PHOTO: Cheered by huge crowds, Kris Meeke pounds his Citroen DS3 WRC through the rocky El Condor stage on his way to victory in Xion Rally Argentina (Citroen pic)
VILLA CARLOS PAZ (Argentina) – Kris Meeke scored his maiden FIA World Rally Championship win and the first for Britain in 13 years with a dominating drive in Xion Rally Argentina, which finished early today Australian time.
The Northern Irishman headed Citroën teammate Mads Østberg by 18.1sec as the French manufacturer claimed its first 1-2 finish for almost three years.
Elfyn Evans completed a great day for Britain by taking his first WRC podium for the M-Sport Ford squad.
The result also finally cracked the dominance of the factory Volkswagen team, which until Argentina had placed at least one of its three drivers on the podium at all 17 rounds from Rally Australia in September 2013.
The WRC will return to the New South Wales Coffs Coast for Rally Australia, Round 10, on 10-13 September.
At 35, Meeke is one of the oldest WRC drivers, yet is in only his second full season at elite level despite 14 years in the sport.
He dedicated the long-awaited victory to the last countryman to win a WRC event, the late world champion Colin McRae, who died in a 2007 helicopter crash.
“The one guy who did most for me isn’t here to see this. This is for Colin. He helped my career out at the very beginning,” Meeke said at the finish.
“He supported me financially through to the world championship. Without his support I wouldn’t be here.”
Meeke, fast but crash-prone at times in his career, also thanked Citroen team boss Vyes Matton for sticking by him.
Matton retained Meeke after a costly crash near the end of Rally Australia in 2013 and urged him to aim for a finish at any cost in Argentina after three crashes in the first three events of this season.
A six-week break since the previous round in Mexico seemed to refresh Meeke, who was on-form from the start and led all but a handful of kilometres.
He ended the first leg with more than a minute’s lead and measured his pace over incredibly rocky conditions, which sidelined many frontrunners, to finally reach the top step of the podium on his 58th start.
Østberg fought a fever and an early engine problem to secure his second consecutive runner-up spot. He climbed to second in the championship standings behind defending world champion Sébastien Ogier, who finished a lowly 17th after fuel issues.
Evans survived final-stage suspension problems in his Ford Fiesta RS to finish 3min 27.4sec behind Meeke, conceding a minute as he nursed the car through the famous El Condor test. It was a fitting farewell for the current Fiesta RS, which will be replaced by a new evolution at the next round n Portugal next month.
Czech driver Martin Prokop matched a career-best fourth in another Fiesta RS while Hyundai’s Dani Sordo recovered from the electrical problem which stopped him last night to overhaul Khalid Al Qassimi for sixth in the final stage.
WRC 2 winner Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, Diego Dominguez, Gustavo Saba and Federico Villagra completed the leaderboard.
There were just two stages in Sunday’s final leg, but the famous roads of El Condor provided a sting in the tail to a gruelling weekend.
Jari-Matti Latvala retired from third with fuel supply problems in his Volkswagen Polo R during the first pass of El Condor. Teammate Andreas Mikkelsen and fourth-placed Thierry Neuville both crashed after hitting the same rock in the repeat run.
RESULTS, Xion Rally Argentina (Rd 4 of 13):
1. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (DS3 WRC) 3:41:44.9
2. Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson (DS3 WRC) +18.1 behind first
3. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:27.4
4. Martin Prokop / Jan Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:26.1
5. Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +10:46.7
6. Khalid Al Qassimi / Chris Patterson (DS3 WRC) +11:19.9
7. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari / Marshall Clarke (Ford Fiesta RRC) +16:02.6
8. Diego Dominguez / Edgardo Galindo (Ford Fiesta R5) +18:48.2
9. Gustavo Saba / Diego Cagnotti (Skoda Fabia Super 2000) +21:20.6
10. Federico Villagra / Diego Curletto (Ford Fiesta) +25:19.6…
FIA Drivers standings (after Rd 4):
1. Sébastien Ogier 84 points
2. Mads Østberg 51
3. Andreas Mikkelsen 47
4. Elfyn Evans 41
5. Kris Meeke 35
6. Thierry Neuville 35
7. Dani Sordo 30
8. Martin Prokop 26
9. Jari-Matti Latvala 19
10. Ott Tanak 12
FIA Manufacturer standings (after Rd 4):
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 103 points
2. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 85
3. Hyundai Motorsport 85
4. M-Sport World Rally Team 73
5. Jipocar Czech National Team 32
Rd 5, Vodafone Rally de Portugal, 21-25 May 2015