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Appeal of competing in the famous Dakar Rally was too much for 'retired' Meeke to resist


Kris Meeke

It has long been an ambition of adventure-seeking Kris Meeke to tackle the marathon desert-based Dakar Rally.

And now, with his World Championship career behind him, he will get his chance next January when he joins the French PH Sport team to drive one of their Zephyr T3 buggies in the 14-day event which, because of the coronavirus pandemic, is being restricted to Saudi Arabia.

"I've followed the Dakar on TV from years ago and I remember Ari Vatanen doing it, Colin McRae too, and lots more WRC drivers," he said. "I've always had a passion for it."

The Dungannon driver got the chance to see it close up earlier this year when he attended the rally as a back-up navigator for his Andorra neighbour and five-times Dakar bikes winner Cyril Despres, who was spearheading Red Bull's new off-road project. He drove most of the route with Despres' team and saw for himself the unique challenges.

It only served to fire up his ambition to be part of it, and when the chance came to join up again with the PH Sport team, he jumped at it.

The five-time WRC winner has history with them stretching back a decade, and they prepared the DS3 Citroen in which he won Rally Finland and Rally Portugal in 2016 when the factory team stepped back to concentrate on the development of their new C3.

Meeke announced his WRC career was over after being dropped from the Toyota team at the end of last season, saying he wanted to explore other options.

However, Covid-19, which saw him largely confined to his Andorra home with his family, stymied most of his plans, including a trip to New Zealand, although he did win the Boucles of Bastogne Legends rally and has been tyre testing for Michelin in Italy.

But Meeke, ever the thrill seeker, does have experience of desert endurance rallies, having completed the notorious Baja 1000 in California in 2012 on a Honda motorbike "just for fun".

There will be familiar faces around when he turns up in Saudi Arabia, the list including his former Citroen team-mate Sebastien Loeb and another ex-world champion in Carlos Sainz.

The PH-built Zéphyr buggy, which he will share with experienced Dutch co-driver Wouter Rosegaar, is based on the CanAm Maverick X3, which locked out the SSV podium places in 2020.

Belfast Telegraph