Having provided world rally champions with a robust challenge, the Irish crew of Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen DS3 WRC) were forced to retire from Rallye Monte Carlo on Saturday afternoon. Justifying Citroen’s faith in their ability, Meeke/Nagle were the only crew to match the performance of Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (VW Polo WRC), who were able to ease off and claim victory following the demise of their rivals.
Yesterday, Ogier, who also netted top bonus points from the Power Stage to clinch his third straight victory in Monte Carlo, finished a minute and 54.5 seconds ahead of his team mate Andreas Mikkelsen. Despite transmission trouble, Belgian driver Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC) took third – a minute and 23.4 seconds further behind.
Just 9.5 seconds behind Ogier and running fourth car on the road Meeke lost further ground on Saturday’s opening stage as he had to cope with dirt pulled onto the road by the preceding four cars. Meeke/Nagle won S.S. 11 and cut the deficit by 3.4 seconds but things went awry on the very next stage. On a right-hand bend their Citroen encountered a large bedrock that had come loose and ripped the sump guard. Although they made it to the stage finish they bowed out due to the damage caused to the gearbox and the intercooler. Meanwhile, Jari Matti Latvala retired his VW Polo WRC on S.S. 11 with front left suspension damage. With no Rally2 service available for competitors retiring on Saturday neither could re-join the rally for yesterday’s final three stages. Overnight, Ogier led Mikkelsen by almost two minutes.
Meeke commented, “I was pleased with my morning, because my times were consistent with the road conditions that I had. There was a lot of snow and mud being pulled onto the road by the guys ahead. That’s just how it is, if I want to be first on the road in Monte-Carlo then I have to be world champion. Obviously, it’s bitterly disappointing to go out like this after coming through all the challenges of the last three days.”
The Ulsterman outlined his demise, “It happened on the exit of a fast bend, I felt a big impact under the car even though I had taken the same line this morning. We now know that there was a large bedrock that must have come loose as more cars completed the stage. Nevertheless, it was strong performance we produced with Paul, the team and the car, so I’m pleased about that. It’s encouraging for the rest of the season.” The Wexford/Waterford crew of Eamonn Boland/Mickey Joe Morrissey (Subaru) finished 30th. overall.
Meanwhile, Derek McGarrity/Kieran Graffin (Ford Fiesta WRC) won the New Year Stages Rally in Kirkistown where they finished 13.2 seconds ahead of Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan, who debuted their Skoda Fabia R5. Kenny McKinstry (Subaru WRC) led initially from Monaghan’s Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta R5), McGarrity and Henry - the latter lost over 15 seconds due to an incorrect tyre choice. However, he recovered to slot into second some five seconds behind McKinstry. Wright’s rally ended when clipped a wheel on stage four, on the previous stage a turbo pipe came adrift. On the closing stages McKinstry retired with driveshaft troubles and Henry lost around fifteen seconds when he caught up with another competitor as McGarrity went on to take the spoils.
Elsewhere and although seeded at number one for next Sunday’s Donegal Mini Stage Rally, Tyrone’s Alastair Fisher will not be competing. It appears, following a meeting of the Rallies Committee last week, that the governing body has ruled that Fisher’s car that was to run with a +kit is not eligible given the nature of the rally.
Two others, Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia R5) and Brendan Cumiskey (Fiesta R5) have also been ruled out for the same reason.
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