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Kris Meeke awaiting Toyota decision after mad dash to be on standby for Dakar Rally



Kris Meeke has had to spend three days in Saudi Arabia quarantine

Kris Meeke has had to spend three days in Saudi Arabia quarantine

Kris Meeke has had to spend three days in Saudi Arabia quarantine

It has become a frustrating waiting game for Kris Meeke after his hectic dash to Saudi Arabia to be on standby to start the Dakar Rally on Saturday.

He left his family in Andorra on Christmas Day after being contacted out of the blue by the Toyota Gazoo team to tell him their former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers had tested positive for Covid-19 and ask if he could come to Jeddah as a possible replacement.

Despite the timing and having to leave his wife and young daughters over Christmas, it was too good an opportunity to miss and the five-time World Championship Rally winner from Dungannon hastily packed, travelled to Barcelona, flew to Madrid and caught an onward flight to Saudi Arabia, where he has spent three days in strict quarantine before being allowed to enter the Dakar bubble.

Meanwhile, South African De Villiers, who won the rally in 2009, had to remain in isolation in France while the rest of the team travelled to Jeddah.

He has since had a negative test and was scheduled to fly out by private jet in an effort to join triple winner Nasser Al Attiyah in the Toyota line-up for the prologue on Saturday.

But he, too, faces three days in quarantine and daily tests before being allowed to join the team, who will then have to decide whether he has recovered sufficiently to face the sport’s most gruelling rally, all two weeks and 4,500 miles of it in the desert.

Now all Meeke can do is wait.

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He made his Dakar debut back in January this year driving a lightweight buggy which, while fast, proved fragile and unreliable and he spent many hours stranded in the desert or being towed at frightening speeds by the giant trucks which also contest the event.

But he made the finish and said the experience was amazing, adding that he desperately wanted to try again but only if he could drive one of the robust front-running T1 cars.

It looked like it was going to happen when he was recruited to be part of a private two-car French Peugeot team and tested with them several times during the year, but the huge funding required never materialised and they opted to run just one car.

Meeke was resigned to watching the rally on television until the surprise call on Christmas Eve offering him a possible opportunity to drive one of the most competitive cars in the rally, a Toyota Hilux T1+.

It has been developed principally by Al Attiyah and De Villiers to take on the new Q e-tron Audis of eight-time winner Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz as well as the Prodrive-built BRX Hunters of eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb and Nani Roma.

If he does make the start it will be a big learning curve for Meeke who has never driven the Toyota and has never worked alongside navigator Dennis Murphy.

The vast Dakar entry list also includes Meeke’s fellow Ulsterman Michael Orr, who is co-driving for Yazeed Al Rajhi.

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