Sunday 22nd May saw many smiles especially for Irish team mates Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle. After what can only be described as a thrilling, high level drive from the Dungannon man, the crew went on to win the Portugal round of the World Rally Championship in their Abu Dhabi backed Citroen Racing DS3 WRC!
Meeke, who’s 36 has always had motorsport in his blood and comes from a Rally family with father Sydney preparing many a rally car in years gone by. Killarney co-driver Nagle who’s 38, also followed on from his father who was a national level co-driver.
The Meeke & Nagle partnership formed in 2007. They gelled well together and have progressed from being the winners of selected Irish events to being crowned IRC Champions in 2009, right through to now being part of the Citroen World Rally team on a hard to come by, three year deal.
In 2016 Meeke is only competing on selected rounds of the WRC, thus allowing the team to test the all new 2017 specification car and familiarise themselves with the stages. Going into every event you obviously want to do your best and have the mindset to win, so to push on and win when you haven’t been in the Championship all year is no mean feat.
Previous events have ended with the crew retiring due to road incidents but from Day 1 of Rally portugal, car #7 was leading with a clear advantage over the other teams. Kris kept his many supporters updated via his twitter account Kris Meeke on Twitter and as always was very modest but grounded about his road position as well as the stage times, knowing that one wrong move could end it all for this rally.
Sunday saw the climax of the rally with Meeke & Nagle taking 1st place overall, winning by a convincing 29.7 seconds over 2nd place Mikkelsen and 34.5 seconds over 3rd Place Ogier. This is only Meeke’s second WRC victory and hopefully it will be the sign of many more to come!
Portugal proved a point that most people knew anyway, in that the Irish crew in the DS3 WRC car are the only crew capable of taking the fight to the might of the Volkswagen team, and not only that Meeke & Nagle took the commanding win in a less developed car than that of their rivals.
Kris took his maiden WRC win on last year’s Rally Argentina and dedicated his win to the late great Colin McRae who was mentor to Meeke in his early rallying career, this was an emotional and joyful highlight for the Ulsterman’s journey to become world champion.
Sometimes in this sport, the second victory doesn’t come easy and indeed this win was for Kris & Paul with Kris praising his engineer and the team highly.
After the event Kris commented “First and foremost, I must thank the entire team and PH Sport for the work done this weekend. We have secured this win against top-level competition so the performance is especially important for me as a driver. Before the start, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Although I’ve done a lot of testing over the last few weeks, I was clearly short of competitive mileage”.
The Dungannon man continued “I managed to drive quickly and led pretty much from start to finish, managing my lead from Saturday afternoon onwards. I was cautious again today, as there were quite a lot of embedded rocks on Fafe, especially on the second pass. It really is a very special feeling to win here. The atmosphere is incredible, with some of noisiest and most passionate fans in the world. They say that getting that first win is a monkey off your back, but it feels like this one is just as important”.
Meeke concluded “There aren’t too many drivers that have won a WRC rally, but there are even fewer who have won two! We’re now going to try and build on this result for the next few races and especially in 2017 to be competitive at the highest level!”
Words: Graham Curry Photos: Citroen Racing