Belfast Telegraph

Kris Meeke puts on a poker face ahead of his Citroen return

 

By Sammy Hamill

If Kris Meeke is feeling apprehensive ahead of tonight's start to Rally Finland, he isn't showing it.

He seems more concerned about the weather than the daunting task of stepping back into his Citroen C3 after being benched by the team for the last World Championship round in Poland.

The decision to allow him time to "recharge his batteries" came after a series of crashes in Argentina, Portugal and Sardinia and must have shaken Meeke's confidence; his belief in himself.

But it doesn't show in his demeanour and he has steadfastly stayed silent, retreating to his base in Andorra to spend time with his family and revealing nothing of his inner feelings. Nonetheless, it must have hurt to be seen, by some, as taking the blame for Citroen's failures this year.

He has been partly vindicated with his replacement, Andreas Mikkelsen, also finding the new C3 hard to tame - he was off the road twice in Sardinia - and Citroen finally making changes to the transmission and suspension Meeke had been calling for.

They have also announced that their former nine-time World champion Sebastien Loeb has been asked to come in and assess the car ahead of the next round, Rally Germany.

But, for now, Meeke is back for a rally he loves and one in which he made history last year by becoming the first British driver to conquer the Finnish forests.

Roger Clark couldn't do it. Nor World champions Colin McRae or Richard Burns. Indeed, the Ulsterman is one of only five non-Scandinavian drivers to win the rally they call 'the gravel grand prix'.

In any other year he would be bouncing in anticipation at the prospect of tackling the flowing forest roads and flying the myriad crests.

Instead, he has been calmly talking about the unseasonable wet weather which has left the gravel roads soft and in danger of cutting up.

Heavy rain interrupted his two-day test last week when he tried the changes which have been made to the C3 since he last drove it in Sardinia, but he says the weather made it impossible to get any consistent running in the car so the outcome was inconclusive.

"The forecasters are saying the weather will be changeable, with more rain, so the stages can get very tricky if you're running down the order (he'll start ninth)," he explained. "But whatever the conditions, I really just want to get out there and do what I know I can do."

What he can do is win rallies - like in Mexico earlier in the year - but a repeat of his 2016 Finnish victory is hard to imagine in the circumstances. This time it is all about staying on the road no matter what the wayward C3 throws at him.

Craig Breen will be in the second Citroen this weekend with Khalid al Qassimi and his Ballyclare co-driver Chris Patterson also in the team.

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