Meeke and Patterson add weight to Cronin challenge
Kris Meeke and Chris Patterson may currently be on the World rally championship sidelines but they will still be playing a role when the Rally of Portugal gets under way tomorrow night.
Former Mini WRC driver Meeke and leading co-driver Patterson have been recruited by Keith Cronin and the Charles Hurst Citroen team as they and Alastair Fisher begin their bid for one of the important prizes in this year's championship.
They are chasing the Citroen Top Driver award which carries with it a fully-funded drive in a Citroen four-wheel-drive car in next year's championship.
Cronin, the three-times British champion, has linked up with the Carryduff-based DGM team to contest the series while Fisher has chosen to go with the French Saintloc team. Both will drive Citroen DS3s, a car familiar to Cronin from his British championship victories but new to Fisher.
But Cork man Cronin, who is partnered by Fermanagh co-driver Marshall Clarke, has created a formidable team around him with Patterson and Petter Solberg's former team manager Ken Rees adding technical support and Meeke on hand to provide tactical advice.
Indeed, Cronin had former Intercontinental Challenge champion Meeke alongside him for a test session in the Citroen before they left for Portugal.
"We are doing everything we can to give Keith the best possible shot at winning the Citroen Top Driver award," said Hurst team co-ordinator Raymond Moore.
Meanwhile Fisher, who is moving up from Ford Fiestas and the WRC Academy series, was in his French-run Citroen for the first time in Portugal on Monday after a planned test outing at Rally North Wales was thwarted by heavy snow in the Welsh forests.
The Irish contingent in Portugal included former Billy Coleman Award winner Robert Barrable who has switched from last season's Skoda to an S2000 Ford Fiesta.
It should also have included Yazeed Al Rahji and Bangor co-driver Michael Orr, winners of the WRC2 division in Sweden, but the Saudi Arabian suffered back injuries during the Ha'il desert rally last month.
Up at the front of the rally, Sebastien Ogier and the impressive Volkswagen team chase a third straight win in this year's series as champions Citroen struggle to cope without the semi-retired Sebastien Loeb.
Robert Kubica, the former Canadian Grand Prix winner, also makes his WRC debut in an RRC Citroen.