On this very day four years ago, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle were on their way to a first World Rally Championship victory of the year after a troubling start to the 2017 season.
In this piece, first published in the build up to Rally México 2020, DirtFish remembers how the victory almost escaped the Citroën crew in the most dramatic of circumstances…
Though Mexico City’s Zócalo square was the setting for the captivating opening sequence of the 2015 James Bond film Spectre, few could have predicted the drama that was to involve Kris Meeke – who had been an extra at best in the early part of the World Rally Championship season – on Rally México when the venue hosted the start of the event two years later.
Citroën’s start to the new WRC era in 2017 had been far from auspicious; Meeke and team-mate Stéphane Lefebvre both went off the road on the season opener in their C3 WRCs, with Craig Breen – driving a previous-generation DS3 WRC – the brand’s lead representative in fifth.
Round two in Sweden was no better, despite Meeke’s prediction that “we’ll be there”. The Northern Irishman did flirt with the podium places, even after hitting a snowbank on SS5, but lost any hope of a decent result when he forfeited more than eight minutes with an off on the Saturday afternoon. The following day, Meeke would declare “I’m not f****** driving this”, such was the difficulty driving the new C3.
With just two points to his name, thanks to the fourth-fastest time on the Sweden powerstage, Meeke was a little lost. Mexico was to change that, though.
Meeke was second after the first run through Zócalo on Thursday evening, and had his first stage wins of the year – not to mention the rally lead – in the bag on Friday morning. As others reported various engine issues in the Mexican heat, Meeke had no such trouble and, by Sunday morning, held a commanding near-40-second lead. Nothing could go wrong now.
Except it very nearly did.
“Jesus Christ, Kris!” exclaimed co-driver Paul Nagle as, with just a few hundred meters of the final stage to complete, Meeke went off at a right-hander, through a hedge and into a car park. A disorientated scramble in the wrong direction around a handful of parked cars followed, before the Citroën driver navigated his way back to the road. Had he blown it?
Thankfully, for Meeke and the Citroën team members with their hearts in their mouths, the answer was no. Nearest challenger Sébastien Ogier’s final stage time was significantly faster, but that still left Meeke with a 14-second cushion. The shock was such that Meeke was barely able to climb above his C3 to celebrate his fourth WRC win, but he had done it.
Meeke’s victory may have been one of only two major highlights for him and Citroën in 2017 (the other being a victory on Rally Spain later in the year), but that frantic finish was a fitting end to a feature-length thriller.