Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle completed a brilliant victory on Rally Catalunya while Sebastien Ogier extended his World Rally Championship lead as Thierry Neuville retired.
Meeke has struggled all season with an ill-performing C3 WRC and a number of driver errors – leading to him being dropped for Rally Poland – but the Dungannon driver bounced back in a dominant drive in Salou.
Third overnight on Friday after the gravel stages, he took the lead with an epic time on the first stage on asphalt on Saturday morning and wasn’t less than 12 seconds in the lead after that, winning every stage on Sunday apart from the last.
“It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how you get back up again,” said Meeke at the finish.
“And I’ve had to get up a few times in my career.”
Sebastien Ogier took second on a weekend where he lacked the outright pace to challenge for the win, but beat his two closest championship rivals.
One of them, team-mate Ott Tanak, took third after spending the majority of the asphalt stages with a gravel-spec gearbox.
Thierry Neuville, Ogier’s closest contender starting the event, retired on Sunday, hitting a rock while trying to claw back time he’d lost to a hydraulic problem on the previous day.
His team-mates Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen – who led overnight – also hit a rock, both hitting the same one on Saturday’s SS12 Savalla.
Home favourite Sordo returned to win the power stage, but the three drivers finishing outside the points all but hands the manufacturers’ title to M-Sport.
Ogier and Tanak added three and two points respectively for third and fourth places on the powerstage behind Sordo and Meeke.
Juho Hanninen was rapid on the Spanish asphalt, taking two stage wins as the sole-finishing Toyota in fourth. Team-mates Latvala (engine) and Lappi (crash) both retired.
In his first appearance in a 2017 car on asphalt, Mads Ostberg showed good pace and took a fifth place on his least favourite surface, having led on the gravel of Friday.
He headed Meeke’s team-mate Stephane Lefebvre who had to nurse a hydraulic issue through Sunday.
Elfyn Evans was the final 2017-spec WRC car in the top 10 after a difficult weekend for the Welshman. His DMACK tyres weren’t suited to the gravel or asphalt stages and he suffered in bucket loads, eventually finishing almost five minutes off the lead.
Teemu Suninen won the WRC2 class for M-Sport in his Ford Fiesta R5. Second placed Jan Kopecky was left reeling after losing by 31.8s although he lost over a minute on the first day, caught in a drivers dust in his Skoda Fabia R5.
Leading finishers after SS19
|1||Kris Meeke, P.Nagle||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||3h01m21.1ss||3h01m21.1s|
|2||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||3h01m49.1ss||28.0s|
|3||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||3h01m54.1ss||33.0s|
|4||Juho Hanninen, K.Lindstrom||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||Toyota||3h02m15.2ss||54.1s|
|5||Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||3h03m47.3ss||2m26.2s|
|6||Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||3h04m04.1ss||2m43.0s|
|7||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||3h05m58.5ss||4m37.4s|
|8||Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||3h09m43.8ss||8m22.7s|
|9||Jan Kopecky, P.Dresler||Skoda Motorsport II||Skoda||3h10m15.6ss||8m54.5s|
|10||Ole-Christian Veiby, S.R.Skjaermoen||Printsport||Skoda||3h10m25.9ss||9m04.8s|