Meeke takes home win in Scotland

Meeke takes home win in ScotlandFrom IRC media [ 21/11/2009 ].
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The 2009 IRC season reached a rousing finale this weekend on the inaugural RACMSA Rally of Scotland, producing a fitting victory for series champion Kris Meeke in his home event. Starting out from Perth’s historic Scone Palace on Thursday under the most severe rainstorm to have hit Britain in 1000 years and passing through the rugged Scottish landscape to end with a fanfare at Stirling Castle on Saturday, the 1000km event lived up to its billing as the ‘battle of Britain’.

This fifth victory of the season for 30-year-old Peugeot UK star Meeke was undoubtedly the sweetest, coming on the majestic Scottish stages in front of a huge home crowd. Showing the speed and flair that had already earned him winner’s laurels in Brazil, the Azores, Ypres and Sanremo; Meeke fought a titanic battle with career-long rival Guy Wilks with the result on a knife-edge before the abandonment of the final stage following an accident for Scottish national champion David Bogie.

With tears in his eyes an emotional Meeke, from Dungannon in Northern Ireland, celebrated the win. The former protégé of Scotland’s late 1995 world rally champion Colin McRae, said: “It’s awesome, absolutely awesome. I’m going to take my time to savour it because I don’t think we’ll ever have another year like this; five victories and two second places in seven IRC rallies.

“I have to thank the Kronos team and Peugeot for giving me this opportunity. I’d also like to dedicate this victory to Colin McRae. We’ve worked long and hard for this and it’s an emotional victory.”

Meeke’s co-driver Paul Nagle was also charged with emotion at the end of their champion year. This has been fantastic, not just for Kris and I, but for everyone involved with the Peugeot team,” he said. “We’ve had a fantastic battle with Guy all week, but Kris was brilliant. He was always in the right gear at the right time. This has been the year of our lives and it’s been a credit to everyone at Peugeot ... and the car never missed a beat.”

Flagged away from the ceremonial start by Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond and three-time Formula One world champion Sir Jackie Stewart; Meeke started out by winning the two opening spectator stages around Scone Palace on Thursday night as the epic storm lashed down. On Friday the sun shone as the field headed out into the hills, valleys and forests of Perthshire and the Trossachs and Guy Wilks, marking the first appearance of Skoda UK on the IRC, launched his bid for victory at the wheel of his Fabia S2000.

Meeke and Wilks, career-long rivals, put on a swashbuckling display across the dramatic countryside in their patriotically-painted machines. With two wins apiece on the day’s opening four stages, just five seconds separated them as night fell and the 17km Craigvinean stage beckoned, where Meeke raised his game to a new level to win by 15 seconds despite being hampered by malfunctioning headlights.

From that moment on the momentum swung behind the champion. Nevertheless Wilks put in a hugely impressive, crowd-pleasing performance to record Skoda UK’s best-ever international rally result since Stig Blomqvist’s third place on the 1996 RAC Rally. The potent little Fabia, which took three wins on the IRC this year in the hands of works team drivers Jan Kopecky and Juho Hanninen, closed up to within 20 seconds of Meeke at the start of the final 33km stage before Bogie’s crash.

“I was under strict orders from the two senior guys from Skoda who came over for the rally to get the car to the finish and not make any mistakes,” said Wilks. “I was happy to follow their instructions and that’s exactly what we did, and we were still able to put Kris under pressure. We didn’t take any risks and we got the car to the finish... and we still finished on the podium.”

Third place belonged to local legend Alister McRae at the wheel of his Proton Satria Neo S2000. The youngest member of the McRae rallying dynasty, and former British and Asia-Pacific rally champion, made a 24 hour dash from the Rally China to make the start of Scotland’s first international event for 14 years and used all his experience to keep the promising new Proton in touch with the lead battle.

Behind the potent Super 2000 machines came a torrid battle for honours among the turbocharged Group N cars of Ralliart and Subaru which raged throughout the event. Belfast star Jonathan Greer held out to take fourth place despite withering pressure from Scottish national rally champion David Bogie in all-Ralliart battle, while the spectacular Jock Armstrong kept the crowds entertained with his drive to sixth place in his Subaru.

Seventh place was taken by one of the real discoveries of the 2009 IRC, Estonian youngster Kaspar Koitla. Driving a Honda Civic with front-wheel drive only, Koitla repeated his overall points-winning performance on this summer’s Rally Russia as well as delivering victory in the 2WD class, ensuring that Honda takes second place in the IRC 2WD manufacturers’ points and taking third in the drivers’ standings.

Despite the wild and woolly weather conditions, retirements were few among the fancied runners – although no less disappointing to those who fell out of the battle. Ireland’s Keith Cronin made his first outing in a Super 2000 car with an Abarth Grande Punto and the 2009 British champion had high hopes of success. After setting the third fastest time on SS1 however he had a sticking handbrake, two punctures and lost 40 minutes with a spin before crashing on Friday.

English youngster Adam Gould was awarded the BFGoodrich Drivers’ Team entry in a Kronos-prepared Peugeot 207 S2000 alongside Kris Meeke, and also had a bright start in the deluge at Scone Palace. Once out in the wilds, however, a spin was followed by mechanical problems and retirement came on Friday with a water pump failure.

With six registered manufacturers starting the Rally of Scotland and all of them vying for the points positions, the growing level of competitiveness in the IRC was underlined emphatically.

As Meeke’s braveheart performance earned him the winner’s laurels in a ceremony in front of the Wallace Memorial, the organisers of the RACMSA Rally of Scotland could reflect on a job well done. “It didn’t end how we wanted but David Bogie and his co-driver Kevin Rae are unhurt at the end of a fantastic weekend for Scottish motor sport,” said Clerk of the Course, Iain Campbell.

“The crowds have been huge, passionate and a credit to the sport. To have heard the response of the drivers – with Kris Meeke saying that Loch Ard is the best stage in the world and others comparing us with such a classic event as Finland – is inspiring.

“I hope we’ve repaid the faith shown in us through the support of the authorities in Perth and Stirling, from the first minister and all the people of Scotland. But most important of all I think the event is a credit to the army of volunteers and marshals who have been out in all weathers to ensure that the pre-event test, the recce and the event itself has run faultlessly – and that they have all come back in smiling. We couldn’t ask for more.”

Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond, whose government has given its full backing to the RACMSA Rally of Scotland, said: “We think this event is a great investment over three years that we can build up. We’ve got a fantastic rally tradition and we know it well and have a tremendous record. We have fantastic scenery to display to the world, through the media and for all those reasons we are delighted to sponsor the rally.”

So ends the 2009 series. In total 54 different drivers from 16 countries have taken points away from the 11 events in the main championship, with a further 33 drivers from nine countries taking points finishes in the IRC 2WD Cup. Kris Meeke follows Frenchman Nicolas Vouilloz, Spain’s Enrique García-Ojeda and Italy’s Giandomenico Basso as overall title winner, with Frenchman Denis Millet the 2009 IRC 2WD Cup winner.

The 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge begins in just eight weeks time on the world’s most famous event: the Rallye Monte Carlo. Taking place on January 19-23 with 14 hours of live TV, the event will be a curtain-raiser for another thrilling IRC season in which the RACMSA Rally of Scotland is sure to be a focal point for competitors, fans and viewers around the world.

RACMSA Rally of Scotland – Results after 12 Stages

1 Kris Meeke (GB) Paul Nagle (IRL) –Peugeot 207 S2000 – 1hr 51m 34.1s
2 Guy Wilks (GB)Phil Pugh (GB) – Skoda Fabia S2000 – +20.7s
3 Alister McRae (GB) Bill Hayes (AUS) – Proton Satria Neo - +3m 8.0s
4 Jonathan Greer (GB) Dai Roberts (GB) – Ralliart Evo IX - +5m 42.5s
5 David Bogie (GB) Kevin Rae (GB) – Ralliart Evo IX - +6m 24.2s
6 Jock Armstrong (GB) Kirsty Riddick (GB) – Subaru Impreza - +8m 21.1s
7 Kaspar Koitla (EST) Andres Ots (EST) – Honda Civic Type R - +14m 17.5s
8 Eamonn Boland (IRL) Mick Morrissey (IRL) – Ralliart Evo IX - +15m 9.5s

IRC Drivers’ Points

1 Kris Meeke (GB) 66
2 Jan Kopecky (CZ) 49
3 Freddy Loix (B) 37
4 Nicolas Vouilloz (F) 31
5 Giandomenico Basso (I) 28
6 Juho Hanninen (FIN) 21
7 Guy Wilks (GB) 13

IRC Manufacturers’ Points

1 Peugeot 112
2 Skoda 80
3 Ralliart 50
4 Abarth 43
5 Proton 11
6 Honda 3

IRC 2WD Cup Drivers’ Points

1 Denis Millet (F) 49
2 Manuel Villa (I) 36
3 Kaspar Koitla (EST) 20
4 Laszlo Vizin (H) 17

IRC 2WD Cup Manufacturers’ Points
1 Peugeot 80
2 Honda 71
3 Abarth 55
4 Volkswagen 16 

2010 IRC Calendar

Round 1: 19-23 January – Rallye Monte Carlo (MC)
Round 2: 4-6 March – Rally Internacional de Curitiba (BR)
Round 3: 19-21 March – Rally Argentina (ARG)
Round 4: 4-6 June – Rally d’Italia Sardegna (I)
Round 5: 24-26 June – Belgium Ypres Rally (B)
Round 6: 15-17 July – Sata Rally Azores (P)
Round 7: 5-7 August – Rali Vinho Madeira (P)
Round 8: 27-29 August – Barum Czech Rally Zlin (CZ)
Round 9: 9-11 September – Rally Principe de Asturias (E)
Round 10: 23-25 September – Rallye Sanremo (I)
Round 11: 14-16 October – RACMSA Rally of Scotland (GB)
Round 12: 4-6 November – FxPro Cyprus Rally (CY)