In front of an estimated 25,000 spectators at Rallycross de Loheác, World Rally Championship driver Kris Meeke made his intentions clear as Albatec Racing underlined its potential in round seven of the FIA European Rallycross Championship.
The Irishman set a blistering pace in his two-litre 16v Albatec Peugeot 208 in the morning's free practice, which only fellow rally ace Petter Solberg
could beat. Topping the timesheets on his very first run, Meeke elected to sit out the rest of the session, happy with the pace and set-up on his 208. Momentarily dropping to third, the 2009 IRC champion headed back out to complete a one-lap practice start later in the session, and immediately recorded the second fastest time.
Meeke joined pole-sitter Liam Doran for his opening heat and a good start allowed him to hold second place into turn one, challenging Doran for the lead. Easily faster than the eventual race winner, Meeke pushed hard over the opening lap but, after taking his joker, was held up by a slower car, ending his chance of victory.
Lining up on pole for heat two, Meeke was beaten off the line by a fast-starting Andreas Bakkerud and, on the entry to turn one, made contact with Davy Jeanney, puncturing his front left tyre. Despite the rubber being ripped to shreds, however, Meeke pushed on to the flag to finish fifth.
“It's been an interesting day, but a bit frustrating too,” the Irishman admitted, “In rallying you know that, if you're fast and you're on your own, you can be near the front, you're in control of your own race but, in rallycross, that's not the case. I know, if I can have a clean race, we can be the fastest but, of course, it's impossible to have a clean race sometimes. That's the nature of rallycross.
“Sitting there with everyone waiting for the start, the heart-rate was definitely going, that's for sure, but the second race was no problem at all. By then, I'd got used to it. Our starts haven't been the fastest today, and that's everything in rallycross, so we will need to look at that overnight and try to improve our starts and see what we can do tomorrow.”
Meeke, who starred on the recent Rally Finland, will be back on track today [Sunday], with two further heats and two semi-finals through which to progress to weekend's main event.
On the back of a strong outing in the last round in Sweden, team principal Andy Scott reaffirmed Albatec's hard work during the on-going development of its brand new Peugeot 208s by recording the fifth fastest time on his first flying lap in practice. A fuel pressure problem on his second run ended his session prematurely, but with the problem rectified for the opening race, the 2011 MSA British Rallycross vice-champion took up his place on pole for the first Supercar heat of the day. A great getaway allowed him to get the jump and with a commanding drive went on to record his third heat win of the season.
The second heat saw Scott line up alongside pole sitter, nine-time world rally champion Sebastian Loeb. Making a reasonable start to place fourth into the first corner, Scott took his joker on lap one, to try to maximise the speed in the car. A strong second lap by the flying Albatec driver was negated as he came across a slowing Ford Focus, losing all momentum and a likely second place. The eventual fourth place was scant reward for a good drive.