What a momentous day for rallying! Sunday April 26th 2015 will go down in the annals of motorsport’s most spectacular discipline and be remembered for a long time by anyone who owns an anorak and bobblehat. And before you accuse me of taking the mick out of rally fans, my anorak-and-bobblehat collection is right up there with the best of them.
I’m talking, of course, about Kris Meeke’s historic win in the fourth round of the World Rally Championship in Argentina. The Northern Irishman did what no British driver had done since July 2002: stood on the top step of the podium in a WRC qualifier.
It had been been just shy of 13 years since the late, great Colin McRae took his 25th and final win in the Safari Rally, but Meeke’s success in South America yesterday brought that long drought to an end and ensured he added his name to an exclusive club of Brits to have won at the top level.
Watching the final day’s action – including the hairy El Condor stage – made for as tense a climax to any rally I’ve witnessed, the prospect of Meeke joining icons of rallying Roger Clark, McRae himself and Richard Burns on the winners’ list feeling too good to be true.
This time, though, the cliché was proved wrong. The 36-year-old held on to lead home his factory Citroen team-mate Mads Ostberg and join that pantheon of greats comprising a 1970s Ford Escort-thrashing hero, and two blue-and-yellow Subaru-mounted world champions.
No-one deserves this breakthrough win more than Meeke, who has got back up after being knocked down more times than I can remember during a hitherto bit-part career of missed opportunity and disappointment.
This year is only Meeke’s second full-season campaign in a top-spec car, his Citroen team offering him a lifeline in 2014 after a series of high-profile shunts while reacclimatising himself with WRC machinery during a few outings in 2013.
Meeke, co-driven by the experienced and super-calm Paul Nagle, who hails from the Republic of Ireland, got his head down last year, buoyed by a full-time gig with one of the sport’s heavyweight teams. Third place first time out in Monte Carlo was followed by three more visits to the bottom step of the podium in Argentina, Finland and France, which served to pay back Citroen’s faith and set up a push for victories this year.
Confirmation of Meeke’s win reminded me of waiting to hear that McRae and his Subaru Legacy had nailed it in New Zealand in 1993 and that Burns had got the job done five years later on the Safari with Mitsubishi. Plenty more wins – and a world title – came their way; let’s hope such luxury is afforded Meeke.
There was another milestone to celebrate in Argentina, too, thanks to Elfyn Evans taking third behind the two Citroens. The young Welshman, son of former rally hero Gwyndaf, guided his Ford Fiesta, run by former world championship-winning team M-Sport, to the final podium spot, his first in the WRC, thereby ensuring we had two Brits in the top three for the first time since Burns beat McRae to win in New Zealand in 2001.
Today’s results were a much-needed shot in the arm for the WRC and I can’t wait to re-join the commentary team for Britain’s round of this spectacular sport, Wales Rally Great Britain, in November. There’s bound to be an extra feel-good factor in the Welsh forests, especially after a cruel series of punctures on the final day prevented Meeke from a fifth podium finish of the year.
If you’ve not experienced WRC weaponry at full chat between the trees on a slippery surface you’d struggle to stand up on, get an anorak and bobblehat and come and see what you’ve been missing.
And you’ll have Brits running at the front to cheer on too…
Of course, you could just come to the Festival of Speed in June, where an open invitation had already been extended to Kris and the Citroen WRC team before this momentous result… we’ll let you know!