Heat turned up on Meeke Down Under
Kris Meeke is living his dream. After a decade of knockbacks he is in Australia preparing to make his official debut with the reigning World rally championship winning Citroen team.
And at times this week he must have felt he was dreaming; that he was still at home in Northern Ireland as he and co-driver Chris Patterson drove past signs for Newry and Crossmaglen during their reconnaissance of the route of Rally Australia.
But it is for real alright and while Australia's Gold Coast may be dotted with reminders of home, Meeke is on unfamiliar ground as he readies himself for his chance to impress Citroen bosses before they decide on the make-up of their World championship team for 2014. They have already indicated the positions of their current front-line drivers, Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo, are under threat.
And after being called up as Citroen No.3 in Finland, where an impressive performance was spoiled by a penultimate stage crash, Meeke was immediately lined up for Australia, replacing the lacklustre Sordo in what is seen as an "audition" for next year.
However, the Spaniard added to Citroen's dilemma by winning Rally Germany three weeks ago –his first in more than 100 WRC starts – and heaped more pressure on Meeke.
Now he can be in no doubt what is expected of him. Citroen team boss Yves Matton has spelt it out clearly ahead of tomorrow's start in the coastal city of Coffs Harbour, 300 miles north of Sydney.
"Australia will be an important point to see if we can include him in the list of drivers for next season," said Matton.
"Kris showed in Finland that he has the pace and I would say we were happy with 98% of what he was doing. But now that he is nominated for manufacturer points the story is a little bit different. He needs to be at the finish to score points for us. We don't expect him to be pushing to win the rally – Mikko will be there to try to do that – but we want to see him in the top five and if he can be on the podium it would be a great result for him."
Citroen currently trail a Sebastien Ogier-inspired Volkswagen team by 26 points in the all-important manufacturers' championship. Meeke is only too aware he has to deliver.
He said: "It won't be easy. This is my first time in Australia – in fact, this is my first WRC rally outside of Europe – but it has been my dream for as long as I can remember to drive for Citroen and I'm determined to reward their faith in me."