Paddy Hopkirk full of praise for Kris Meeke
What a coincidence, Paddy Hopkirk being back home in Belfast at a time when Irish motorsport is still buzzing from the performance of Kris Meeke on the Monte Carlo Rally.
Exactly 50 years ago Hopkirk was being acclaimed for his remarkable achievement in winning the Monte in a little Mini Cooper which he had driven all the way from Minsk in Russia, a feat which will celebrated with a gala dinner in Belfast's Titantic Quarter next month.
Meeke wasn't quite able to emulate his fellow Ulsterman's success but his podium place was the first by a British driver in more than a decade and was praised by Hopkirk who had flown in to attend last night's Belfast Telegraph Sports Stars of the Year Awards presentation.
"Kris is a fine young man and a brilliant driver," said Hopkirk who was also here to launch the sponsorship of his Titanic celebrations by John Mulholland Motors of Randalstown.
"I was so pleased for him especially as I had a small part to play in getting his career started in a find-a-driver competition at Silverstone a few years ago.
"I know he has had a difficult time getting the right opportunities since then but now he is with Citroen and at the weekend he showed just what he is capable of.
"By all reports it was a very difficult Monte but he came through it with flying colours and I think his career is set to take off now."
Now a very lively and engaging 81, Hopkirk was re-united with an exact replica of his red-and-white Mini Cooper with the number 37 on the sides when he attended yesterday's launch party. He even took owner Graham McConnell for a quick spin in it.
"It brought back quite a few memories for me and I have to say this one feels even better than the one I drove from Russia," he said.
Hopkirk also signed the Art Mini which was painted by local artist Neil Shawcross and will be auctioned at the dinner with the proceeds going to the Integrated Education Fund for Northern Ireland and SKIDZ.
The dinner, on February 22, will be proceeded by a Mini parade from Stormont when the drivers will include former World rally champion Ari Vatanen and Ulster's former F1 winner John Watson.
And in a hark back to Hopkirk's earliest days, there will be an autotest at the Titanic Quarter, which will be sponsored by NI Plastics.