by Rob Wilkins.

Colin McRae's protege, Kris Meeke is one of two Brit's vying for the Junior World Rally Championship [JWRC] this year, along with fellow countryman, Guy Wilks. Currently Meeke leads the championship by one point, following his win at the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally and a third place finish last weekend in Sardinia - an event which could so easily have been win number two.

Here, talking exclusively to Crash.net Radio, he reflects on that event - 'the one that got away' - and looks further ahead...

Q:
Kris. You finished third in Sardinia last weekend. Were you pleased with that?

Kris Meeke:
Definitely happy to come away leading the [Junior] championship. It is also good to take six points away from a very rough rally. But I think it was still a case of what could have been.

I'm still quite frustrated at the small mistake I made on the Saturday afternoon, when we got caught in the dust of the car in front and missed a braking point. Because of the nature of the event over there - the roads are so narrow - we just caught some rocks at the side of the road and it put us out of the rally. Luckily, under the new regulations, it was the last stage on Saturday and we were only penalised five minutes for missing that stage and managed to get back in to get third place. So, all in all, it was a good weekend but, for one mistake, it could have been another victory for us.

Q:
You mentioned the SupeRally system there. A few of the drivers discussed this in the post-event press conference and said that they don't think it is really fair. What's your position on this?

KM:
If I am really honest, I think it is not fair. For me, rallying has always been every bit as much about attrition as speed. You have to be able to finish rallies and drive at a level where you are not going crash. If you have mechanical problems, that is the car manufacturer's fault.

I think you should be penalised the way you have always been, and you have to up your game and be able to finish a three-day rally. I can see that, for the paying spectators and everything, it is definitely good for TV, but they need to re-think the points system and how it operates. I probably was a benefactor in Sardinia, but you will always hear drivers who do well complain about those that benefit from it. So it has it plusses and minuses. But, for me, I'd like to see it go back to the old system.

Q:
You had the new Citroen C2 S1600 gravel specification car in Sardinia as well. How was that?

KM:
We have been concentrating very hard over the past two or three months on the gravel set-up of the car. Citroen are putting in a lot of effort this year, and it is just fantastic for me to be involved in such a big team. We have been doing a lot of testing, and I think we proved in Sardinia that the hard work has paid off and we have been working in right direction. For me, there is still more to come from the car and it gives me very good confidence heading to the next gravel rounds in Greece and Finland. I think we have the basis to start a very good championship campaign from here.

Q:
Thanks to your third place in Sardinia and your victory in Monte Carlo, you are leading the championship. Must be pretty good?

KM:
As I said at the start, if someone had offered me this last year, that two events in to this season, I'd be driving for Citroen and we would have won the first rally and come back in the second event to third place and be leading the championship, I would have told them to wise up. But I am such a competitive person...

Now I am in such a very good situation with Citroen, I am annoyed and disappointed that I did make a small mistake and it cost us our second victory in row. I think that is just myself being of a competitive nature - you always want to do the best you can and, for me at the weekend, I made one small mistake. Ultimately, I didn't do the best I could have done and win the rally. But, again, it is still good to be leading the championship and we have to continue it forward and look and analyse where we did make a mistake and see if we can put it right for the next events.

Q:
Two of your main rivals for the championship this year - Suzuki's Guy Wilks and Per-Gunnar Andersson - are doing not only the Junior rounds, but all the other events too. Does this give them an advantage?

KM:
I think anyone will say you can't take away from people doing competitive mileage week in week out. But there are two sides to the coin. We have been testing a lot specifically for rough gravel events recently, which should hopefully help us for Greece as well.

Guy and P-G have been away doing Sweden, Mexico and New Zealand, from when I last competed [at the Monte Carlo Rally]. That's a lot of competition miles and, when they got to Sardinia, they were obviously match fit and up for it straight away. On the other hand, we were testing specifically for one event and haven't taken our eye off the ball. We are solely there for the Junior World Rally Championship. Both things have positive sides and negative sides. But I think we showed in Sardinia that our approach paid off.

Q:
The next event, as you mentioned there, is Greece. That's quite a long way off now - not until the end of June. What's your aim?

KM:
We have more testing planned in between. Next week, we head off on Monday to do two days of tarmac testing. Then we will do a round of the French championship straight after the test. For me, it is fantastic to be starting tarmac testing already, in preparation for Germany later in the year. But we do have another gravel test before Greece and, with our performance in Sardinia, it has given me very good confidence heading to that rally.

Again though, it is a Super 1600 car and, when we head to an event like Greece, which is a car breaker, it is going to be another rally of attrition and punctures. They do not unfortunately let us run mousse in the Junior WRC [tyres], which we have been arguing for these past two years. I think, in Sardinia, it was proved that the person who has the least amount of problems - and specifically punctures - comes through at the end. But I'm pretty confident in car - it is very strong and reliable and we showed in Sardinia that it's got good speed. So we are heading to Greece in good shape.

Q:
Are you going to do any rounds of the British championship this year, to supplement your campaign in the JWRC?

KM:
We have been working quite closely with Citroen - and trying to work with Citroen in the UK - but, unfortunately, the people there do not see the British Championship at the moment as a viable proposition.

It does cost a lot to run these cars and, unfortunately, the British championship is at low ebb, especially Super 1600-wise. It is difficult to get the manufacturers involved in it so, at the moment, I don't think we will be out in any British Championship rounds.

There may be a chance of raising some budget to get out on the Ulster Rally, my home event, but that is further on in the year and I don't want it to distract from my Junior WRC commitments either. It would be nice - there are some cracking rallies in the British championship, but unfortunately there is a lack of interest.

Q:
This year's Wales Rally GB is a Production Car round. Are you going to contest that, or is that going to be one you will have to sit it out?

KM:
You never like to sit out you're home rally and Rally GB is one I know quite well now. In whatever category I drive, I think I could be quite competitive. We are looking at it as an opportunity to get out in something different. We are working quite hard on that at the moment, but time will tell if we make appearance. Definitely, I wouldn't like to miss my home round of the championship. Fingers crossed we will be out.

Q:
I know this year is only young and it is perhaps a bit early to start talking about 2006, but I am going to ask it anyway. What are your plans beyond this season?

KM:
As you said, it's a long way away and, for me, I'm concentrating on each rally I have in front of me. Yes, you need to start to plan long-term as well, and be thinking about next year already, but personally I am concentrating on the JWRC at the moment.

We have shown in Monte Carlo that we had the speed on tarmac in tricky conditions and, in Sardinia, we were leading and had the speed there also. Again, it is a case of me putting in consistently good performances this year and trying to come away at the end of the year with JWRC championship to prove to the team managers that we have, not only the speed, but the consistency to be battling in the championship situation as well.

If do my job correctly this year, I definitely hope to be knocking on the door of World Rally cars next year. That's the goal and that's ultimately where I want to be. So the sooner better in my case, but we have to concentrate on the job at hand at the moment and hopefully we can win the championship for Citroen.

Q:
You've said there you would obviously like to step up to the 'senior' WRC, which is natural. But does it worry you that with Citroen and Peugeot pulling out the works drives are becoming increasingly few and far between?

KM:
Yeah, it definitely makes it more difficult if there are fewer and fewer seats available. There are still the same amount of drivers there, knocking on the door, looking for seats - so, obviously, there will be more people who are disappointed than there are getting the drives. But, again, drivers who get themselves in the World Rally Championship are good enough to be there. I just have to prove to everyone I am good enough and that I get an opportunity over the next guy, who is looking to do it as well.

For me, it doesn't matter whether I am British, black, blue, white or whatever colour. At end of day, I have to be good enough to be involved in the WRC and drive for manufacturer at that level. I believe I am and, if I continue to put in good performances this year, hopefully someone will recognise that and give me an opportunity.

Q:
There were rumours at the end of last year that you might have been driving for Skoda this season - sharing the seat with Colin McRae. How close was that to actually happening?

KM:
There was some discussion with Skoda last year and I did test the car - a Monte Carlo test towards the end of 2004. But again Skoda is a team that is... they are quite keen on their drivers bringing a budget. Unfortunately, I wasn't in a position to help out in that situation.

There was talk of Colin maybe driving for the team as well, but I think he is a very competitive guy and, if he wanted to come back, the deal would have to be right. He did test the car, and thought highly of the Skoda, but I think the deal just wasn't right.

For me, this year, I am involved with Citroen, which is a fantastic team and it is a great experience to be involved with that. It is working out quite well for me this year, and I have to work hard to keep it going in that direction, but for me you have to make your decisions and stick with it. I firmly believe we made the right decision this year.

Q:
Final question, how does the McRae connection help you? It's got to be a boost?

KM:
Yeah, it is definitely an advantage having Colin on board. I was living at Colin's place last year for six or seven months. It was a fantastic experience, not only to get to know Colin better, but to train with him and get to know what sort of things you need to be looking at and concentrating on and where I needed to be working harder. It sort of opened my eyes to what's required to be a world champion.

It is good to learn from all his experiences. It has definitely helped me in the past and he is there, on the 'phone, anytime I need him, to draw some advice from. It's a good help. However, at end of the day, he is not in the car beside me when I am driving it. I have to do all that work myself. I have to be good enough to get to the World Rally Championship and that is purely up to me. The advice all helps, but I have to prove my ability to everyone.

Q:
Thanks Kris. We wish you luck for Greece and hope you can keep the British flag flying.

KM:
Thanks.