by Rob Wilkins
TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH KRIS MEEKE: CLICK HERE.
Former Junior World Rally Championship star, Kris Meeke took a dominant win on the Ulster International Rally recently, convincingly beating triple Irish tarmac champion, Eugene Donnelly in his Pirelli-backed Subaru S11 WRC car. Crash.net Radio
caught up with the Ulsterman this week to get his thoughts on that and his plans for the remainder of the season, which could include an outing on the inaugural Rally Ireland, the penultimate round in the WRC...
Kris, first up, congratulations on your win on the Ulster Rally recently, you must have been well pleased?
Yeah, it was fantastic to be out there - and any opportunity to do my home rally, especially this year to get the chance to do it in a World Rally Car, was great. It is an event I have grown up around - the stages travel within 5 or 6 miles of my home and while there are so many lanes around the Ulster and you are never at home on every lane, you do get to know the lie of the land. It was just brilliant to get the opportunity to do the rally and as I said, it was a great result. Everything work for me, the tyre choices – it was tricky conditions, but we made the right call on tyres and the whole package worked very, very well. In the end it was nice to re-pay all the sponsors who helped me get out there.
How tough did you find it, because in the end you won 13 of the 16 stages and finished more than 2.5 minutes up on Eugene Donnelly, it seemed as if you were in a class of your own?
The rally was very, very tough - but at the end of the day if you start to think about your competitors you are nearly beat before you have started, it is about the road and the stop watch. The times were good and the conditions were unpredictable to say the least. You were making tyre choices 40 miles away from the stages and the stages were in 2 hours time and within 5 minutes the road conditions were changing. I think right the way through the event we picked the best compromise on the Pirelli tyres we were on and I have to admit they worked fantastically well. It was the first time I have ever driven a WRC car on Pirelli tyres and the times speak for themselves. I just felt comfortable with the package and it wasn't a case of going out, yes we wanted to win the rally, but I just drove at a pace I felt comfortable at and we just continued with that right the way through the event. Obviously it was good enough to take the victory and I am just delighted - delighted for everyone who put the package together for me. I am just so pleased we were able to deliver a result.
Obviously it has been a quiet year for you, rally wise, but when you have been out you have done very well, as you showed on the Ulster and also on the Killarney International Rally and the UAC Easter International Rally. I guess you must also have been pleased with your performances on those two other events as well?
For sure - it has obviously been a quieter season for me and as is well documented we didn't move up to the world championship with a WRC car as we would have wanted. But this year I have been back home in Ireland and I have to take my hat off to all the guys that have helped me get out on these Irish championship events this year. On the Circuit of Ireland - or the UAC Easter International Rally as it is now called, Kenny McKinstry got me fired up to get me out on that one. The support I have received back home from a lot of people, who have been supporting me over the years, it has been fantastic for them to come on board and see me out on the Irish events. It has gone well for me. We were leading the Easter International until unfortunately we had an engine problem near the end. But we got back out in Kenny McKinstry's car and we managed to win the Killarney Rally and obviously took victory on the Ulster too, so percentage wise, I suppose, it has been a very good year. But obviously we haven't been doing the amount of events that I would like.
What has it been like to drive a WRC car, because obviously most of your experience in recent years has been in the Junior series with the Citroen
It has been incredible. It has always been my desire to step up to a WRC car and for me I always wanted to do it at world championship level. We haven't been able to do that at the moment. We have only got one rally under our belt at world championship level in a WRC car. But to be honest this year stepping out in the Irish Tarmac Championship has been quite good because I have never competed in a WRC car on tarmac before this season and the first three events we have done have gone very well. I am learning as I go along and it is just incredible what the machines will do. With the Super 1600s you are nearly going out onto the stages as if you are going to war! They are great to drive, but the World Rally Cars just lend themselves to be driven so quickly. The car itself wants to be driven faster and faster and it is not a problem anything you throw at it. It is a totally different driving experience and for me it is a lot more relaxed. It seems to be working well and I have driven the Subaru now on asphalt this year and we had a days testing last year with the Citroen
C4 and we also tested the Xsara on gravel. So we are gradually building up some WRC Car experience and it would be fantastic to put that to use at world championship level.