Kris Meeke sees dream come true in iconic rally car
Almost exactly a year ago Kris Meeke was named world rallying’s Rookie of the Year at the glittering Autosport Awards in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.
During the evening he bumped into David Richards, chairman of the Prodrive Group and the man behind the Subarus which took Colin McRae, Richards Burns and Petter Solberg to their World championships.
Shortly afterwards a letter arrived at Meeke’s Dungannon home. It was from Richards, congratulating him on his award and inviting him to a meeting.
“I went to meet DR on my way home from the Monte Carlo Rally last January and he outlined his plans for Prodrive to return to the World championship with BMW,” explains Meeke. “He was waiting for a decision from BMW but said he was confident it would happen and would like me on board.
“It was my dream come true. The chance to step up to the World championship and in one of the most iconic cars of all time, the Mini. I was bursting to tell everyone but I was sworn to secrecy.
“I was driving for Peugeot in the IRC, struggling with a car that was no longer competitive. It was really frustrating and I’m afraid the frustration of the whole situation showed in my driving at times. I wanted to show BMW that I was a winner but I was driving a car that couldn’t win and I was pushing too hard. Inevitably I had a couple of accidents ...”
But in July came the news Meeke was waiting for. BMW had committed to the Mini project and he was formally offered a three-year contract, rolling back the clock 40 years to when Mini last competed at world level with another Northern Ireland driver, Paddy Hopkirk.
And by a strange quirk of fate it was Hopkirk who first picked out Meeke as a face for the future when the Monte Carlo Rally winner was one of the judges at a ‘find a driver’ competition at Silverstone back in 2000.
It has been a bumpy road since for the 31-year-old who has has been British junior champion, the fastest driver in the Junior World championship and a winner in Monte Carlo but rejected by the major teams at the highest level because he was deemed to be “quick but erratic”.
But Meeke never lost faith in his own ability – nor did Marc van Dalen, Belgian boss of the Kronos Racing organisation. It was van Dalen who tamed his wild side and together they won the IRC title for Peugeot.
“I’ll forever be grateful to Marc, to Kronos and to Peugeot UK,” said Meeke. “They gave me the chance to get back on the world stage and without them the Mini opportunity would never have happened.”