Kris Meeke is under no illusions about the challenge he faces as he prepares to step up to the World rally championship with the new BMW Mini team. But he says he is up for it.
Chosen to spearhead the return of the iconic Mini to the World series next year, Meeke insists he and the team from specialist rally car constructors Prodrive will take it “step by step”.
“The temptation is there to get caught up in all the hype surrounding Mini being back in the WRC after a 40-year gap and to start thinking about winning rallies right away but that won’t happen,” he said.
“I’ve just come back from a week in Sardinia where we carried out the first serious tests and I got a very positive vibe from the car. We did two days of tarmac tests and two further days on rough gravel roads – about 500 miles in total - and it came through without a hitch.
“The car is far from the finished article and we won’t have the optimum 1.6 litre turbo BMW engine until March next year but it has all been good so far.
“I never like to get too optimistic, because you never know where you are in comparison to Citroen and Ford but I have been very impressed with the progress, particularly bearing in mind the car hasn't done 2000 kilometres yet.
“Citroen have been developing their new DS3 for over a year and have covered tens of thousands of kilometres, some of them with me at the wheel, and Ford are pretty much at the same stage with their Fiesta. So they are into the fine-tuning stage whereas we are just at the beginning.
“Every mile I cover in the car my confidence grows but we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves. This is a long-term project for Prodrive and BMW. We will take it step by step.
“We will dip our toe in the water next year with probably six WRC rounds starting in Sardinia in May and then move up to a full programme in 2012. The aim is to be in a position to challenge for the World championship in 2013. I think that is realistic given the background of Prodrive and BMW.”
Meeke landed the Mini role following his victory for Peugeot in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge series but the World championship was always his goal.
“It is where I’ve always wanted to be – at the top level, in a works team, competing against the best, going head-to-head with the likes of Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen.
“But I’m under no illusions about the size of the challenge. These guys have been in the World championship for years and Loeb is the best there has ever been. I have to be realistic. I’m not going to go out there and beat them next year – and Prodrive don’t expect me to.
“They have given me a three-year deal, time to find my feet, and I don’t intend to put pressure on myself by getting down if they’re a few seconds a kilometre quicker than me to begin with. It will be a learning year for me.”
His team-mate(s) will be announced shortly and although Meeke is “slightly disappointed” he won’t be joined by former World champion Marcus Gronholm, he would be happy to see Citroen’s Dani Sordo come on board.
“Marcus, with 30 WRC wins and all that experience, would have been a great benchmark for me but at the end of the day, he had doubts in his mind about coming back after a three-year lay-off so maybe it was the right decision.
“But Dani would be good too. We’ve been friends since our Junior World championship days with Citroen and I think he has done a fantastic job as Loeb’s No.2.
“He’s under-appreciated but he’s scored something like 40 podium finishes in the past four years and if Loeb hadn’t been around its possible he could have been World champion by now.”