Not so long ago Guy Wilks and Kris Meeke were fierce rivals.
Head to head: Gary Wilks and Kris Meeke were rivalsBY sammy hamill
They were vying to be Britain’s No.1 rally driver, battling against each other from their days in the Junior World championship to the Intercontinental Challenge series and eventually hoping to graduate to the World championship itself.
But in recent months both have been frozen out, left on the sidelines as budgets have dried up and the few places available going to drivers with proven records or big sponsors. Meeke, having beaten Wilks to win the IRC title in 2009 with Peugeot, moved up to the World series with the new Mini team but has subsequently been the victim of the funding issues which have blighted the Prodrive-run project.
It was Wilks who was chosen to succeed the Ulsterman with the Peugeot UK team in the IRC but after a less than successful season in 2011, they opted to pull the plug. So Wilks, like Meeke, has been left kicking his heels since the end of last season, waiting for an opportunity to get back into action again.
For the two-time British champion it comes this afternoon when he returns to the Todds Leap Ulster Rally to drive a little 1600cc Renault Twingo in the British championship division.
It is a far cry from the four-wheel-drive Mitsubishis, the Subarus, the Skodas and the Peugeots he has driven in the past but he is delighted with the chance to pull on his racing suit again.
“It will be great to be back in a rally car again,” said Yorkshireman Wilks. “This is the longest period
I’ve been out of the seat since the start of my career and when I got the call from Renault to come here and help them develop the car for tarmac rallies I jumped at the opportunity.
“It is a chance to remind people I’m still around and that I haven’t thrown in the towel.”
Wilks, co-driver David Moynihan and the Renault Sport engineers carried out an extensive test session at a Northern Ireland location earlier in the week and said afterwards he was impressed, calling the evolution version of the 1600cc R2 Twingo “le petit rocket”. He spent much of the time adapting the suspension to cope with the bumpy, jumpy Ulster roads and said they were “getting there” but admitted he was unsure how it would measure up against the R2 Ford Fiestas and R3 Citroens.
“It is a lively little car with quite a powerful engine — about 195 horse power I’m told — but to be honest I don’t how I will get on when the rally starts. But I can tell you I’m looking forward to it.”
Wilks will be up against Welshman Elfyn Evans and Ulster’s Alastair Fisher.