Irish pair Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle in their Citroen DS3 WRC made a memorable start to the World Rally Championship and hold second overall after the opening day of an incident-filled Rallye Monte Carlo.
They arrived at the overnight halt in Gap 38.8 seconds behind the Ford Fiesta WRC of leader Bryan Bouffier. Early pacesetter Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta WRC) was seven-tenths of a second further behind in third.
Meeke was cautious through the opening stage that was made extra difficult by snow and ice, ending the 25km test in sixth place.
Reigning World champion, Sebastien Ogier crashed his VW Polo into a wall on the very first corner but recovered to hold third. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville led at the first split but he crashed into a telegraph pole and was unable to continue.
Another retirement was that of Martin Prokop, although he finished the opening stage, the battery in his Ford Fiesta WRC wasn’t charging and he stopped on the road section.
Meanwhile, former F1 ace, Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta WRC) posted the best time on the opening pair of stages and led Ogier by 36.8 seconds with Meeke 2.2 seconds behind in third.
The drivers that were able to fit snow tyres took advantage of the conditions on S.S. 3, the final stage of the loop. French ace Bryan Bouffier was one such driver and was rewarded with fastest time and the overall lead.
Meeke also benefited and having been extremely thankful to his gravel crew for their advice on the previous stage, he moved into second place where he was followed by Hyundai debutant, Dani Sordo with Kubica dropping down to fourth. In the WRC2 category, Lorenzo Bertelli set the early pace while Dubliner Robert Barrable was third in the category.
Out on S.S. 4, Jari Matti Latvala, having changed the set-up of his VW Polo, set a cracking time and climbed eight places to tenth. He admitted to backing off on the opening stage after he encountered the stricken Hyundai of Thierry Neuville.
By the day’s penultimate stage he was up to seventh as Bouffier continued to lead while Kubica made up ground to dislodge Meeke from second spot. Meeke had no previous experience of the winter tyres he was using and reckoned it was hard to get confidence. However, the Tyrone man reclaimed second spot on the day’s final stage, he said, “This was the most difficult day I ever had, I didn’t expect to be in the top five or six. I put in a good time on stage six and I’m happy with that.”
Ogier ended the day in fourth from Citroen’s Mads Ostberg and the Fiesta of Welshman Elfin Evans. Hyundai’s Dani Sordo retired prior to the fifth stage. Elsewhere, Barrable, fourth in the WRC2 category, nursed his Tunnock’s Ford Fiesta to the service park with an oil leak. He was 18th overall – two places ahead of Wexford’s Eamonn Boland. There are five stages in today second leg.
The Irish rallying season begins in Kirkistown tomorrow with the 500 MRCI New Year Stages Rally. Meanwhile, tomorrow night’s Cork 1000 Shakes Navigation Trial in Dromtarriffe in north Cork doubles as a round of both the National Navigation Trial Championship and the Munster Navigation Championship.
The Longford crew of Colin Duffy/Sam Johnston (Subaru) have a 14 points lead in the national series and Cork pair, David Beamish/Muireann Hayes have maximum points in the provincial series. Based at the Dromtarriffe Community Hall the first car away is at 11pm. The 85-mile route is based on Discovery Sheets 79 and 80.
The Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club host a double round of the Hewison Autotest series in Waterford tomorrow (11am) and Sunday (10.30am).
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