Citroen sign up Meeke on new three-year deal
It was the outcome Kris Meeke wanted all along but it took some hard negotiations to get there. Now the Dungannon driver will stay with Citroen Racing for another three years, leading the test and development programme of their new-for-2017 WRC rally car.
And although Meeke will not contest a full World championship schedule next season, importantly, he will take part in "a number of rounds" according to Citroen team principal Yves Matton.
He said details of the 2016 programme would be revealed later but reports from the continent suggest it could be as many as 10 of the 14 rounds and Meeke will be joined by rising French star Stephane Lefebrve.
Back home to attend a Stormont lunch with First Minister-in-waiting Arlene Foster, Meeke admitted he had always wanted to stay with Citroen but once the French manufacturer confirmed they would be taking a gap year in 2016 he had to look at other options.
The Rally Argentina winner already had a firm offer of a three-year contract with Toyota to develop their new Yaris car for 2017 and this will have strengthened his negotiating position as he pushed for a similar commitment from Citroen.
And the opportunity to compete regularly next season in the current DS3, almost certainly with Citroen satellite team PH Sport, was also a major factor.
"Various options were available to me but I chose to stay with Citroen Racing to reap the rewards of the work done over the last two years or more," he said.
"It's also a way of thanking the team for the faith they have shown in me.
"We know each other very well and this understanding will be essential in developing the new car.
"I'm excited about everything that lies ahead in the next few months.
"I began my career in motorsport as a design engineer so although I can't wait to get into the car.
"I'll be following every stage of the design and assembly of the first car with great interest.
"I'm also excited about the new FIA regulations, which look set to deliver more powerful and more spectacular cars.
"Obviously, all of this work is geared towards me being able to fight for more wins and for the World title in the not too distant future."
Citroen had put pressure on Meeke to make a decision by announcing they would, after all, take part in January's Monte Carlo Rally, the entries for which close tomorrow.
It brought the stand-off to a head and resulted in Meeke securing the deal he wanted.
At 36, he views the next three years as critical to his career and a long-term contract was always the sticking point.
"It seems that all the way through my career I've only ever had a short-term commitment. Sometimes it hasn't even been for a season, and I've been driving rally by rally.
"There's always been that bit of extra pressure to prove yourself, to get to the next rally," he explained.
"When you have a long-term commitment it shows the team believes in you and what you can do.
"It removes some of the question marks and I can try to make it my team knowing the future is secure." Matton, who has been a strong supporter of Meeke since his Junior World championship days, stressed that the priority will be to concentrate on the new car, with testing due to begin in April, but added that it was important to for "Kris to keep his hand in by taking part in several rounds [next season].
"In terms of our new programme, above all else we wanted an experienced, top-level driver, with sound technical knowledge.
"Kris was undoubtedly the best choice and we are delighted that he has decided to stay with us."