Rally Sweden: Kris Meeke up for racing despite dangers of the unknown
Kris Meeke is happy Rally Sweden is going ahead but wary about what lies ahead over the next three days.
This is meant to be the one full snow rally on the World Championship calendar - but there is little or no snow. Rain and higher than normal temperatures have stripped the forest tracks of their snowbanks and frozen surfaces, forcing the organisers to scrap today's shakedown stage and cut eight others from the schedule.
They feared the gravel roads, used by foresters and the public, could be severely damaged as well as inaccessible for rescue vehicles.
Those stages that have been salvaged are soft and muddy and Meeke admits they are going into the unknown.
"We know the road conditions will be difficult. What we don't know is how badly the roads will cut up," he said. "But it's the same for everyone and we will just have to make the best of it.
"It's a pity because normally this is one of my favourite rallies, driving on snow is a genuinely unique pleasure. To begin with, you have to force yourself to push because your body and mind are telling you that you're sliding and yet you know you have to put as much power through the studded tyres as possible. Then the grip increases massively. Get it right and it is exhilarating."
But the Dungannon driver says he does not expect to be challenging world champion Sebastien Ogier in the same way he did in Monte Carlo three weeks ago when he led for much of the rally only to be forced out with a damaged gearbox.
Although Meeke was third in Sweden last year, before getting stuck in a snowbank, he has limited experience of the Swedish stages and none in their current condition.
"It is one of those rallies where we are just going to have to wait and see how it plays out," he said.
No one has been praying harder for the rally to go ahead than Craig Breen who partners Meeke in the Abu Dhabi Citroen team for the first time.
"Driving a full WRC car for a factory team in the World Championship has been a dream of mine since I was a kid," said the Circuit of Ireland winner. "I would have been devastated if the rally had been called off.
"I have to grab this chance and show I deserve my place among the elite. I have a lot to learn and if I finish in the top six, that would be a fantastic result."
Others are not so happy, including Ogier, who claimed it was "idiotic" to go ahead.
"The only routes we can run are in Norway (where some of Friday's leg is based). We can run a short sprint rally there, but the rest is on gravel and would be completely unsafe. If we try to run the race, we'll lose the studs immediately and then it becomes really dangerous," he said.
"I do not understand why we're conducting the recce. We are destroying the roads for no reason. I don't know who took this decision, but it's completely idiotic."