Kris Meeke ready to take step into the unknown
The highly-trained engineers of the Abu Dhabi Citroen team have been meticulously preparing Kris Meeke's car for the Rally of Sweden ... right down to a set of 'L' plates.
He passed his driving test a long time ago, of course, but right now he is on a big learning curve. He's tackling his first snow rally and admits he is a total rookie.
"We don't get that much snow around Dungannon," he says ruefully, "and it's usually wet and slushy. Definitely no snowbanks to bounce the car off."
His back-up crew are having a laugh, of course, but the Swedish round of the World championship is a step into the unknown for Meeke as he beds himself into the role of Citroen No.1.
He has won in places as far afield as Brazil and Belgium, the Azores and Italy and a strong, error-free run to a podium place behind past winners Sebastien Ogier, the World champion, and Bryan Bouffier on the Monte Carlo Rally generated lots of excitement.
But Meeke dismisses talk of a repeat performance this week in Sweden.
"I've never competed on any rally on snow so it will be a totally new experience for me," he said as he prepared for last night's opening spectator stage.
"But at least the team know that – hence the 'L' plates they stuck on the car for the test! But truthfully, I am going to concentrate on learning and forget about the actual result."
The Citroen focus this time will be on his team-mate Mads Ostberg, a Norwegian who was brought up on this type of rally.
"I sat in with Mads during his test session and it was an eye-opener. I have so much to learn in terms of setting the car up, the studded tyres, the actual technique of driving on snow.
"Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala, Mikko Hirvonen, my old Intercontinental Challenge rival Juho Hanninen, Thierry Neuville and of course Mads have a lot more experience and will undoubtedly go very fast. I'll just have to put that out of my mind and progress."
And Meeke had an early warning of the potential trouble ahead when he went off the road during yesterday's shakedown session. His DS3 Citroen went sliding into a ditch, causing the stage to be delayed for 40 minutes while a tow truck retrieved the car.
It was undamaged and an undaunted Meeke returned to set the third fastest time behind Ostberg and Latvala.
Only Volkswagen's Ogier is likely to challenge the Scandinavians, although the spotlight will also be on Neuville and 2012 Circuit of Ireland winner Hanninen as the new Hyundai team attempts to bounce back from their disappointing debut in Monte Carlo.
Meeke is joined in the starting list by Peugeot Academy driver Craig Breen, who has moved on from his third place in the European championship round in Latvia for a one-off appearance in a WRC Ford Fiesta while Chris Patterson partners the third member of the Citroen team, Khaid Al Qassimi.