MEXICO, 12 Mar 2017 -Kris Meeke won Guanajuato Rally Mexico on Sunday despite almost throwing victory away when he crashed off the road into a spectator car park less than a kilometre from the finish.
A fourth career win seemed assured when Meeke carried a near-40sec lead over Sébastien Ogier into the final gravel road speed test in the mountains near León.
But just 750 metres from the end of the four-day event, a mistake plunged his Citroën C3 through a hedge and into a spectator car park.
A disoriented Meeke drove around parked vehicles urgently searching for a way back onto the road. He eventually spied a hole in the hedge, regained the track and limped to the finish with a puncture and fan safety tape trailing from his car.
The clocks showed the Northern Irishman had won by 13.8sec, ending a miserable start to the season for Meeke and his Citroën team. It was their first success of the year and Meeke leaped to sixth in the FIA World Rally Championship points.
“I got caught out on a bump after the jump at a fast right corner,” said Meeke. “I’m a lucky boy. That’s certainly one way to finish a rally and I didn’t need that.
“I was desperately trying to trying to find my way out of the parked cars and find a gap in the hedge. A lot of things went my way… ” he added.
Meeke’s error left Ogier regretting a time-consuming spin yesterday in his Ford Fiesta, but second for the Frenchman enabled him to leapfrog Jari-Matti Latvala to lead the championship by eight points.
Third for Thierry Neuville, a further 45.9sec behind, was a relief for the Belgian after crashing out of the lead in the opening two rounds of the season in Monte-Carlo and Sweden. He also gained maximum bonus points after winning the final Power Stage in a Hyundai i20.
Ott Tänak maintained his consistent start to the campaign with fourth in another Fiesta, more than a minute clear of a frustrated Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi suffered several technical problems but this was still his best result of the season.
Toyota Gazoo team-mates Latvala and Juho Hänninen finished sixth and seventh. An overheating engine and brake problems on his Yaris slowed Latvala, while his Finnish team-mate suffered sickness throughout the event.
Meeke’s last extraordinary finish followed an equally dramatic opening to the rally when Mexico City echoed to the sound of rally cars on Thursday night.
Large crowds packed the heart of one of the world’s largest cities as Rally Guanajuato Mexico roared into life with two spectacular speed tests in the iconic Zócalo square and surrounding streets.
The atmosphere fizzed as the world’s best rally drivers delivered a fabulous show as they fought for crucial tenths of a second at the CDMX Street Stage presented by Michelin against a backdrop of ornate colonial architecture including the city’s cathedral and national palace.
A full day of activities, including demonstrations and shows, preceded the fast and furious competition over the 1.57km asphalt test. The square is no stranger to spectacular stunts. It was in the skies above Zócalo that the stunning helicopter fight scene which launched James Bond movie ‘Spectre’ was filmed.
The championship returns to Europe for round four next month. The Mediterranean island of Corsica hosts the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse on 6 - 9 April, the first pure asphalt round of the year.