Kris Meeke eager to emulate hero Colin McRae with GB glory
When Kris Meeke boarded a minibus with a bunch of friends from Queen's University to watch Rally GB back in 1997 he could hardly have imagined that, nearly two decades on, he would be starting the World Championship event this morning as Britain's best hope of a home winner since the turn of the millennium.
Richard Burns was the last British winner but it was Colin McRae, later to become his hero, mentor and friend, who fired up Meeke's passion in 1997, steering him down a path which would see the Dungannon driver become leader of the factory Citroen team and the major challenger to Volkswagen's World champion Sebastien Ogier.
Last year Meeke ended a podium drought for British drivers stretching back to 2000 by finishing runner-up to Ogier and, after victories in Portugal and Finland this season, has his heart set on emulating McRae, who won 19 years ago when engineering student Meeke was among the spectators.
"I'll never forget it," he recalled. "I was over with the Queen's University Motor Club and everything I'd read about Rally GB, everything I'd thought and hoped for, it was all there. I just loved the whole experience.
"I still feel the same way today. It is a fantastic rally and I'm not just saying that because it's my home event. These are the same Welsh roads where I drove my first ever rally so they're always going to be special to me.
"You're competing in front of your home fans on some of the best stages in the world. Irish Corner in the Dyfnant stage is absolutely epic. It's amazing to come through and see that much support, the flags and banners and the klaxons going."
However, he dismisses any notion of home advantage, pointing out that drivers like Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala, winners for the last five years, have far more experience of the Welsh forests than he does.
But, given the chance, Meeke is prepared to fight them for a win which would be a fitting swansong for the Citroen DS3 WRC, a car with no fewer than 26 WRC victories and four World titles since making its top-flight debut back in 2011.
"A lot depends on the weather in Wales," cautioned Meeke, who will start ninth on the road. "In fairly wet conditions in the past it's definitely been a bonus to be running first on the road but we're that wee bit earlier in the year, so maybe it could be drier.
"It's the last event in a DS3 WRC and it'll be the last rally of the year for me, so whatever the weather, I'm going out there to enjoy myself."
Meeke, who set the second fastest time in shakedown yesterday, leads a four-car Abu Dhabi Citroen team which includes Circuit of Ireland winner Craig Breen alongside young Frenchmen Stephane Lefebvre and Quentin Gilbert before the DS3 is finally mothballed ahead of the first appearance of the all-new C3 in Monte Carlo in January.