Kris Meeke’s major Mini challenge
Kris Meeke is believed to be on the verge of being unveiled as one of the drivers of the new BMW Mini team which will join the World rally championship next season.
Reigning Intercontinental Challenge champion Meeke has been consistently linked with the Mini project ever since it was announced in July that the iconic brand would be returning to the World championship.
However, the 31-year-old from Dungannon has steadfastly refused to be drawn into speculation, insisting: “My focus remains on this year and winning rallies with Peugeot.”
He is currently under contract to drive for Peugeot UK in the IRC series and is also part of the Citroen/Peugeot group’s test team, working alongside World champion Sebastien Loeb, Dani Sordo and Sebastien Ogier.
Indeed, Meeke is in France this week preparing for the Rally Mont Blanc where he will continue Citroen’s test programme for their new DS3 R3 car. But now two of Britain’s major motorsport magazines are saying he has signed up to drive for the Prodrive Mini team next season.
Both Autosport and Motorsport News claim that an agreement is already in place, quoting an un-named Prodrive source as saying: “The deal with Kris is done. David Richards (Prodrive chairman) has talked a great deal about having a British driver and he's been as good as his word.”
I understand that the deal has not been finalised as Meeke is under contract to Peugeot until the end of the season although both sides are believed to have signed “letters of intent”.
Autosport also claims: “Peugeot UK is known to have contacted drivers about replacing Meeke in its IRC programme for next season.”
They speculate, too, that double World champion Marcus Gronholm may be Meeke’s team-mate. The Finn is said to be scheduled to test the new Mini for the first time in Portugal next week, after which he will decide whether he will sign for the team. Former Junior World champion P-G Andersson may also be part of the Mini squad.
Prodrive, the British company which built the World championship-winning Subarus of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg, is developing the WRC Mini Countryman in conjunction with manufacturer BMW.
Complying with the new WRC regulations, it is a four-wheel-drive car with 1.6 litre turbocharged engine.