World rally driver Kris Meeke shone on his landmark 100th start in the FIA World Rally Championship last weekend after a series of stage wins and a sustained challenge for the rally lead saw him again demonstrate his world-class speed.
However, the Palletforce brand ambassador failed to make it to the end of the iconic Neste Rally Finland after damaging the suspension on his Toyota Yaris WRC on the final day of the popular rally.
Meeke was a pre-event favourite after having won the event back in 2016, entering the history books as the fastest WRC rally in history with an average speed of 126.62kph. And his Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team were tackling their home rally, with the Yaris WRC developed on the smooth, fast gravel roads around Jyvaskyla in central Finland.
Finland is the mecca of rallying and the high-speed roads, coupled with rollercoaster jumps and stunning scenery make it a favourite with both fans and drivers the world over.
Meeke and co-driver Sebastian Marshall started well, setting third fastest time on the opening two tests before taking their first stage win. The rest of the opening day was a closely-fought affair, at one point three drivers were tied on exactly the same time. Meeke set a string of top times and finished the day in second place, just over one second off the lead after a full day’s action.
Saturday started in the same way with Meeke comfortably setting top times but on the third stage of the day he hit a huge rock at the side of the road at high speed and broke the rear suspension. The damage forced him out for the rest of the day.
He returned on the final leg to cruise through the remaining four short stages but on the penultimate test clipped another roadside rock and again damaged the suspension of the Yaris WRC. Within sight of the finish, Meeke was left with no option but to retire.
It was a bitter end to what had been a positive rally, with Meeke once again demonstrating front-running speed.
The championship switches to asphalt for Rally Germany on 22-25 August.
Kris Meeke said: “My 100th WRC rally was going well, the stages here in Finland are just incredible and it was a special feeling tackling them in the Yaris WRC which has been developed and is well-suited to these roads. I was a little apprehensive on Friday morning as I didn’t do the rally last year and I wasn’t sure about the new notes, but our times were good.
“Retiring from second place after hitting the rock was hard to take and on Sunday the plan was just cruise to the finish, but I hesitated a little in a corner and the car came back towards the inside, hitting a stone in the grass and that was the end of our Rally Finland. I’m disappointed in myself, of course. And for everyone at Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC, who have worked so hard for a good result on home soil.”