Belfast Telegraph

Barum Rally Zlin: Under pressure Kris Meeke aims to show plenty of zip

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke is in the lion’s den this weekend.

Out-gunned and out-pointed by the Skoda team in this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge, reigning champion Meeke’s title is hanging by a thread — and now he takes on the Czech team on their home ground.

Second on the Barum Rally Zlin last year as he took the IRC crown for Peugeot, Meeke is only too aware the task is even harder this time around.

“Given how the first part of the season has gone, I will be pleased to finish on the podium,” says the Dungannon driver.

“But I really enjoy the Barum Rally. It's as near as the IRC gets to the sort of event I am familiar with back home.

“It's fast, tricky and varied, with plenty of surprises. You've constantly got your work cut out because the grip keeps changing all the time.

“I picked up a puncture on the first super-special through the streets of Zlin last year which put me on the back foot and I spent the next two days fighting my way back up to second place.

“But even without that puncture I don't believe I would have been able to catch Jan Kopecky.”

And the Skoda challenge is even stronger this year with home-grown Kopecky and this year’s championship leader Juho Hanninen being joined by Belgian Freddy Loix, winner of two of the last three IRC rounds, as well as England’s Guy Wilks who returns after recovering from a back injury.

They also have the advantage of the latest ‘facelift’ S2000 Fabia which has been shown to be as much as a second per kilometre faster than Meeke’s now aging Kronos Racing Peugeot 207.

But Meeke, the only Peugeot driver to consistently threaten the Skodas this season, believes he is better equipped for the specific challenge of the Czech stages than he was 12 months ago.

“The 207 S2000 has taken a step forward in terms of driveability,” he said.

“Its handling is progressive and predictable, which means I now feel more confident over the bumps and changes of grip.

“I still have a mathematical chance of defending my title and I will continue to give it my best shot all the way. I'm not someone who gives up easily.”

His fellow Peugeot drivers this time will include Bryan Bouffier, the Frenchman who was in Ulster last week to debut Citroen’s newest DS3 R3 rally car — he finished an impressive fifth overall — and young Belgian Thierry Neuville.

Meeke will also keep an eye on the Irish duo of Niall McShea and Keith Cronin.

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