He has tackled — and conquered — some of the toughest rallies in the world but now Kris Meeke is taking on an exciting new challenge.
The former Intercontinental Challenge champion from Dungannon is switching from rally cars to motorbikes to tackle the Baja 1000 desert race in Mexico, an iconic event which has starred in numerous Hollywood films.
Featuring all kinds of off-roaders from trucks to motorbikes, down the years it has drawn many major motorsport enthusiasts from Steve McQueen to Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan.
Now Meeke will attempt to ride the treacherous 1,200 mile all-terrain course down the Baja California peninsula on an American-prepared Honda 450 enduro bike in a bid to earn a coveted Iron Rider award for solo competitors.
“I’m going there as a complete amateur,” said Meeke. “I might be reasonably handy on a bike but this is different league to anything I’ve done before.
“My goal is to complete the course in under 35 hours because the real killer I’m told is when it starts to get dark on the second night.
“That’s when fatigue really sets in. The key for me is to finish before then.”
A Baja rookie he may be but Red Bull-backed Meeke won’t be short of advice on the perils of the Mexican desert.
David Patterson, a member of his rally back-up team, has already completed the race although on his first attempt he crashed in the dark, damaging his hand and his bike, and was stranded for hours before being assisted out of the desert by fellow riders.
But former cyclo-cross champion Patterson later returned to become one of just a handful of Irish competitors to win an Iron Rider award.
He has been quietly helping Meeke, who has been forced to sit out this year’s World championship because of the Mini team’s financial problems, in his preparations for the desert endurance test.
And recently Meeke completed the Dawn-to-Dusk race in Wales as a trial run. “I wanted to find out what it was like to ride virtually non-stop for 24 hours,” he explained.
“Psychologically that was important for me because once you start the Baja you just keep riding. You carry your own food and only stop to re-fuel the bike.
“The Baja is just something I’ve always wanted to do but it hasn’t been possible until now because I’ve usually been involved in a rally programme at this time of year.”
He left yesterday for Ensenada where the race starts on Thursday.