OUT TO MAKE HISTORY
Citroen ace Kris Meeke stands on the cusp of becoming the first British World Rally Championship driver to win a hat-trick of events for 15 years on Rally France this weekend.
The Northern Irishman has taken victory in his last two starts in the WRC in Portugal and Finland and goes into the Tour de Corse rally aiming to rewrite his own personal record book.
“It is a very tough rally,” said Meeke. “You need to be right on the top of your game from the very start of the event to stand a chance of winning.”
The event begins on Friday morning.
Kris Meeke arrives at this week’s Tour of Corsica with a shot at becoming the first British driver to secure a World Rally Championship hat-trick since 2001.
While the Northern Irishman hasn’t competed on every round of the series this season, he has won the last two rallies he’s started in Portugal and Finland. Victory on the French island would rewrite history for the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team driver.
Colin Mcrae managed two WRC hat-tricks, ending what had been a trying 1997 season with three wins, before successive victories in Argentina, Cyprus and Greece in a Ford Focus RS WRC 01 in 2001. Richard Burns came closest in 2000, when he won three from four rallies, but a second place in Catalunya spoiled the run.
Meeke, who finished fourth, more than a minute down on eventual winner Jari-matti Latvala in Ajaccio last season, is talking down his chances of what would be a brilliant three-in-arow aboard his DS 3 WRC. Meeke has competed on the island event three times previously (he did also get a run on the 2013 ERC counter, where he drove a Peugeot 208 R2 as course car), but his own assessment of his result last season is the main reason he’s ruling himself out of the fight for victory this week.
“Last year,” said Meeke, “Corsica wasn’t strong for me. I was pretty pathetic there. The conditions were horrendous and there was no way I could start to try to explore the speed or the limit of the car. It was really bad from that point of view.
“So, with a formbook like the one I have in Corsica, my hope is to go there and change it, turn it around and get some rhythm back on those stages. I’m certainly not going to Corsica with any thoughts of a hat-trick.”
Meeke’s lack of form in Corsica contrasts with the speed he’d shown in Portugal and Finland in previous seasons.
Meeke agreed, saying: “Those two had always been strong rallies for me – particularly with Portugal moving to the north and using new stages. But Corsica, I have no real form there.”
Meeke added the nature of this week’s penultimate asphalt round of the season didn’t lend itself to an all-out charge or a slow
start. He said: “Corsica’s a hellish tricky event and that’s before you really start to think about the weather, which can change in no time. It’s corner after corner after corner, everybody knows the story with Corsica.
“The first stage is straight into it with 49 kilometres (30.44 miles), so you have to be really careful to try and make sure that you find the rhythm or you could be a long way down after just the first stage. If you want to be at the sharp end on this rally then it’s so important to be on your marks right from the very start.”
Meeke’s last two wins have caused a considerable stir in the service park, with Volkswagen’s outgoing team principal Jost Capito particularly outspoken about the value of those wins, which came from a preferable position on the road due to Meeke’s position in the world championship points.
Sebastien Ogier has already told MN he’s not interested in fighting Meeke and the Dungannon star says he’ll be doing his own thing.
“I’m not thinking about beating Sebastien Ogier or anybody like that,” he said. “I’m not going there with a fixed idea of beating people and I certainly won’t be concentrating on Seb and trying to get a third win in succession.”
Tables are turned on Meeke this week, with Ogier likely to be running in the best of the conditions at the front of the field. Certainly, if the weather turns wet, it’s widely accepted to be more difficult to win from further down the running order.
Meeke said: “I would prefer consistent conditions and the dry would suit me the best, that would give me the chance to try to find a bit of pace – that’s what I’m going there for. The place on the road won’t necessarily help me this time. Last year, when the conditions were really wet, there was quite a lot of pollution on the road. It was so dirty it felt like you were driving a different event [to the cars at the front].”
Gathering experience and confidence from this week’s Tour of Corsica will be vital for Meeke, given that he’ll be back on the island in six months and chasing points in his first serious, seasonlong title tilt for the factory Citroen team. The FIA and WRC Promoter have put pressure on the French organisers to slot into an April date, helping to ease calendar congestion in the final quarter of the season.
Meeke’s Finland win was a landmark result
Meeke has flown in the DS 3 WRC this season Northern Irishman is chasing a hat-trick of WRC victories ahead of 2017