There was hardly a dry eye in the house this afternoon, as we watched Kris Meeke become the first Briton to win a round of the World Rally Championship since Colin McRae back in 2002. Victory on Rally Argentina was a major breakthrough for the Northern Irishman, who has had to wait until his mid-thirties to get a full-time WRC chance with Citroen Racing and the DS 3.
He had to wait through three of the toughest days of rallying seen in many a year, too, because this Rally Argentina brought back memories of the Safari - the very event that McRae won 13 years ago, in fact. Friday’s first full day of competition in effect accounted for champion Sebastien Ogier, his VW team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, plus the Hyundais of Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo. Only Meeke’s team-mate Mads Ostberg came through relatively unscathed - while Kris ended the day with more than a minute’s advantage.
The Meeke of old might have found the task of maintaining this advantage a daunting prospect - but after a frankly calamitous start to the season, he’d reset his approach prior to arriving in Argentina. So mentally, he just resigned himself to doing the job he’d always intended to do: finish. And the rest looked after itself. Latvala was still a possible threat but he went off the road briefly and rattled himself to the point where he settled for third (he didn’t even get that, thanks to a final-day engine glitch). Ostberg closed but never really looked like seriously threatening the leader.
So Meeke was left to pace himself through two runs over the classic, nerve-wracking El Condor stage, then jump on the roof of his DS 3 at the finish and get a bit emotional when asked what it all means to him. “This one’s for Colin,” he spluttered, referring to the fact that McRae had himself spotted Kris’s talent and mentored him through some of his early career. His win is the first for a competitor from Northern Ireland - a country where rallying is more popular than circuit racing - since co-driver Fred Gallagher navigated Bjorn Waldegard to Safari Rally glory in 1990.
What now, though? Is this the first of many? You have to say that Kris would not be the first high-profile driver to move up to a different level once he’s broken his duck. The WRC could certainly use a sustained return to form from Citroen Racing, too; this was the first event since 2013 that didn’t have a VW Polo driver on the podium, and it felt just a little bit refreshing.