Despite again demonstrating rally-winning pace and coming within a few seconds of the lead on the final day, Palletforce global brand ambassador Kris Meeke recorded his first retirement of the season after last-minute drama on Rally Portugal.
Meeke had shown an impressive level of consistency over the tough weekend but succumbed to broken steering just 500m into the final stage of Rally Portugal after hitting a tree stump hidden in the verge.
Rally Portugal was a tough, hot affair with three days of gravel action in high temperatures on the rough roads around host city Porto.
Meeke and co-driver Seb Marshall started strongly on Friday’s new stages to the south. Despite a broken intercom on stage two, where Meeke was unable to receive any of the crucial pacenotes, he set a number of top-times. His afternoon performance on the second pass of the dusty stages was even more impressive and he finished the first day in third place – rounding off a Toyota 1-2-3.
Dust and heat continued to dominate day two and Meeke’s consistent strong approach earned him the right of being the highest performing driver of the day, with a string of top-three times and a stage victory to kick off the day.
He was slowed by a broken handbrake on the longest stage of the rally to finish off the second day but had moved up to second place and into a three-way battle for the lead.
The final day started with another stage win, seeing Meeke close the gap to the front to just 2.4 seconds. But then things went downhill, with a spin on the penultimate stage dropping him to third overall and a mistake on the final test breaking the steering on his Yaris WRC and forcing him into instant retirement, just minutes from the finish line.
It was a bitter end to Meeke’s strongest performance of the season. He had maintained podium positions for the majority of the event and consistently set top times only for a small error to undo all the good work.
But the negatives will be firmly at the back of his mind when he lines up for round eight at Rally Sardinia on 18 June – facing similar hot, tough, rocky conditions as in Portugal.
Kris Meeke said: “Rally Portugal was always going to be tough but for the majority of the event we showed a strong speed and managed the difficult conditions pretty well. The car felt good and I was able to make progress with the hard compound tyres on the rough roads, something I struggled with previously.
“The pace was good, the confidence was high and we set strong times. The team performance showed just how well-uited the Yaris WRC is to these conditions. I was gutted to make a mistake so close to the end of the rally, resulting in our first non-points finish of the season, but we just have to put that behind us and move forward.”