Ogier’s call-up gives Meeke additional incentive for winning
Peugeot’s decision to parachute Sebastien Ogier into this weekend’s Rally d’Italia may prove a double-edged sword for Kris Meeke.
Until now Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Meeke has been fighting a lone and largely losing battle against the powerful Skoda trio of Juha Hanninen, Jan Kopecky and Guy Wilks.
In an effort to provide the Dungannon driver with more support, Olivier Quensell, the head of Citroen-Peugeot Sport, has switched rising star Ogier from Citroen’s junior World championship team, where he partners former F1 World champion Kimi Raikkonen, to the IRC for the Italian round of the series in Sardinia.
As well as bolstering Peugeot’s defence of the manufacturers’ championship it puts the Ulsterman head-to-head with the highly-rated Ogier who won his first WRC event in Portugal at the weekend and is strongly tipped to be World champion Sebastien Loeb’s new No. 2 in next season’s all-French Citroen dream team.
It is a role coveted by Meeke, although the word in Peugeot-Citroen circles is that it won’t happen — partly because he isn’t French.
However, he will relish the chance to lock horns with Ogier in equal S2000 Peugeot 207s while trying to prevent another Skoda clean sweep of the podium places.
In each of the previous four rounds he has usually been faster than them, but has only a victory in Brazil to show for his efforts.
An accident in Monte Carlo, broken suspension in Argentina and a sickening puncture when he was dominating in Gran Canaria have left the champion languishing fourth, 17 points behind leader Hanninen.
He insists there must be no foul ups in Sardinia, one of the roughest rallies in the IRC calendar.
“We’ve shot ourselves in the foot on a couple of occasions this year and we can’t afford for that to happen again,” said Meeke.
“We know we have the speed but setting fastest stage times doesn’t get you points unless you can turn them into results.
“The Skodas have been strong as a team this season, with Hanninen particularly good on the gravel rounds, and it will be important to split them up.”