Meeke: I’m ready to defend this first place tomorrow
Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle set their sights on victory
Having produced a perfectly controlled performance since the start, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle increased their overall lead at Rally de Portugal. The British-Irish crew will head into the final leg with a 45.3s lead over the second-placed crew. The leg was more difficult for the other Abu Dhabi Total WRT drivers, since Stéphane Lefebvre and Khalid Al Qassimi were both forced to retire. They will return under Rally2 rules tomorrow.
After stopping off in service at Matosinhos to fit soft compound Michelin LTX Force tyres, the competitors headed for Vila Real to contest the morning loop of three stages. Just a few kilometres into Baião (SS10), Stéphane Lefebvre was stopped dead in his tracks. After hitting a rock on a corner, he broke his car’s suspension arm and had to retire.
Meanwhile, Kris Meeke secured the stage win. The Northern Irishman repeated the feat on Marão and Amarante (SS11 and SS12), to extend his overall lead to more than a minute.
For the second run on the stages, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT driver opted to play it safe, taking two spare tyres with him. His tyre choice involved a combination of four soft and two hard compound tyres.
Kris and his co-driver Paul Nagle were consistent in the afternoon, with three top 5 times despite carrying the extra weight. They ended the leg with a solid lead, 45.3s ahead of Sébastien Ogier and 48.4s clear of Andreas Mikkelsen.
Seventeenth at the end of the morning, Khalid Al Qassimi was forced to retire on SS13 when he broke his car’s front suspension in cutting a corner. Like Stéphane Lefebvre, the Abu Dhabi driver will rejoin the rally tomorrow under Rally2 rules.
The third and final leg of Rally de Portugal features four stages, including two runs on the iconic Fafe test. As is the case every year, thousands of fans are expected to line the road next the famous jump. The first car is due to arrive in service at 5.15am and the rally is scheduled to finish in Matosinhos at 2.10pm.
Kris Meeke (#7): “I felt really comfortable in the car this morning. Paul was doing a great job alongside me so I was able to push and set three good times to increase my lead. This time, I have to say my road position was a clear advantage. Once the lead was over a minute, I could afford to take two spares for the second pass. I had expected it to cost me one or two tenths per kilometre and that’s exactly what I lost to Sébastien Ogier. So I’m really pleased with our performance today and I’m ready to defend this first place tomorrow. I couldn’t be happier tonight!”
Stéphane Lefebvre (#8): “The day had barely started for me before it was over. We had only done about three kilometres on the first stage. I hit a slightly larger rock than the others on the road in a corner and one of the suspension arms broke. Obviously, we’re very disappointed, but we’ll be back tomorrow. My goal will be to do as well as I did on Friday, to push and keep improving with the car on gravel.”
Khalid Al-Qassimi (#14): “My first loop was fairly good, but I felt we lacked traction on SS11 and SS12. We made a few changes to the set-up during the midday service and I felt more confident. In a very narrow section, I was following the line but I hit a rock that was on the inside of a corner and the front right-hand suspension broke. I’m already ready to rejoin the race tomorrow! We are still well-placed to aim for a superb result with the team. But we remain cautious and focussed on the job in hand. There’s still one day to go!”
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