Kris Meeke hopes to hit heights in the mountains
Kris Meeke is heading high into the Mexican mountains but he is determined not to over-reach himself.
It is another new experience for the Dungannon driver as he beds into his role with the Citroen World rally championship team.
"I've never been to Mexico and I've never driven at high altitude so I have a lot of learning to do," said Meeke as he and co-driver Paul Nagle prepared for the start of the third round of the WRC series in Leon tonight.
From a debut podium finish in Monte Carlo to a battling 10th place in the Swedish snow, it is all about Meeke finding his feet at rallying's highest level and he is determined to take it one step at a time.
"It won't be the same as Sweden where I had to get used to driving on snow," said the former Intercontinental Challenge champion.
"This time it's on gravel and I already have a fair bit of experience on this surface. But Mexico, with many of the stages at high altitude, requires a very different set-up and approach."
The thin air sucks the power out of the turbocharged engines, resulting in the cars responding differently than they do at sea level. But Meeke believes less power under his right foot could work in his favour given his background in the S2000 cars he drove to victory in the 2009 Intercontinental Challenge.
"The drop in power output could be an advantage for me because I have a lot of experience of cars with normally-aspirated engines. But I'll be concentrating on my own race and I'd be pleased with a top five finish."
Meeke sits sixth in a World championship table which already shows signs of being dominated by the Volkswagens of reigning champion Sebastien Ogier, the Monte Carlo winner, and Jari-Matti Latvala who won in Sweden.
But the new Citroen line-up of Meeke and Norwegian Mads Ostberg have made a promising start and are second in the all-important manufacturers' championship, holding off the challenge of Ford and newcomers Hyundai.
Meanwhile, this year's Northern Ireland stage rally championship is taking on a new look.
Six of the seven rounds will be tarmac events, starting with the Bishopscourt Stages next week, with just one on gravel forest roads. It also sees the introduction of a rotational calendar whereby organising clubs take a year out from the series, starting with the 500 Club's Kirkistown Stages and the Omagh Club's Bushwhacker Rally.
Championship dates: Mar 15: Bishopscourt Stages; Apr 18/19 Circuit of Ireland National; May 10 Tour of the Sperrins; Jun 7 Mourne Rally; Aug 15/16 Ulster National; Sep 6 Lakeland Stages (gravel); Oct 18 Down Rally. Reserve events: Sep 27 Bushwhacker Rally; Oct 25 Kirkistown Stages.