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Kris Meeke on form and with a big shout of victory in unique rally

By Sammy Hamill

Published 13/10/2016

Confident: Kris Meeke
Confident: Kris Meeke

It may just be a short hop from his new base in Andorra to Salou in Spain, but Kris Meeke has never felt entirely at home on the stages of Rally Catalunya.

A couple of fifth places are his best results on an event which, unusually, mixes gravel stages with fast tarmac roads.

But the Kris Meeke who will line up for the opening stage around the streets of Barcelona tonight is a different driver now, a triple World Championship rally winner, and widely seen as the one serious challenger to the supremacy of champion Sebastien Ogier.

Buoyed up by the security a three-year Citroen contract has given him, and relieved - for now - of the pressure of gathering manufacturer points, Meeke has revelled in the freedom and taken the fight to Ogier at every opportunity.

He will say that his focus is entirely on next season and the introduction of the new breed of WRC cars; that this year is all about staying 'match fit' while he works on the development of Citroen's 2017 C3.

But every time he has climbed aboard the current DS3, the Dungannon driver has been locking horns with Ogier, beating him in Portugal and Finland.

A puncture and then a misjudged pacenote in Corsica two weeks ago spoiled another potential showdown, although Meeke did finish with a flourish by winning the final Power Stage.

But now it is Spain where the Friday action is on dusty gravel tracks followed by two days of fast tarmac.

"Friday's leg will be difficult to manage," Meeke explains.

"In the morning the thick dust tends to hang in the air beneath the trees making it difficult to see the road.

"Driving on the tarmac stages is similar to being on a race track, which means the teams have a hectic job to completely transform the cars to full tarmac specification in just 75 minutes on Friday night."

It will be a special weekend for Craig Breen, his first for Citroen since it was officially confirmed the Circuit of Ireland winner will be one of Meeke's two team-mates in 2017 and '18.

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