Belfast Telegraph

Meeke and Breen face anxious times as they wait for French verdict

 

Kris Meeke
Kris Meeke
Craig Breen

By Sammy Hamill

The World Rally Championship futures of Kris Meeke and Craig Breen appear to lie in France, in the hands of Sebastien Ogier and, ironically, Citroen.

What the six-time World champion and the French manufacturer decide in the next few weeks, perhaps days, may determine whether the Irish pair will have a role in the 2020 series.

It was Meeke's Toyota team-mate Ott Tanak who first sent seismic waves through the WRC when he won the World title a month ago and then announced he was jumping ship to join Hyundai. Then Citroen revealed they would no longer be part of the championship when it introduces hybrid cars after 2021, instead their parent PSA Group turning to endurance racing with Peugeot.

Ogier, deeply unhappy with the performance of Citroen's WRC C3 this year, is believed to be in Toyota's sights as they seek to replace Tanak and if he moves it may well hasten the exit of the French team. It is being suggested they could pull the plug immediately.

How does all this effect Meeke and Breen, both former Citroen drivers?

Meeke is at the end of his year-long contract with Toyota who have already signed the new WRC2 (second division) champion, teenager Kalle Rovanpera, and have held talks with Ford's former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans.

If they succeed in bringing Ogier on board, Evans might be seen as a safer No.2 than Meeke who, as one of the four fastest drivers in the championship, is not known for playing a subservient role and would relish battling with Ogier in identical cars.

Having splashed out to recruit Ogier, Toyota may be unwilling to risk pairing him with past winners like Meeke or Jari Matti Latvala.

Breen, who sat out most of this year, staying at home to win the Irish Tarmac Championship and various European rallies, was thrown a life-line by Hyundai, helping them in their successful quest to wrest the manufacturers' title away from Toyota in Finland and Rally GB.

But the Korean team's recruitment of Tanak to drive alongside Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb appears to have scuppered Breen's hopes of even a part-time position next season.

So much depends on the decisions coming out of France.

If Ogier can extricate himself from the final year of his Citroen contract, as he seems determined to do, it is likely Citroen will bow out, leaving the futures of a talented group of established drivers including Meeke, Breen, Latvala, Andreas Mikkelsen, Hayden Paddon and 2014 Circuit of Ireland winner Esapekka Lappi, who quit Toyota last season to join Citroen, all seeking employment in 2020.

If Citroen go it may possibly leave only one place up for grabs, at M-Sport Ford alongside Teemu Suninen.These are tense times in the WRC especially for Meeke and his Andorra-exiled neighbour Breen as they anxiously wait to see how the jigsaw pieces fall.

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