PHOTO: Briton Kris Meeke on course for maiden WRC win (WRC.com pic)
BRITAIN’S Kris Meeke moved closer to his maiden WRC victory and a potential 1-2 for his Citroen team after protecting his lead through Saturday’s second leg of Xion Rally Argentina.
Despite an opening-stage spin, Meeke will carry a 38.6sec advantage over Citroën teammate Mads Østberg into Sunday’s final day, with just two tests covering 32km to run.
Jari-Matti Latvala was third for Volkswagen after holding off a determined Hyundai driver Dani Sordo over rough gravel roads north of Villa Carlos Paz in western Argentina.
Sordo eventually retired in the evening’s final special stage with water in the spark plugs of his Hyundai i20.
Meeke’s 68.4sec lead from Friday was reduced when he spun his DS3 in thick dust.
Although Østberg shaved the gap to little more than 30sec, Meeke regained time in the final test despite stopping briefly after a water splash.
“A sensor alarm went off and I panicked,” Meeke said.
“I didn’t know what to do so I switched the engine off and on again. Hopefully I will be OK tomorrow, I think it will be like a Sunday drive for me.”
A sick Østberg admitted he tired in the second half of stages, but the Norwegian enjoyed a clear run to finish 25.1sec clear of Latvala. The Finn was lucky to escape when his Volkswagen Polo R hit a bank and went off the road in the morning.
That incident would have defaulted third to a charging Sordo, but the Spaniard overshot a hairpin in the same stage before his demise later on.
Elfyn Evans’ safety-first policy has paid off and the Welshman was up to fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS and a comfortable 2min 26sec clear of Thierry Neuville, who recovered well from Friday’s puncture.
Martin Prokop and Khalid Al Qassimi were sixth and seventh ahead of Sordo, who will restart on Sunday under Rally 2 regulations.
WRC2 frontrunners Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Diego Dominguez completed the leaderboard.
Volkswagen took a clean sweep of fastest times with Andreas Mikkelsen claiming two wins and Sébastien Ogier one. The day’s other stage was cancelled after New Zealand Hayden Paddon crashed.
Ogier had another disappointing day after dropping four minutes in the final stage with broken power steering on his Polo R.
Competitors restart at 8am Sunday for two passes through the classic El Condor stage, one of the most famous pieces of road in the WRC.
The rough, narrow track winds through massive roadside rocks and the second pass forms the live-TV Power stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.