Belfast Telegraph

Czechs threaten Meeke fightback

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke is wary of being caught up in a ‘Czech-mate’ situation as he bids to get the defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title back on track in Brazil this weekend.

After crashing out of the opening round in Monte Carlo, Meeke starts the Rally du Curitiba tonight with zero points — the same situation he found himself in a year ago.

But the Brazilian event started a run of three successive victories and the Ulsterman raced on to claim the IRC title for his Peugeot UK team with a fourth win in Italy late in the season. He sees the Curitiba Rally and the second South American event in Argentina a fortnight later as crucial.

“It would be nice to come home from South America with a smile on my face and my championship campaign back on track,” he said. “Going out of the Monte Carlo Rally was a blow, particularly as I was handily paced in second and feeling comfortable.

“But that rally is a lottery and I had prepared myself for something stupid happening. As soon as I was out of the car I was over it and ready to move on.

“Yes, it puts me under pressure to get good results in Brazil and Argentina but that’s the nature of the beast. As champion you are always under pressure every time you get in the car.”

There is, however, extra pressure this time with Czech rivals Skoda mounting a major three-car challenge to the champion, who, ironically, turned down the opportunity to drive for them this season.

“I think these two rallies will give us a better understanding where we (Peugeot) stand in terms of pace in relationship to the Skodas,” he explained.

“An event like Monte Carlo is so specialised and has so much to do with driver confidence it tells you little about the true pace of the cars around you. But now we are on gravel and I’m sure the Skodas will be strong especially with drivers like Juho Hanninen and Guy Wilks. Both are exceptional on this type of surface but the question is — how much of a step forward have Skoda made?”

In Meeke’s favour is the fact that none of the Skoda drivers have been to Brazil before.

The rally finishes on Saturday with a superspecial stage at the Curitiba Autodrome where the opening round of the World Touring Car Championship is also being hosted this weekend.

Belfast Telegraph

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