A new era but deep freeze means Kris Meeke prepared for the full Monte
With the Alpine region around Gap in the south of France in a deep freeze, Kris Meeke predicts a classic Monte Carlo Rally - but one in which the new generation of cars may have little bearing on the outcome.
The start of the 2017 World Championship season tonight sees the introduction of more powerful, more aerodynamic rally cars but Meeke, Citroen's lead driver from Dungannon, feels the weather may have a bigger part to play than any step-up in performance.
"I think Monte is going to serve up a classic this year. I know there's a lot of anticipation about the new cars and the driver swaps that have happened, but in the conditions we've seen during the recce, the actual performance of the cars is not going to count for too much," he said ahead of tonight's opening pair of stages.
"We know the Monte is always one of the trickiest events of the year but this one is going to be right up there. We've had a good look at the roads over the past couple of days and it's so cold up here a lot of them are frozen.
"They had a weather front pass through last weekend and out on the stages, some parts haven't got above minus 10 since then.
"The first night is definitely going to be difficult. There are only two stages but we anticipate they will be very icy. And with these new cars and a lot more power under your right foot, it promises to be interesting."
Meeke says the Friday and Saturday stages look like full winter conditions with snow on the higher parts. "And as for Sunday, well, we did the recce of the Col de Turini stages on dry roads but Sunday is a long, long way away," he added.
Even though Meeke, winner of the Portugal and Finnish rounds last season, is being talked up as one of the favourites for the rally, and possibly for the World title itself - which he describes as rubbish - he plans a cautious approach tonight.
"The aim will be to try to stay relaxed, take it steady, take as few risks as possible and see where we are. No one knows how any of the new cars compare with each other so everyone is going to be reading a lot into the early stage times. But I don't think that will tell us anything significant," he said.
He took his ultra-cautious approach into yesterday's shakedown stage and was 20 seconds slower than World champion Sebastien Ogier, who appeared for the first time in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta.
Indeed, Meeke was slower than his Citroen team-mates Stephane Lefebrve and Craig Breen and all of them off the pace of not just the Fords but the Toyotas and Hyundais as well.
But Meeke explained: "We ran on slick tyres in tricky conditions so we could keep our full allocation of winter tyres for the rally. It was just about checking that all the car's systems were working properly."