by Rob Wilkins.

Britain's Kris Meeke will resume his battle for honours in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship next month when he takes in the ADAC Rallye Deutschland and the Neste Rally Finland. Here he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio about what he has been up to since his last event with the Citroen C2 S1600 in Corsica - and he also gives us his thoughts on the decisions made by the World Motor Sport Council last week...

Q:
Kris, the last time we spoke was back in June following the JWRC events in Spain and Corsica. I believe you have done several tests since then with the Citroen C2, how are things looking ahead of your next two events in Germany and Finland?

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Kris Meeke:
Yeah things are looking quite good. I just arrived home this morning [Thursday July 13] from a test in Finland, which was quite an extensive test and everything seems to be in good shape. Two weeks ago we were in Germany and did two days testing there as well. Citroen are a very professional outfit, they take no chances and they prepare very well for the events. As I say we are in good shape and hopefully come the events we can pull everything together and get some good results.

Q:
Are there any more tests planned prior to those events?

KM:
No - that should be it until Germany. I think we have three or four weeks until Germany now and even with the Junior WRC this year, we have regulations, which means we are not allowed to test in a country two weeks before the rally. So we had to get everything done on time and so, as I say, there is no more testing before the event.

Q:
What are you aims for those two events?

KM:
I have been in the JWRC for a number of years now and you get that you tend not to predict your results going into any event. For sure we are preparing to do the best we can. I am confident in the car and I am confident in my own ability, it is just a case of bringing everything together and getting the best out of it. I am sure we will be satisfied if everything happens the way we want.

Q:
The last round of the JWRC was in Sardinia, you of course didn't do that one as it is not one of your nominated events. It wasn't a very positive event for your C2 colleagues though was it?

KM:
Not particularly, no - obviously in that event there were a lot of punctures and a lot of people were slowed by punctures. In some respects the rough gravel events are settled by punctures, which is a bit unfortunate, but I think in Germany and Finland that same risk will not be there. Of course you can pick up a puncture anywhere, but it is more of a problem on events like Sardinia.

I think [Patrik] Sandell drove a good rally [to take the JWRC win in Sardinia though] and he deserved to come away with the points.

Q:
You competed in the Polish WRC candidate event in mid-June with the Citroen C2-R2, winning the two-wheel drive category. What did you make of that event? Did it deserve a place on the calendar?

KM:
I enjoyed Poland immensely it was my first time in that country. It definitely offered something unique. It was a fantastic challenge. Different bits and pieces were similar to Finland and other bits and pieces were like Rally GB. The stages were sometimes very wide and sometimes they were very narrow. It was very technical and definitely it was an enjoyable challenge. But the one thing that stood out was the enthusiasm for motorsport in Poland. The amount of spectators and as I say the enthusiasm they showed towards the competitors was fantastic. For me the World Rally Championship always needs to be looking at opening up its horizons and looking at new countries and new ideas. Poland was definitely in there with a shout. But I think one thing that maybe didn't go in its favour were that the stages were a little bit fast - even in the small front-wheel drive car we were driving, we were averaging over 120 km p/h, which I think, for the regulations for the WRC, is a little fast. But for sure everything else was in place and I don't think it will be long until we see Poland make another attempt to get in the WRC calendar.

Q:
Looking at next year's calendar, what did you make of the decision to stick with a January to December format?

KM:
For me I enjoy driving the car whether it is in the winter time or the summer time. It did seem a bit strange [that under the new proposed format we would be] starting in August and finishing in May, but for me it didn't matter. [As for] the rallies that are involved, bringing in Ireland obviously for myself is a fantastic thing. I always treated Rally GB and the event in Wales as my home event, but now we have a true WRC event in Ireland and it will be fantastic to get an opportunity to compete on home soil. But that is next year and hopefully we can be in there in Ireland in 2007 and driving some good machinery.

Q:
You pre-empted my next question there by going on to talk about Ireland. Obviously next year, Australia, Cyprus and Turkey have been axed and in comes in there place, Ireland, Norway and Portugal. What are your thoughts on that more generally? Were you surprised Australia was one of those that missed out?

KM:
Yeah, Australia was always a very popular event, but I don't know the 'in's and out's' as to why it was dropped. But it is good to see some new events coming in. Definitely Ireland, Portugal and Norway, they have all done, I think, a superb job in their candidacy and deserve a place. For me, the championship went a bit stale in the middle of the year in 2005 when you had four rough Mediterranean gravel rallies in row with Cyrus, Turkey, Greece and Sardinia. To have four in a row was quite a lot. So maybe there was a place to bring in some new challenges - like the bumpy tarmac in Ireland, another snow rally in Norway and obviously Portugal, with its history in the WRC, I think the support will be fantastic there. It is always nice to have a few changes but it remains to be seen how everything pans out next year.

Q:
Staying with next year, there are some changes on the regulation front as well, with regard to, for example, the SupeRally format. What did you make of those alterations?

KM:
They are always trying to look at new ways to keep the competition there, to keep the challenges there right through to the Sunday. I think no matter what the regulations are [and how the SupeRally is done] someone is going to be happy at the end of the rally and someone is not going to be happy. It is always a case someone is going to benefit from the rules and someone is going to lose out. So no matter how you change the SupeRally format it will suit some and not others on different weekends. I think you just have to take it as it comes.

For me, there are three drivers at the top at the moment - [Petter] Solberg, [Marcus] Gronholm and [Sebastian] Loeb, and I think you will see it maybe panning out that the strong drivers at the minute get stronger in the championship with the availability for those drivers to score even more points relative to the others. So it could bring a championship battle down to those three experienced drivers. But it just gives you an extra challenge and extra motivation for young drivers coming through to try and build themselves up to their level.

As I say, some weekends it will benefit you and some weekends it won't. That is the way with the SupeRally system no matter whether it is the SupeRally as we know it now or the way they plan to do it next year. We will have to see how it works out.

Q:
Another change will see a single-tyre supplier brought in and from 2008, in the 'senior' category, just like it is in the JWRC at the moment, drivers won't be able to run with mousse. What impact will that have?

KM:
I think this is one of rule changes that will affect the drivers most of all at the World Championship level. They are use to running, for a number of years now, with the mousse system and their pace-notes especially will have big cuts that they won't be able to take without the mousse and their lines in some corners will change. That could create quite a bit of interest, it is the nature of the WRC that you are on rough terrain and it does generate punctures, and with the mousse over the last few years they were able to drive at a consistently fast pace without any problems. So I think you will see a few more shake-ups in the results - a puncture can just knock the wind out of your rally, so it will make it a bit more varied. In the JWRC you can't use mousse and you have to learn to adapt your driving style as a result - sometimes you get unlucky and sometimes you pick up a puncture where you have absolutely no chance to avoid it and other times you have to learn what corners you can select to cut and what ones you can't. So the WRC drivers will just have to adjust. I am sure that they will not have any problems doing that but you will see a few unexpected results with the leader-board changing a lot more than it has been.

Q:
Do you think your experience of running without mousse in the JWRC might hand you a bit of an advantage if you do graduate to the top level in the next few years?

KM:
I don't know. I think it is always a case that you have to be good enough to earn a place in the WRC. I don't think there is any question that the fact they aren't going to run mousse is going to give you any advantage. I think you still have to prove yourself and earn your place in a WRC seat - that is still my ultimate goal and that is where I want to be driving and I won't stop until I achieve that. We will have to wait and see.

Q:
Final question: can you give us an update on your plans to possibly compete with a WRC car this season - and to contest some BRC events?

KM:
I am still working at the minute on doing possibly an outing on my home rally, the Ulster Rally in September [in the BRC], but as I say we are still finalising plans for that - whether it happens yet or not, I don't know. WRC rallies are going to be difficult this year due to the amount of budget required to do it - and finding the right sponsors and obviously fitting it in with rounds that don't clash with my JWRC programme. For sure it is always my ultimate goal to get out in a World Rally Car, but you have to be in the right place and at the right time and have the right opportunity. We are still working on it and hopefully between now and the end of the year we can do something but at the minute there is not an opportunity there.