Peugeot's Kris Meeke leads the Sata Rallye Azores after strong runs on each of the three opening stages of round four of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Meeke took the lead of the rally on SS2, Feteiras, although Skoda's Juho Hanninen just shaded him for the fastest time on the 7.47km test. Erstwhile leader Freddy Loix, who won last night's superspecial, dropped almost a minute to Meeke here due to a puncture.
Meeke was fastest again on stages three and four, although was lucky to escape the latter when he shattered a wheel against a rock that was hidden in the grass at the penultimate corner. He limped across the finish line, but still set the fastest time, and was able to change it immediately to drive back to service.
His closest rival to that point, Hanninen, then suffered a huge setback. He spun into a wall at the finish of SS3 and lost over 10 minutes on the next test due to suspension and wheel damage, and is now back in 38th place. He is expected to continue after dragging his car to service virtually on three wheels.
Meeke leads the rally after four stages by 13.2 seconds ahead of the similar Peugeot 207 of Nicolas Vouilloz. Portugal's Bruno Magalhaes (Peugeot) is keeping the locals entertained in third, ahead of Anton Alen (Abarth) and the second Skoda of Jan Kopecky.
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Kris Meeke Peugeot 36m19.2s
2. Nicolas Vouilloz Peugeot + 14.5s
3. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 33.4s
4. Anton Alen Abarth + 33.8s
5. Fernando Peres Mitsubishi + 53.1s
6. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 54.8s
7. Giandomenico Basso Abarth +1m02.8s
8. Conrad Rautenbach Peugeot +1m11.5s
9. Freddy Loix Peugeot +1m28.6s
10. Franz Wittmann Mitsubishi +1m39.5s