They punched in the second fastest time on the night’s opening stage despite a full 360 degree spin at a hairpin to finish just 4.1 seconds down on World champions Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (VW Polo WRC).
“Yeah, I lost about seven or eight seconds, but seven or eight seconds is not going to lose the rally,” said Meeke.
Then on 20.38km second stage the Irish pair posted a cracking time to move into a lead of 6.9 seconds over Ogier. Norway’s Andres Mikkelsen (VW Polo WRC) lies in third place 31.1 seconds further behind.
The Wexford/Waterford crew of Eamonn Boland/Mickey Joe Morrissey (Subaru) finished the opening stage in 36th place.
There are six stages today, five tomorrow and three on Sunday.
On the home front, Banbridge ace Kenny McKinstry heads the entry for tomorrow’s 500 MRCI’s New Year’s Stages Rally at Kirkistown.
The event provides competitors with the traditional shakedown for the Northern Ireland Championship that begins in a few weeks.
Fresh from his win on the Icebreaker Rally, McKinstry will compete in his S14 Subaru WRC.
Fellow multiple Northern Ireland champion Derek McGarrity is likely to drive a Ford Fiesta WRC. Others on the entry are George Robinson (Mitsubishi), Andrew Blair (Ford Escort), and Niall Creighton (Lotus Cortina). Run over six stages all within the confines of the County Down circuit, the event begins at 9am.
Elsewhere, tomorrow’s Garda Siochana Motor Club’s Sporting Trial is in Bohernabreena near Tallaght at 11am; the Donegal Navigation Trial that is based in Milford starts at 9pm. Sunday’s TDC multi-venue Autotest is at Mondello Park with a 9.30am start.
While the Circuit of Ireland will continue with Belfast as the host city, the organisers will base this year’s event at the King’s Hall complex in Balmoral.
The iconic Belfast landmark will house the rally headquarters and the service park.
Event director Bobby Willis explained the reason for the switch from the Titanic Quarter.
“Titanic has been a fantastic site for the past two years but with further development and new infrastructure at Titanic Quarter, it was necessary to move to a different location to acquire the space and accommodation needed for the 1,000 plus competitors and team personnel who will be based at the service park.”
The event takes place from April 6 to April 9 and is the third round of the European Rally Championship and counting rounds of the Irish Tarmac Championship, the British Rally Championship and the Northern Ireland Championship.
The awards ceremony for the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship and the Carbery Plastics Skibbereen and District Car Club Championship takes place at the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery tomorrow night.
Bandon’s Vincent McSweeney (Honda Civic) won the regional series that continues with the support of PlasticBags.ie for the 2016 season.
Hosted by the Skibbereen and District Car Club, double Irish rally champion Donagh Kelly and legendary motorsport commentator Dougie Hughes are the special guests.
Tyrone’s Alistair Fisher has been seeded at number one for next week’s Donegal Mini Stage Rally that will be based in Letterkenny.
1. K. Meeke/P. Nagle (Citroen DS3 WRC) 25m. 32.1s;2. S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (VW Polo WRC) 25m.39.0s; 3. A. Mikkelsen/A. Jaeger (VW Polo WRC) 25m. 52.1s; 4. T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 26m. 03.5s; 5. M. Ostberg/O. Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) 26m. 07.4s; 6. J. M. Latvala/M. Anttila (VW Polo WRC) 26m. 10.8s.