New-look Citroen revs up for Kris Meeke
Kris Meeke has had his first look and feel of his rally future - and he was impressed.
After a secret shakedown run at Citroen's test track, the new C3-based WRC car, which has been designed for the revised 2017 World championship regulations, was shipped to the south of France late last week and Meeke began the work of refining it into a package which can win rallies next year.
It is so important to Citroen's WRC future, they opted out of this year's championship to concentrate on its development with Meeke, along with Circuit of Ireland winner Craig Breen and young French star Stephane Lefebrve, appearing only in selected European-based rounds.
The new car first broke cover at Chateau du Lastours near Toulouse wrapped in a pink camouflage livery to mask the shape of its body panels and aerodynamics and Meeke spent two days putting it through its paces.
The new-for-2017 regulations are designed to make cars faster and look more spectacular. The 1.6-litre engine has a larger air restrictor on the turbocharger to boost power to around 380bhp and the chassis is wider with greater freedom on aerodynamics.
The first new Citroen rally car in more than a decade not to have input from nine-time World champion Sebastien Loeb, it is the Dungannon driver's role to lead the test programme. A qualified engineer in addition to being a WRC winner, it is a role Meeke is suited to and relishing.
"It's a dream come true for me to work with such a great team and help them to develop the car," he told fellow Ulsterman John McIlroy of Auto Express.
"It brings pressure, but I don't feel it; instead, I walk around the test site or at the factory and see the guys, see their determination and belief, and it makes me feel proud. And a wee bit excited.
"But we also have to accept that this is just the start of a learning process. Our engineering philosophy is different from what we had on the (current) DS3, but the rules are changing as well. So when I'm getting a feel for the car, I need to split the bits that we've changed and created from the bits that are down to the new regulations.
"I can tell you this, though; it feels faster."
After the test, which went without mishap, the car was returned to Citroen Racing's headquarters near Paris where the designers and engineers will pour over the data and Meeke's feedback. This weekend, Meeke misses Rally Argentina, which he won last year, but will be back in action in Portugal next month.