Kris Meeke hits back at Citroen before setting fastest time
Kris Meeke has come out fighting - both inside and outside his Citroen C3.
Having stayed silent since he was dropped from the Citroen team for the last World Championship round in Poland, he had little choice but to start talking at the mandatory media interviews ahead of this weekend's Rally Finland.
There, he accused "certain people" within the team of not supporting him and then climbed into his WRC Citroen to set the fastest time in the shakedown ahead of last night's official start in Jyväskylä.
After winning in Mexico, the Dungannon driver crashed in three successive rallies and was replaced in Poland by Andreas Mikkelsen, who found the C3 equally difficult to tame and never matched Meeke's pace or challenged at the front of the two rounds he contested. Indeed, he was off the road twice in Sardinia.
Now Meeke is back but says the situation means he lacks the confidence to repeat his sensational Finnish win of a year ago.
"It's a frustrating and difficult situation," he said. "It's certainly not a situation I expected, but it is what it is. To fight at the front on this rally, you need to arrive with absolutely no doubt in anything around you, to have pure commitment, and I think it's fair to say that's not the case this year.
"I don't feel in the perfect environment to go and do what I did last year."
Asked if he felt supported in the Citroen team, Meeke replied: "If you're dropped for an event then there are certain people in the structure that don't give you support.
"That's fine, I'm here working for Citroen. If they feel I'm not doing a good enough job and they want to do what they did, then that's fine, I'll go with it.
"I'll continue to do what I'm here to do to the best of my ability."
Meeke said he had received "no instruction" from Citroen on how to approach the rally and would not drive conservatively.
"I'm not here to come home in the top 10, shake everybody's hand and go home with everybody thinking I'm happy," he said.
And as if to emphasis the point he set the fastest time in the shakedown test ahead of Hyundai's Thierry Neuville and Ford's Ott Tanak. Craig Breen was sixth fastest in the second Citroen.
"We started quite conservatively, assessing the upgrades that have been made to the car since I last drove it, and then changed quite a lot of things on every run. The C3 got better and better and it was nice to sneak in a fastest time at the end too," added Meeke.
"But that doesn't necessarily set the course for the rally. It remains to be seen whether we have that feeling when we get into the proper stages."
Citroen team principal Yves Matton, perhaps one of the people Meeke was referring to, said: "There is no target for Kris this week. It's up to him to do the best he can to bring back the best information for the future."
Meanwhile, it is a busy weekend of motorsport locally with a packed schedule of races at Kirkistown and the Northern Ireland Rally Championship resuming with the Tyrone Stages.
The Dawson-WAM Formula Ford Championship tops the bill at Kirkistown with Niall Murray and Kevin O'Hara resuming their battle for the title, while the meeting also features saloons, Ford Fiestas, Roadsports, Strykers, Ginetta Juniors and a visit by the unique Legends.