Belfast Telegraph

Kris Meeke hopes success lies around the corner

By Sammy Hamill

It started out as a suggestion on Twitter and has since gone viral - everyone, from Ireland or not, wants to join the fun at 'Irish Corner' during this weekend's Wales Rally GB, Britain's round of the World championship.

The idea has been picked up from the Tour de France cycle race where thousands of Irish fans flock to a particular point on the route to cheer on the Irish riders. Now it has been adopted for Rally GB with a viewing point on the Dyfnant stage on Saturday morning and afternoon being designated as 'Irish Corner'.

"The reaction has been phenomenal," says Irish Tarmac championship TV reporter Art McCarrick, who first floated the idea.

"Thousands of people have responded on social media, not just from Ireland north and south, but from all over the place.

"Even the rally radio and TV people want to be there. I have no idea how many will turn up but I think the atmosphere will be mental."

It will indeed be mental if Kris Meeke is in the thick of the battle for the lead.

With four podium finishes in his debut season with the Abu Dhabi Citroen team, and the only driver to challenge the pace and dominance of the all-conquering Volkswagen team, Meeke is being talked up as a potential first British winner of the rally in 15 years.

For once, inexperience and unfamiliarity are not his enemies as he and co-driver Paul Nagle prepare to cross the start ramp in the Eirias Stadium, Colwyn Bay, tonight.

It is his "home" round of the championship and a rally he has contested a number of times, although not since 2011 when he finished fourth.

He shies away from the hype of being the British winner on Sunday afternoon. Much as he would love to emulate his mentor, the late Colin McRae, and Richard Burns, the only British winners in the modern era, Meeke insists he has to be realistic.

"I love this rally and coming here as a works Citroen driver is incredible, a real dream for me, but I have to be sensible," he says.

"The (VW) Polos will take some beating and even though it is effectively my home rally, I haven't driven it anything like as many times as Jari-Matti Latvala or even Sebastien Ogier.

"Sebastien won it last year and Jari-Matti the two years before that so they know how to win in the Welsh forests.

"But I have a fair idea of the roads and the conditions, especially the mud and the rain. In fact the first proper rally I ever did was in these forests after I won a Peugeot competition way back in 2001.

"But being realistic, a podium would be a good result for me on a rally that is going to be very difficult. Having said that, I can't wait to get started. I've been waiting all year for this!"

With the World championship already settled, and Ogier champion for a second time, the gloves will be off between him and Latvala who have won all but one of the rounds this season.

Ford, on their home event, will be strong with 2007 winner Mikko Hirvonen, his last appearance, and local lad Elfyn Evans in their Fiestas, as well as the Hyundais of Thierry Neuville and 2012 Circuit of Ireland winner Juho Hanninen.

But it would be something special for the 'Irish Corner' congregation if, come Saturday afternoon, the Ulsterman is up at the front fighting for the podium places.

Main Rally GB contenders: 1 Sebastien Ogier (VW Polo), 2 Jari-Matti Latvala (VW Polo), 3 Kris Meeke (Citroen DS3), 4 Mads Ostberg (Citroen DS3), 5 Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Fiesta), 6 Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta), 7 Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20), 8 Juho Hanninen (Hyundai i20), 9 Andreas Mikkelsen (VW Polo), 10 Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta).

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