Kris Meeke got his FIA World Rally Championship challenge off to a flying start at Rallye Monte Carlo. On his debut event with the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team, Meeke quickly got to grips with a new car and co-driver to claim the fastest time on the final Power Stage and finish six overall.
The Dungannon-born driver got his new partnership with KDM Hire off to the best possible start after topping the time-sheets through the pre-event shakedown on Thursday. And, despite jumping into competition with the Toyota Yaris WRC for the first time, he and new co-driver Seb Marshall set a string of top times during the opening day’s action around Gap close to the French Alps.
Unfortunately, two broken wheel rims and punctured tyres saw the pair drop over six minutes and down to eighth in the standings. But they battled back in the tough winter conditions throughout Saturday, setting second fastest times on all but one stage.
Rallye Monte Carlo is famed for its challenging weather conditions – with drivers faced with snow, ice, damp and dry Tarmac roads all in the one competitive stage – making tyre choice a real lottery. But Meeke used his experience and mastered the chilly mountain conditions to quickly move up to sixth ahead of the final day showdown.
As the race moved to Monaco, Meeke ended a stunning debut by going fastest on the rally’s final Power Stage, which offers bonus points for the top-five drivers, even when the leaders were locked in a titanic battle for victory.
The extra points moved Meeke up to fourth in the overall championship classification as the series heads to Rally Sweden in February for more action on snow and ice, this time through the frozen Scandinavian forests.
Kris Meeke said: “To win the Power Stage was an incredible way to finish our first rally with Toyota Gazoo Racing. We only set one fastest time this weekend but we did it when it counted. Other drivers were still fighting for their positions until the end, so to put it on the line and come away with the five extra points is great. The feeling with the car is really good. Finally, everything seems to be coming together for me, but we’re only one rally in, so we have to stay concentrated now and look forward to Sweden.”