MEEKE AND BREEN TO WALES RALLY GB
Al Qassimi’s absence gives home favourites a chance
British and Irish rally fans have Khalid Al Qassimi to thank for delivering the news that both Kris Meeke and Craig Breen will contest Wales Rally GB later this month.
While Citroen had confirmed to MN that it would be present at the event, team principal Yves Matton had admitted it looked difficult for Meeke and Breen to compete, with Stephane Lefebvre and Al Qassimi scheduled to be in Wales.
Matton admitted a clash of dates had forced the UAE star out, allowing the home heroes in.
Matton told MN: “The plan was that Khalid would do the rally, but now he is not able to do it and he offered his car to Kris or Craig or Stephane – that’s how we can do this. Early in the year, together with Kris, we made the plan of which rallies to do and we targeted the events where he doesn’t have so much experience. Rally GB wasn’t one of the events – he has good experience there. But it’s good that he drives now.”
Meeke and Breen are both delighted with the news that they will be on the Deeside-based event.
Meeke said: “I think everybody knows what this event means to me and the chance to drive there is really important. It’s fantastic to be competing in front of the home fans and on those fantastic stages – the stages where I competed on my first ever rally.
“As much as that though, I’m really pleased to be competing again. I’m now doing three from the last four rallies of the season and that means I take plenty of competitive seat time before the end of the year and the start of 2017.”
While Breen has great memories from Wales, winning the WRC Academy and SWRC titles in 2011 and 2012, he has only competed there once in the last three years – placing a Peugeot 208 T16 on the WRC2 podium in third place last season.
“I can’t wait, it’s a rally that’s treated me well over the years and obviously it was Gareth’s [Roberts, co-driver] home event – it means a lot,” Breen told MN. “I have a lot of support there and I love the stages. The chance to have a crack at those roads in this car is special. As for what we might be able to do over there, that would really depend on the weather and where we are running on the road. I’m not even going to say if it’s wet – it’s more a case of how wet it is!”
Present at last week’s Tour of Corsica, Lefebvre admitted his return to world championship action in Wales was still dependent on his recovery.
He told MN: “I’m only on the entry list, I don’t know if I will start – it’s the end of the season and it’s important for me to be back. It depends on the training and the recovery. I have some pain from the muscle in my back sometimes: one day it’s perfect and one day it’s not so good. I didn’t drive the [rally] car since the accident, but I hope before GB that I can do one day of testing on the asphalt and one day on the gravel. For the WRC, you need to have your body at 100 per cent.”
If Lefebvre does start in GB, it’s certain his co-driver Gabin Moreau won’t – he suffered more injuries than Lefebvre and is still recovering.
“It’s more complicated for Gabin,” he said, “so GB is not possible, but for sure we will be back together next year.”
There were more than a few eyebrows raised in the service park when news of next year’s World Rally Championship calendar came out of the FIA’S World Motor Sport Council meeting.
It wasn’t because we only have half the calendar confirmed with the start of perhaps the biggest season of rallying in decades is just three months away, that’ll be sorted soon enough. It was more about potential for the inclusion of Turkey.
Those who say sport and politics don’t mix are wrong, they are intrinsically linked at nearly every level. Sadly.
But for once, I’m steering well clear of politics here. all I will say is that I think WRC Promoter is doing the right thing here.
In the wake of the Vladimir Antanov-north One Sport debacle, the WRC was a in a very sorry mess. For years, we’d had to make do with a promoter that was incapable of promoting. That’s hardly surprising seeing as they apparently struggled to make enough money to cover the costs of televising the championship – never mind promote it!
But that’s all changed in the past four years. If you have a failing business, you look at what those succeeding are doing and you try your best to replicate that. And that’s quite rightly what we’re seeing here.
The cheque book calendar is almost entirely what has made Formula 1 into the powerhouse of world sport it is today. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see the WRC trying to emulate this. As long as sporting and safety requirements are met, rallies that are prepared to invest in the long term should be welcomed into our championship.
WRC Promoter has done a quite remarkable job of moving our sport forward over the past few years. Let’s face it, the most important element of any sporting promotion is the television product, and my goodness me it’s been a struggle to get it right.
For years, the cornerstones of the TV package have been the dependable rally man Steve Turvey and the ever-reliable producer Kevin Piper. but it wasn’t until Red Bull whizzkid Florian Ruth turned up and sprinkled a touch of Red Bull magic over the production that things changed. The programme is now not only watchable, it’s compulsive entertainment.
The global audience has increased, the number of broadcasters has increased, the sport is finding a new audience.
But all of this hard work doesn’t come for free. For the WRC Promoter to promote, there needs to be a reliable revenue stream – historically something that’s been missing. What we are seeing now is the promoter laying the foundations for a long-term and sustainable future for our sport at the highest level.
Yes, there may be some questionable decisions made along the way, but in this one, the promoter has my whole-hearted support.