Kris Meeke banished memories of a troubled WRC season to claim his second victory of the year in Spain as Sébastien Ogier moved closer to a fifth consecutive drivers’ title.
Meeke mastered the final two legs of RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España to win by 28.0sec in a Citroën C3, just three rounds after his form sank to such a low that he was dropped from the team.
Ogier fended off team-mate Ott Tänak to claim second by 5.0sec. Title rival Thierry Neuville with broken suspension and Ogier can secure the crown at the penultimate round in Britain later this month.
Their M-Sport World Rally Team moved within touching distance of a first manufacturers’ title since 2007. The Ford Fiesta pair need only finish in Britain, irrespective of their overall placings, to take the championship.
Meeke’s strong pace on the opening leg’s gravel roads laid the platform for victory. He swept into the lead yesterday morning when the surface switched to smooth asphalt, and rounded off a dominant display by winning five of today’s six speed tests.
“It’s not so important how many times you’re knocked down, it’s more important how many times you stand up again,” said Meeke, as he celebrated with wife Danielle and two young daughters.
“It’s a special, special win. I remember walking up this road 20 years ago to watch Colin McRae in 1997 in a Subaru. Back then I didn’t even dream I’d drive a rally car here myself.”
Handling problems hampered Ogier but tweaks improved the set-up and he reeled off three stage wins . Tänak was handicapped on the asphalt by a gravel-specification gearbox and the Estonian could not catch his colleague.
Tänak moved to second in the standings, a point ahead of Neuville for whom a troubled weekend left him playing ‘catch-up’. He took one risk too many when he entered a left corner too quickly and had to make a deep cut in the following right bend.
The Belgian hit a stone and broke the front right wheel, leaving his championship dream in tatters. “After yesterday’s problems we had no choice than to push hard and that’s what we did. There are no regrets,” he said.
Juho Hänninen maintained his good form with fourth in a Toyota Yaris, but team-mate Esapekka Lappi crashed out of sixth when he slammed into a barrier.
Mads Østberg, who led on the first day, was fifth, with Stéphane Lefebvre completing the top six in another C3. A frustrated Elfyn Evans finished seventh after struggling for traction, with WRC 2 winner Teemu Suninen, Jan Kopecký and Ole Christian Veiby filling the leaderboard.
The championship returns to gravel for the penultimate round at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (26 – 29 October).
Pictures: Red Bull Content Pool