Kris Meeke set a blistering pace on the opening day of Rally Australia.
The Dungannon driver was in top form as he finished just two seconds adrift of the works VW Polo driven by Jari Matti-Latvala.
With Meeke’s regular teammate Mads Ostberg a non-starter due to an accident, Stephane Lefebvre was the replacement and was holding ninth place and on the final stage his Citroen DS3 hit a rock forcing his retirement – however he will be able to start day two.
Meeke, who is under pressure from Citroen management over his seat for 2016, set the fastest time on the longest special stage and he was taking the fight to the trio of works VW Polos.
And at the end of day one he had a 4.6 second lead over reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier in third place.
“I am pleased with my day,” Meeke said.
“I took advantage of my starting position this morning to make a good start to the rally.
“I lost first place on the final stage of the day, but I could not do much more to defend the position, given the dust clouds that reduced visibility.
“There will be more sweeping tomorrow. I will see how the rally goes, bearing in mind that the most important thing is to make it to the finish and be consistent.
“If the opportunity presents itself, then I will try to fight for the win.”
Prior to last month’s German Rally, Citroen boss Yves Matton said that Meeke’s seat for 2016 was under threat after the Northern Irishman’s crashes in Italy, Poland and Finland.
Meeke then followed that warning by having another mishap in Germany which meant that he had to settle for another disappointing 12th spot finish.
Despite criticism, he is the only Citroen driver to have recorded a win in the FIA World Rally Championship this season and if he can score in Australia it really will be the icing on the cake and should seal his place for next season.