
Meeke/Nagle stayed in touch through Friday’s gravel stages and were only three seconds off the lead that was held by Hyundai debutant Andres Mikkelsen.
On Saturday’s opening stage (as the event switched to tarmac) Meeke moved into a lead that he was never to relinquish. By the midday service he was 13.5 seconds clear of the Fiesta WRC of Ott Tanak, who was a fraction of a second ahead of his M-Sport teammate and WRC leader Sebastien Ogier. Meeke controlled proceedings and ended the day 13 seconds ahead of Ogier. Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC) climbed back to fifth spot after an eventful day - the hydraulic system failed and he had to make repairs on a liaison section. His car failed to fire-up initially and a subsequent spin damaged the rear and he was penalised three minutes for arriving late at the next time control. Mikkelsen’s bid ended when he damaged the suspension of his Hyundai after cutting a corner and hitting a concrete block.
Yesterday, Meeke/Nagle were in superb form with five fastest stage times and second in the Power Stage. Ogier took second place – 28 seconds adrift and with Neuville retiring in a similar incident to Mikkelsen’s the previous day, Ogier has tightened his grip in the race for the championship. Ott Tanak delivered third for the M-Sport team, who have taken a huge step towards the Manufacturer’s title ahead of Rally GB later this month. Juha Hanninen (Toyota Yaris), who was fourth, boosted his chances of remaining with the Yazoo Racing outfit.
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