Dec 30, 2020
Kris Meeke is set to follow in the footsteps of illustrious names such as Ari Vatanen, Bruno Saby, Carlos Sainz and Sebastien Loeb as he makes the switch from the World Rally Championship to the Dakar in 2021.
For his very first foray into rally raid, the 41-year-old will be competing in the Light-Weight Vehicles T3 class, driving a prototype PH Sport Zephyr based on the Can-Am Maverick X3. While he admits that the racer in him would have been happy to get behind the wheel of a more powerful car in the T1 category, Kris recognises that the T3s will be the ideal place for him to get to grips with the world’s biggest offroad rally. As he embarks on this new adventure, the Northern Irishman is joined by highly experienced Dutch co-driver Wouter Rosegaar, who has already participated in 13 editions of the Dakar.
The 37-year-old has reached the finish line 11 times -including three in the trucks- and guided Erik van Loon to 4th in 2015, the best ever Dutch result in the cars. Kris is the son of Sydney Meeke, an award-winning expert in rally car preparation and servicing, so he grew up surrounded by the sport. After watching stars like Bertie Fisher and Billy Coleman race his dad’s cars as a boy, Kris started competing himself in the early 2000s, although not before obtaining a degree in mechanical engineering from Queen’s University Belfast and briefly working for M-Sport as a computer aided designer. At 21, he won a competition sponsored by Peugeot UK to find the rally star of the future and made his first outing at the Bulldog Rally.
With the support and mentorship of Scottish rally legend Colin McRae, Kris made swift progress, winning two British Junior titles and making his WRC debut at Rally GB 2002. After several years of working his way through the ranks on part-time programmes, he raced for Peugeot UK at the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, claiming the overall championship title alongside Paul Nagle. Two strong seasons in the IRC earned him a WRC seat with the Mini factory team in 2011, but it was at Citroën (2014-2018) that he enjoyed his greatest success. After standing in for fellow Dakar competitor Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi at Rally Finland 2013, Kris showed sufficient potential to become a full-time WRC driver the following year. I
n 2015, he became the first British driver since McRae to win a WRC rally, topping the timesheets at Rally Argentina. Over the next few seasons, he and Paul went on to claim further victories in Portugal, Finland, Mexico and Spain, coming as high as 5th overall in the championship. After a final WRC season with Toyota Gazoo Racing in 2019, Kris is now ready for a fresh challenge -and they don’t come more challenging than the Dakar! Acknowledging that he is very much a novice in cross-country, the Dungannon native says he will resist the temptation to put the pedal to the metal and simply try to make it to the finish line in Jeddah.
K.M.: “I’m taking my first footsteps in rally raid. I absolutely love it, it’s fascinating. So here we are, my first ever cross-country event will be the Dakar! The level of anticipation is pretty high, I’m really excited. It’s a new challenge and a new adventure, one I’m really looking forward to. The only thing I can bring to Dakar is car control. Coming from WRC, your brain is trained to take the maximum everywhere. Dakar is about using your eyes and adapting your speed to that, finding your way. You can’t completely trust the roadbook or navigation. So it’s a completely different ball game. But there’s been many guys from WRC on Dakar. Carlos is a legend of world rally, and he’s now done what, 16 or 17 Dakars? That’s as many seasons in cross-country as he did in WRC. To be still going and still competitive is incredible. I always followed the Dakar as a kid, with guys like Ari Vatanen. I was too young to watch him in the WRC, but I remember when he moved into cross-country with Peugeot and Citroën. I’ve always been fascinated by offroad adventure, by endurance-type racing. I always said to myself, when my WRC career was tailing off, I wanted to look at the Dakar. It was always on my bucket list! It’s a huge challenge and maybe a stepping stone for the future. I’d love to be in the top category, but I arrive very humble, understanding that it’s a different ball game. I have so much to learn. I only met Wouter for the first time on 30 November! We agreed to do the Dakar over the phone. He’s worked with PH Sport for a while, and honestly, the past couple of days I’ve been hugely impressed. Just having someone with you who’s been there and done it, who’s got so many miles under his belt. It’s exactly the type of guidance I need. He’s very, very switched on, navigation is second nature to him. And when the shovels have to come out to dig the car out… well, he’s dug trucks out before, so a T3 buggy will be small fry to him! I have absolutely zero ambition to set any targets. I’m a competitor, yes, but it’s a different type of competition for me. There are no targets other than returning to Jeddah in one piece!”
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