Kris has survived last-stage drama to score his fourth career victory, and a first win for the new Citroen C3 WRC, as the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship moved to gravel on Rally Guanajuato Mexico.
After disappointment on the opening two events of the year, Kris and the whole Citroen team were looking to bounce back on the first ‘conventional’ loose-surface round of the season. Their hopes of exploiting a potentially advantageous road position were hit on Friday, though, because trucks bringing cars back from the event’s two opening superspecial stages were stuck in traffic, forcing the organisers to cancel half of the day’s action.
When the cars did get to the proper Mexican gravel roads, though, Kris and the C3 soon moved into the leading position. They were particularly effective at managing the heat, which caught out a number of their rivals’ cars – and they ended the first proper (half-)day of action with a lead of more than 20 seconds over reigning champion Sebastien Ogier.
The French star would be running just one car ahead of Kris on the road on Saturday – but the Northern Irishman and his co-driver, Paul Nagle, weren’t about to cede any time in the fight for the lead. Indeed, they managed their tyres beautifully on Saturday, choosing hard compound rubber where others opted for softs. And in the end it was Ogier who blinked first; he spun his Fiesta, losing about 10 seconds and allowing Kris to have a lead of more than half a minute going into the final day.
Sunday’s action comprised just two stages – but at 33km, the first still offered the potential for the event to be won or lost. Kris’s set-up was already focused on caution, with two spare wheels on board instead of the usual one. But he still nailed the La Calera test, adding to his advantage so he could go into the event-closing Power Stage, Derramadero, with a lead of more than 37 seconds.
In the end, he needed them. A few corners before the end, Kris was caught out by a bump in the road on a fast right-hander. He slid the C3 through a hedge and into a spectator car park. The confused crew drove the wrong way around the park initially as the seconds ticked away, but eventually they found a gap in the hedge and re-emerged onto the stage. They duly completed the test with a just under 14 seconds in hand over Ogier.
Kris was left bemused at the finish – delighted and relieved to take the win, but frustrated to have had the incident so close to the end. ‘I’m a lucky boy. A lucky, lucky boy,’ he admitted. ‘I got caught out by the bump and off we went. So I just tried to find the way out through the parked cars, and a gap in the hedge to get back on. It’s a hell of a way to end a rally, but we don’t need that.’
Citroen Racing team boss Yves Matton said, ‘Too much emotion, really! Kris was lucky not to touch a car in the park, when he went off. But the most important thing is that we won and it’s great for the team to have a win for the C3 on the gravel.’
The 2017 season now moves from loose surfaces to asphalt, for the Tour de Corse on 6-9 April.
Rally Guanajuato Mexico – leading finishers
1 Kris Meeke (Citroen C3 WRC) 3h22m04.6s
2 Sebastien Ogier (Ford Fiesta WRC) +13.8s
3 Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC) +59.7s
4 Ott Tanak (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m18.3s
5 Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3m32.9s
6 Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m40.3s