Belfast Telegraph

Frustrated Meeke left to recall Finnish glory from afar

 

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke has disappeared off the radar but two years ago this weekend he produced one of the greatest performances ever by a British driver when he won Rally Finland.

It lifted the Ulsterman into an elite group, one of only five non Scandinavians in its near 70-year history to win a rally regarded by the drivers as the Holy Grail.

It was something special and his record-breaking charge through the rally's signature Ouninpohja stage in a Citroen DS3 has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube.

But now, two years down the line, Meeke will be at his adopted home in Andorra with his family when Rally Finland begins tomorrow evening, no doubt still fuming with frustration over his sacking by Citroen who will field Norwegian Mads Ostberg in his place alongside Craig Breen in a pair of C3 WRCs.

Meeke has maintained total silence since Citroen's shock decision in May which followed a massive accident on Rally Portugal. The French team deemed it was one crash too many and summarily sacked him despite Meeke being the only driver to win for them - five times - since the retirement of Sebastien Loeb.

He didn't see it coming and just hours before the announcement he had written on his website about how he and co-driver Paul Nagle had recovered fully from the Portugal crash and were looking forward to getting back in the car in the next round in Sardinia.

He wrote about changes to the car for Rally Italia giving him fresh momentum going into the second half of the season.

That was just a couple of hours before he took a phone call from team director Pierre Budar telling him the Citroen hierarchy had decided he would not drive for them again.

I know he was stunned but since then he has refused to make any public comment, no doubt silenced by clauses in his contract which still runs until the end of the season even if he won't be back in the car or be allowed to drive for anyone else.

We will have to wait to learn his side of the story.

Ostberg took over in Sardinia, finishing fifth with Breen sixth and there seems little chance either of them will be able to emulate Meeke's 2016 victory this weekend even though Citroen are introducing a modified front suspension to the car which brought his downfall, the unloved C3 WRC.

Bottom of the manufacturers' championship for a second year in a row, flaws in the C3 have seen them fall way behind Ford, Hyundai and Toyota and put question marks over the team's future.

But there are question marks, too, over Meeke. Will he ever be back in the World Championship or has the troublesome C3 killed his career? For sure he will be missed in Finland where not so long ago he reigned supreme.

In his absence Breen and Ostberg face a huge task in trying to take the fight to the Hyundai of World Championship leader Thierry Neuville and the M-Sport Ford of five-time champion Sebastien Ogier who have pulled clear at the top of the standings.

They are separated by 27 points but more than 50 clear of the rest in which Meeke remains the leading Citroen driver.

But Finland is traditionally the domain of the northern Europeans and Jari-Matti Latvala, a three-time winner, rising Estonian star Ott Tanak and last year's victor Esapekka Lappi, the 2014 Circuit of Ireland champion, will be fighting to keep them at bay.

Belfast Telegraph

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