Three rallies, three premature exits — on the surface Kris Meeke’s elevation to the World championship has been disappointing.
He has retired from the three rounds contested by the new John Cooper Mini team in Sardinia, Finland and, at the weekend, Germany, with a variety of mechanical issues.
In contrast his team-mate Dani Sordo has finished fifth in Sardinia followed by an impressive third in Germany as the Mini team prepares for a full assault on the World series next season.
Meeke’s bosses, however, have been quick to jump to the former Intercontinental Challenge champion’s defence despite his failure to finish thus far.
“Whatever bad luck has been going Kris has got it,” said David Richards, mastermind behind the BMW Mini project.
“He has done a great job and should be very proud. I think he's been underestimated for many years.”
A throttle problem caused his retirement in Sardinia and then he and Sordo were withdrawn near the end of Rally Finland when loose gravel blocked air intakes to both Mini engines.
On Rally Deutschland at the weekend Meeke ran in fifth for much of the event, battling with former World champion Petter Solberg, both of them delayed by a spate of punctures, before an electrical fault sidelined the Ulsterman on the penultimate stage.
“We are very pleased with Kris,” said Mini technical director Dave Wilcock.
“We all know what Dani is capable of on this rally (he finished second on three occasions for Citroen) but I think Kris showed what he was capable of as well; he demonstrated why he is worthy of his place in the field.”
Meeke himself is more frustrated than disappointed.
“Not finishing rallies is obviously hugely frustrating, but we have been setting competitive times which is encouraging,” he said.
“In Germany it was a bit of a lottery with regards to punctures. When everything was going well and we had no punctures, we were right there with Dani so there are positives to take away.”
Punctures were the big issue on the rally, with the majority of drivers affected at some point, climaxing with World champion Sebastien Loeb being beaten in Germany for the first time in nine years after a flat tyre dropped him back to second place behind Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier.
Tyre supplier Michelin plan to address the problem ahead of the next tarmac round of the series, Rally France at the end of September, which is Meeke’s next scheduled event.