Meeke halted by freak blaze

IT started so well but rookie Kris Meeke quickly learned that the Dakar Rally can bite you in ways you least expect.

Making his debut last weekend in the two-week desert marathon in the French PH Sport team's lightweight class Zephyr buggy, Meeke and navigator Wouter Rosegaard were the quickest T3 car in the prologue stage which determined the running order for Sunday's first proper competitive section, a 385-mile trip from Jeddah to Bisha, containing 177 miles against the clock.

The Dungannon man was quick out of the blocks, stretching out a lead of more than five minutes as he passed the halfway mark.

But then disaster struck in bizarre fashion, 70 miles from the finish.

With punctures a constant hazard, the Zephyr carries two spare wheels mounted above the rear engine. One of them caught fire, burning out the electrics and leaving Meeke stranded in the Saudi Arabian desert.

With no hope of carrying out repairs, Meeke and Rosegaard had to wait for a rescue truck to come and tow them back to the overnight bivouac in Bisha.

From first they dropped to last in the T3 category which was won by Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez driving for the American Red Bull team.

But Meeke remained upbeat, saying: “I was really enjoying it up to the point when we had the fire. But the team will fix it and we go again.”

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