Belfast Telegraph

Meeke faces crucial Belgian return

By Sammy Hamill

It was the scene of one of Kris Meeke’s finest Intercontinental Rally Challenge performances in 2009 and promises to be the pivotal again this year.

Set alongside his title-clinching victory on the Sanremo Rally, Meeke’s win on the Ypres Rally in Belgium was seen as outstanding. A newcomer to an event which favours local knowledge, he took on and beat the Belgian specialists including his own Peugeot team-mate and five-time winner Freddy Loix.

It was an intense battle in which they were separated after 200 kilometres by less than a second.

It proved to be the foundation of the Ulsterman’s charge to the IRC title, but now he finds himself languishing in fifth place in the 2010 standings, 27 points behind leader Juho Hanninen, after five of 12 rounds.

A victory in Brazil has been off-set by two accidents and two points-scoring opportunities denied by mechanical failures. He says bluntly: “We can’t afford any more slip ups, either from me or the team.”

Part of the problem has been an aging S2000 Peugeot 207 which is now being outgunned by the increasingly competitive Skoda Fabias of Hanninen and Jan Kopecky. Meeke and his Kronos team have been forced to push the car to and beyond its limits to try to keep up, but this weekend it will have upgrades to the engine and the suspension – just as Skoda introduce their own updated Evo2 Fabia.

Meeke will be backed up by his regular Peugeot team-mate Thierry Neuville as well as Le Mans race winner and tarmac specialist Stephane Sarrazin, but his Belgian team boss Marc van Dalen predicts it will be Meeke against the powerful Skoda pairing.

“It’s going to be a big battle between Kopecky, Hanninen and Kris,” he said.

The rally starts from the historic town of Ypres this evening.

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