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Meeke thirsty for more action but it's back to focusing on the future

By Sammy Hamill

Published 24/05/2016

Drinking it all in: Ulsterman Kris Meeke (second left) toasts his Rally Portugal victory on the podium with co-driver Paul Nagle
Drinking it all in: Ulsterman Kris Meeke (second left) toasts his Rally Portugal victory on the podium with co-driver Paul Nagle

As the euphoria of his Rally Portugal win subsides, Kris Meeke will go back to his 'day job' or, as he calls it, back to 'the bigger picture'.

He will have some time off at home in Dungannon and Donegal with his wife Danielle and their little daughters Isabella and Alexandra before he gets back to work with Citroen's engineers, concentrating on the development of their new C3 car for next season.

It is likely to be Rally Finland in August before he lines up again for another World championship round.

It was always Citroen's plan to limit Meeke's appearances this season to six or seven events while they used his acknowledged test and development skills to work through a rigorous programme with the new car, which has been designed to conform with revised 2017 WRC regulations.

Citroen could, of course, change their minds after what happened in Portugal but they are still expected to sit out next month's Rally Italia in Sardinia and return for Rally Poland at the beginning of July, when Circuit of Ireland winner Craig Breen and young Frenchman Stephane Lefebrve may be the drivers.

Meeke insists he "doesn't know" when he will be competing again, adding: "It's back to testing for me for the foreseeable future. It was great to get back to competition because going against the clock and other drivers is what I love to do.

"But I know that putting in the hours on the new car now will mean we're in a better position to fight for more wins next year, so that has to be my focus."

But he was clearly in competition mode in Portugal despite being on the sidelines for three months. He led from stage one on Friday morning to the finish on Sunday afternoon and never looked like succumbing to the pressure from World champion Sebastien Ogier and Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen.

Even Meeke was mildly surprised by the manner of his victory, although beforehand he had been confident he could at least achieve a podium finish.

But this season has seen a new Meeke, a driver more relaxed and comfortable in his position as Citroen No.1. He will tell you that a three-year contract has a very settling effect. He is confident about his future in contrast to the past couple of years when he has admitted he was literally driving rally to rally.

But Citroen Racing boss Yves Matton kept faith, rewarded him with a three-year deal to stave off Toyota overtures and entrusted Meeke with developing the team's first new car to have been conceived without the input of the great Sebastien Loeb.

Portugal was only Meeke's third rally this year but it is worth remembering that he led in Monte Carlo before a freak incident damaged the Citroen suspension and he was hounding the all-conquering Ogier again in Sweden until an errant rock broke the steering.

Pity we may have to wait until Finland to see him again.

Belfast Telegraph

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