Confident Meeke and Nagle fired up for battle in Rally de Portugal after heroics in Argentina

Further to their maiden WRC win, the Irish duo of Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen DS3 WRC) tackle this weekend’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal, round five of the World Rally Championship, in confident mood. They are also expected to benefit from redefined aerodynamics on the front end and a new bumper and redesigned wings.

“I know we still have a lot to do in order to be competitive at all of the rallies, but the win has given us confidence,” said Meeke, who was victorious in Rally Argentina. “We’ll have to keep going and stick to our strategy. I’m not going to set myself any new goals. I just need to be very consistent and avoid making any mistakes. In Portugal, the revised route should help us to make up for our lack of experience. We’ll see what this round has in store.”

On last evening’s opening three-kilometre stage at the Lousada Rallycross circuit, Andreas Mikkelsen set the best time, 0.5 of a second in front of team-mate Sebastien Ogier with Jari Matti Latvala 0.3 seconds further behind in a VW top three. Meeke/Nagle were sixth quickest — 2.2 seconds off top spot. There are sixth stages today.

Away from his exploits in the European Rally Championship, Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen makes his second foray into this season’s WRC2 category. While he annexed second in the category in Monte Carlo, this weekend’s entry is considerably stronger but Breen is confident. “I know our package is proven on this terrain and although it’s a completely different rally this time than those I’ve competed on before, it’s totally new to everyone else too.”

French ace Stephane Lefebvre (Citroen) will be expected to mount a series challenge. Last year’s Junior WRC champion crashed during a test on Monday — at the exact location Keith Cronin’s hopes in WRC2 ended when he crashed his Citroen.

Category leader Jari Ketomaa (Ford Fiesta R5) will seek to extend his 19-point advantage. Esapekka Lappi will debut the Skoda Fabia R5.

Meanwhile, there are 15 crews involved in the FIA Junior WRC category. All on board Citroen DS3 R3-Max’s, Frenchman Quentin Gilbert, the present leader is likely to be the pacesetter along with German ace Christian Riedemann. Monaghan’s Daniel McKenna (28) and Galway’s Dean Raftery (23) represent the Irish challenge, with Raftery making his WRC debut.

Six-time rally winner Niall Maguire (Subaru WRC) is the top seed for Sunday’s nine-stage Hotel Kilmore Cavan Rally, round three of the Sligo Pallets Border Championship. The Monaghan man is not sure if he will actually compete, though. He has acquired the ex-Declan Boyle S12B Subaru WRC and may drive it in next week’s Circuit of Munster. In the meantime, opposition in Cavan will include Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings, who hasn’t competed since finishing second in the Abbeyleix Rally last February. Warrenpoint driver Peadar Hurson (Subaru WRC) should figure prominently. Others in the top five are PJ McDermott and Paddy McVeigh, also in Subaru WRCs. Cavan driver Chris Armstrong (Escort) heads the two-wheel drive category that includes the Escort duo Jonathan Pringle and Gary Kiernan along with David Moffett (Toyota Starlet) at his heels.

Cork racer Matt Griffin heads to Silverstone for the second round of the Blancpain Endurance Series which has some 63 cars on the grid. A month ago Griffin and his British team-mate Duncan Cameron notched up second in the Pro-Am class and third overall in Monza. It will be Griffin’s second outing at the Northampton track, having finished second in the European Le Mans Series last month. “The Blancpain Endurance Championship is very competitive and with such a huge grid, I am expecting a very exciting race. I guess you could call Silverstone my local track. I think my form is good so far this year and this is something I want to bring into this weekend.” There are free practice sessions tomorrow with qualifying on Sunday from 9am; the three-hour race will start at 2.45pm.

The second round of the O’Shea Bus Hire Munster Autocross Championship takes place in Castlearmstrong, Ballycumber, Co Offaly on Sunday at 11am. Series leader and former champion Ballyvourney’s James Lucey (Subaru Special) and last year’s champion Padraig Egan (Semog Buggy) renew their rivalry. The former took top points in the opening round in Clonakilty. Former double Irish Forest champion Owen Murphy (Subaru) is also competing. The event also marks the start of the 5 Star Catering National Loose Autocross Championship.

This afternoon, the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association hold a forum on the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship at the Westmanstown Sports Centre in Lucan, Dublin. Competitors and interested parties are invited to attend.

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