North­ern Ir­ish­man aims to end 15-year wait for a home WRC win­ner

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans Pho­tos: LAT

Kris Meeke will look to end a 15-year wait for an­other home win­ner of the Dayin­sure Wales Rally GB this week.

The Dun­gan­non star has al­ready won twice for the Abu Dhabi To­tal World Rally Team this sea­son, but suc­cess in Wales this week would mean a huge amount to Meeke and co-driver Paul Na­gle.

After Colin Mcrae and Richard Burns dom­i­nated Bri­tain’s WRC round for six years be­tween 1994 and 2000, no home driver has won it since. Meeke and his Citroen DS 3 WRC could change all that this week and go one bet­ter than the se­cond place he scored at home last sea­son.

“It’s the home rally,” he said. “Of course you want to win it. There’s spe­cial mo­ti­va­tion here, a spe­cial feel­ing from this event.”

Meeke has taken con­fi­dence from his wins this sea­son, es­pe­cially Fin­land. And it’s that his­toric vic­tory in Jy­vaskyla, when Meeke be­came the first Bri­tish driver ever to tri­umph on what’s still re­garded among the most spe­cialised events in the WRC sea­son, that in­spires him this week.

“When I went to Fin­land last year, I was al­ways on the limit and I just couldn’t put any time into the Volk­swa­gens,” Meeke told MN. “In the end, I was maybe 35 or 40 sec­onds off Jari-matti [Lat­vala]. But this year, it was dif­fer­ent. This year I was able to find the speed to win. Look at Rally GB last year, I was 30 sec­onds be­hind [Se­bastien] Ogier; same story. It was only on the se­cond pass of Hafren where I was able to take five sec­onds or some­thing. Ev­ery­where else, he was able to take five, four, two, three sec­onds. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough for him to move away.

“Will I be able to do this week what I did in Fin­land? I don’t know. We’ll have to see, but the stages are mixed up a bit and that can only be a good thing.”

The open­ing day of this week’s Dee­side-based event is run­ning in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to re­cent years – that’s some­thing Meeke is com­fort­able with.

“They changed the di­rec­tion of Oun­in­po­hja in Fin­land this year,” said Meeke. “That was a pretty big talk­ing point in that event, but we seemed to man­age quite well mak­ing new notes in what were fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings there.”

Meeke took 13.4 and 5.8 sec­onds out of Lat­vala’s VW Polo R WRC on the two runs at the world­fa­mous Oun­in­po­hja test.

The weather this week will play a key role in the chances for a

Meeke win, with re­cently crowned world cham­pion Se­bastien Ogier ex­pected to en­joy the best of the con­di­tions at the front of the field.

Meeke’s best bet is for a re­peat of the heavy rain we saw last year.

Meeke said: “Last year I had re­ally good pace run­ning fur­ther back and that was be­cause the con­stant rain was wash­ing the road clean. If it’s in-be­tween con­di­tions; if it rains a bit, but it’s mainly just damp then you get that layer of mud which turns to a kind of slime as more cars pass, there’s noth­ing you can do with that.”

If the slime comes, Meeke’s race could be as good as run.

He added: “My hands will be com­pletely tied, you sim­ply can’t over-drive in these con­di­tions. If ev­ery­thing’s in your favour and you get a good go at it then great, but if the weather’s like I’ve talked about then it’s so dif­fi­cult. You can push harder, of course you can, but you’re re­ally start­ing to risk go­ing off the road and it’ll just end in an ac­ci­dent.”

Meeke is also quick to point out that he’s only here to main­tain a com­pet­i­tive edge – and he’s do­ing that in a car which hasn’t been touched in terms of de­vel­op­ment since last sea­son.

“Win­ning this week would be very nice, but it’s not nec­es­sary this year,” he added. “That sounds strange… of course it’s kind of nec­es­sary and, don’t worry, if I have half a chance to win the thing then I’ll be right there. But I know the lim­i­ta­tions of where we are and I’ll come here with the same mind­set that I’ve taken to ev­ery other round of the cham­pi­onship we’ve done this year: it’s all about ex­pe­ri­ence.

“At the same time, the big thing for me is to come back to Wales next sea­son in the right place on the road – nearer the front, be­cause we’re com­ing back home in the mid­dle of a ti­tle fight. This year’s im­por­tant, it’s about seat time and com­pe­ti­tion, but next year’s the big one. Through­out this sea­son, through the wins and ev­ery­thing we’ve done in the world cham­pi­onship this year, there has been a big­ger pic­ture and that big­ger pic­ture’s get­ting sharper and sharper in the frame now.”

This week will be Meeke’s ninth at­tempt at Rally GB, but only his fifth in a World Rally Car. It will be his third suc­ces­sive shot at the event in a DS 3 WRC. Com­par­a­tively speak­ing, Lat­vala is the most ex­pe­ri­enced fac­tory driver in Bri­tain and he’ll start in Wales for the 14th time this week.

And want a third at home have won twice al­ready this year, Paul Na­gle (left) and Kris Meeke

Meeke will carry Citroen’s at­tack into the Welsh forests

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