Peugeot UK driver Kris Meeke has charged to a commanding lead at the end of the first full day’s running in the Sata Rallye Acores, round four of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. In the course of nine stages, the 29-year-old Ulsterman passed overnight leader Freddy Loix’s similar Peugeot 207 S2000 and survived a wheel-wrecking rock on SS4 to set consistent times through the day to keep ahead of his championship rivals.
Meeke held good to his pre-event strategy of not being lured into over-stressing himself or his car when rivals not contesting the full 11-round IRC set impressive times. Nevertheless he was able to take and retain the overall lead from Loix, the winner of last night’s opening superspecial, before building a comfortable 30 second cushion over defending champion Nicolas Vouilloz, lying second at the end of the day in another Peugeot 207.
The first two stages of the day were a battle between Meeke and the Skoda Fabia of Finnish gravel ace Juho Hanninen, but the Finn dropped eleven and a half minutes on SS4 4, Pinhal da Paz, after damaging his wheels and suspension on the same rocks that Meeke had clipped. On the day’s final stage, the second run through Pinhal da Paz, Hanninen’s hopes of recovering the lost time were dashed in a stage-stopping shunt that ended his rally in dramatic style.
The second factory Skoda Fabia, driven by Czech asphalt ace Jan Kopecky, responded with a fastest time on SS5 in a total of five top three stage times through the day to end up third at the overnight halt in host town Ponta Delgada. Behind him the first of the Abarth Grande Punto S2000 runners, Finland’s Anton Alen, made the best of his machinery with some brave performances to climb from eighth to fourth, keeping clear of Loix and local hero Fernando Peres in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX.
Starting the final day in seventh place will be Alen’s Italian team mate Giandomenico Basso. The Italian precedes Conrad Rautenbach who struggled with lack of experience on his first Super 2000 class outing in eighth at the wheel of his Peugeot 207. The top 10 is rounded out by 2008 Rallye Azores winner Bruno Magalhães in another Peugeot 207, who earlier suffered transmission problems, and the Mitsubishi Lancer of Austrian Franz Wittmann.
The technically challeging surfaces of volcanic rock, loose gravel and asphalt have caused plenty of incident, and a total of 13 cars from the 50 starters have retired due to either accidents or mechanical strain.
In the IRC 2WD Cup, Frenchman Denis Millet leads the way in his Peugeot 207 RC Rallye from Italy’s Manuel Villa in his Fiat Punto S1600.
1 Meeke/Nagle    Peugeot 207 S2000    1h20m29.8s
2 Vouilloz/Klinger    Peugeot 207 S2000    +40.2s
3 Kopecky/Stary    Skoda Fabia S2000    +50.6s
4 Alen/Alanne    Abarth Grande Punto S2000    +1m18.2s
5 Loix/Miclotte    Peugeot 207 S2000    +1m47.4s
6 Basso/Dotta    Abarth Grande Punto S2000    +2m00.3s
7 Peres/Silva    Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9    +2m10.4s
8 Rautenbach/Barritt    Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9    +2m47.1s
9 Magalhaes/Magalhaes    Peugeot 207 S2000    +2m59.2s
10 Wittmann/Ettel    Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9    +3m18.4s
Two-wheel drive leader: Denis Millet (Peugeot 207 RC Rallye)
"It’s been a really tricky day with stages that contained a bit of everything. This rally has been even more varied than I imagined it would be after the recce, which is saying something. We’ve tried not to take any risks and I’ve had a very good feeling with the car all day. There was an interruption at the end of the day for an hour before the last stage after Hanninen’s accident, and while some people wanted to see the stage cancelled as it was getting late I wanted to continue as I knew that I could pull out some more time. I’m very happy but this rally is far from over so we need to be extra careful tomorrow."
-Kris Meeke, Peugeot UK driver
"It’s been incredibly tough, but we’ve had no real problems today apart from trying to keep the car on the road, which is never easy. Just as was the case in Brazil Kris has shown some really impressive pace and it’s very hard for us to keep up. This does not mean we are giving up though: we’re going to try and keep the same rhythm tomorrow and see where we end up at the finish. The plan is to score some useful points and so far we are on course to do that."
-Nicolas Vouilloz, Peugeot Belgium driver
"It’s been a good day for us but the last stage was very difficult and we struggled to find a good rhythm. Even though he is perfectly OK, it is never nice to hear that your team mate has had an accident and that deconcentrated me a little bit. But we are happy to get to the end of the day on the podium and we will try to keep this place tomorrow. Before this rally I was not feeling so confident but so far we are on course for a good result. If I could finish anywhere in the top five then I would be very pleased."
-Jan Kopecky, Skoda driver
Saturday’s final day of action in the Azores sees the crews complete a total of eight stages. The day starts at 08:15, followed by a loop of three stages that includes the longest and most challenging stage of the rally, the 22.37-kilometre Tronquiera test. The cars then return for a 20-minute service at Ponta Delgada at 12:40.
This service halt is followed by three more stages. The second service halt of the day takes place at 15:14. Finally, there are two more stages before the last service halt at 19:15, followed by the finish.
The Sata Rally Acores will be broadcast on the Eurosport platform at the following times. On demand video footage, featuring highlights throughout the season to date, can also be accessed via the IRC website: All times listed are Central European Time (CET).
Friday 8 May
– 24h30 => 25h00      LIVE highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport)
Saturday 9 May
– 03h00 => 03h30     Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 08h00 => 08h30     Highlights of Day 1 (Eurosport 2)
– 21h15 => 21h45     LIVE highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport)
Sunday 10 May
– 04h00 => 04h30     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 08h00 => 08h30     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport 2)
– 08h30 => 09h00     Highlights of Day 2 (Eurosport)
Tuesday 12 May
– 23h00 => 23h30      Rally Highlights (Eurosport)
Thursday 13 May
– 03h30 => 04h00      Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
Friday 14 May
– 04h00 => 04h30      Rally Highlights (Eurosport Asia-Pacific)
– 13h00 => 13h30      Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)
– 18h30 => 19h00      Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)
Thursday 20 May
– 18h30 => 19h00      Rally Highlights (Eurosport 2)  

Kris Meeke enjoyed the Azorean roads in his Peugeot UK 207 S2000

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