by Rob Wilkins


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. 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?

Kris Meeke:
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 C2 S1600?

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.
There is some talk you might not the Rally Ireland, the penultimate round in the WRC, can you tell us anything more about that?

Obviously it is fantastic for the WRC to be coming to Ireland at the end of the year and myself I have been doing events this year in the Irish Tarmac Championship and it has obviously raised my profile within my home country. Everyone is keen to see me out on Rally Ireland. We are trying our best at the moment to make sure we are there and all I can say is that we are working very, very hard behind the scenes to put the right package in place and get out there. There is nothing I would like to do more than go out in front of my home supporters and compete at world level against the cream of the drivers' in the world. We will see. I am hopeful and fingers crossed we will be there.
Would that be with a Subaru again?

I have to say at the moment it is looking like a Subaru. We have been competing this year with a Subaru in the Irish Tarmac Championship and its looking likely it will carry through to a Subaru again, but nothing is finalised at the moment.
Generally speaking what have you made of the WRC this season?

It has been another two-horse race. Mikko [Hirvonen] has picked up his pace and he won Rally Norway outright by himself. Mikko has impressed me a lot this year by being able to get that fraction closer to the top two.

But I think when it comes to the crunch, Sebastien [Loeb] and Marcus [Gronholm] are in a league of their own at the moment - they are just untouchable, as we saw in New Zealand.

New Zealand was absolutely incredible and I think it typifies where the WRC is at. The cars are fantastic - you have two of the biggest manufacturers' in the world in Citroen and Ford, two totally different cars, two totally different drivers' and over 400 kilometres of competitive driving they are separated by 0.3 of a second at the finish. I don't think there is any championship in the world that is as close as that and it adds to the excitement of it. It has been a fantastic season.

Chris Atkinson is starting to show the potential of the Subaru with a bit of resurgence now too - and it has been good. It would just be nice to be a part of it.
Who do you think will take the title this year - Sebastien Loeb or Marcus Gronholm?

It is very difficult to say with the asphalt events coming up. Dani Sordo I know is very, very strong on tarmac and he is a good friend of mine. I know he will be pushing like hell to get some results - and aid Sebastien in his fight for the title. On those tarmac events if Dani can fit into second place it will help Sebastien a lot, because obviously it will be another two point gap to Marcus on each event.

I think it could go either way at the minute though and I think a lot depends on the second drivers'. Ultimately I think Sebastien has what it takes to win all the remaining asphalt events but it remains to be seen where Mikko and Dani can fit in. If Dani can finish second it is going to make it very difficult for Marcus. To be honest I think Dani is the key player in the title role, which is quite ironic.
You have obviously got a good relationship with Citroen and tested the new C2-R2 back in February - and prior to that, you also tested with Citroen C4 WRC in October. Are there any tests coming up with Citroen?

To be honest I haven't done much testing. I did one test back at the beginning of the year with Citroen - but I am still in contact with lots of the guys there. I obviously made some very good friends there during my time at Citroen and they are a fantastic bunch of guys. I have not done any other tests with them this year though. Maybe sometime in the future, we will see.
Final question, what are you hopes for 2008?

I have people working on my behalf trying to secure budgets. It is purely down to if we can get a budget together to do a sustained programme at world championship level. Doing one or two events in a season is not going to be beneficial to anybody. We need a sustained programme and as everyone knows that costs money. It is purely down to if we can secure the money and all we can do is work hard and try and get it. If it comes it comes and if it doesn't... well we can only try. We will have to see what happens.
I guess the FIA's decision to cut the calendar from 16 events to 12 will help, although of course that change doesn't come into affect until 2009.

Yeah for sure, that reduces budgets greatly for everyone. Hopefully it will allow other sponsors to come in and see it as attractive and more cost effective - but you are still talking millions of Euros. To any sponsor that is a lot of money - and to try and get one on your side and trying to get them to back you to secure a sustained seat at WRC level, but we will see what happens. I am working hard in the background and fingers crossed we can sort something.