MEEKE’S SPANISH WIN LIFTS CITROËN WORLD RALLY SLUMP AS OGIER CLOSES ON FIFTH TITLE

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MEEKE’S SPANISH WIN LIFTS CITROËN WORLD RALLY SLUMP AS OGIER CLOSES ON FIFTH TITLE

KRIS Meeke claimed a confidence-boosting win for Citroën and Sébastien Ogier edged closer to a fifth straight FIA World Rally Championship at RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España yesterday.

(PHOTO: Kris Meeke cuts a corner in his Citroën on the way to victory in Rally de España – Citroën pic.)

Meeke finished 28 seconds ahead of Ogier after leading the 11th round of the championship since the rally switched from a gravel surface to tarmac on Saturday morning.

Ogier’s M-Sport teammate Ott Tänak finished third and moved to second place in the drivers’ standings, displacing Thierry Neuville, who failed to finish and saw his championship chances almost wiped out.

Despite his achievement in Spain and a round to come at Wales Rally GB in three weeks’ time, Ogier may have to wait to claim the title until the final round at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 16-19 November. The Frenchman has a 37-point lead over Tänak and 38 over Neuville, with 60 points still to fight for.

But more likely is that thanks to the M-Sport drivers’ efforts, their team in Britain will earn the handful of points required to clinch the manufacturers’ championship for the first time as a privateer operation.

Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle set fastest times on nine of the 19 stages, run on roads around the coastal resort of Salou.

The win was their WRC career-fifth and second this season, after Mexico. But it came after a traumatic mid-season for the team, during which frustrated team management dropped Meeke for Rally Poland after multiple crashes and Andreas Mikkelsen and Sébastien Loeb were employed to help trouble-shoot handling problems with the Citroën C3 car.

“It’s been an exceptional weekend. Probably it’s not so important how many times you’re knocked down, but how many times you stand up again. I’ve had to stand up a few times in my career. It’s a special, special win,” Meeke said.

Nagle added: “It’s been a difficult period for myself and Kris over the last number of rallies, but this weekend was something special. We were under massive pressure starting the rally to put on a good performance and when that car got on to the Spanish tarmac yesterday morning we were away and this morning was incredible to have five fastest times.

“A massive credit to the team – they put in tireless hours to get this car right for this rally. It’s been a massive weekend, a lot of weight off my shoulders and Kris’s.

Hyundai Motorsport described Rally de España as a bitter blow to its championship hopes.

Leading after Friday’s gravel section, new signing Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo both retired on Saturday – they re-joined on Sunday but finished well down the overall order – and Neuville was scoreless for the second consecutive round after breaking his suspension on the final morning.

“This has been a difficult weekend for the whole team and certainly not an acceptable one. We asked the drivers to give everything this weekend, which they have done,” team principal Michel Nandan said.

“There is still a small glimmer of hope for Thierry in the drivers’ championship, but we have to accept that the manufacturers’ title is all but over for us now.”

Tickets for the closing WRC round at Kennards Hire Rally Australia are on sale now at www.ticketek.com, with a 2-for-1 offer on a $99 three-day pass available until 31 October.

RESULTS, RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España (Rd 11 of 13):
1 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) 3h01m21.1s
2 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +28.0s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +33.0
4 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +54.1
5 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:26.2
6 Stephane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (Citroen C3 WRC) +2:43.0
7 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4:37.4
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta R5) +8:22.7
9 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +8:54.5
10 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Skoda Fabia R5) +9:04.8

2017 FIA World Rally Championship for drivers after round 11:
1 Sebastien Ogier 198
2 Ott Tanak 161
3 Thierry Neuville 160
4 Jari-Matti Latvala 123
5 Dani Sordo 95
6 Elfyn Evans 93
7 Juho Hänninen 71
8 Craig Breen 64
9 Kris Meeke 60
10 Hayden Paddon 55

2017 FIA World Rally Championship for manufacturers after round 11:
1 M-Sport World Rally Team 358
2 Hyundai Motorsport 275
3 Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 225
4 Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 198

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is one of Australia’s leading motorsport journalists and is the Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia. He is part of the executive team for the event.