Meeke back behind wheel but far from World start
Kris Meeke was back behind the wheel of a WRC Mini this week but his return to the World Rally Championship still seems distant.
The Dungannon driver, who was so suddenly sidelined by the cash-strapped Mini team in the run-up to Christmas, has been lending his experience and knowledge to the McGeehan Motorsport project which will see a Prodrive-developed Countryman WRC appear in the Irish Tarmac Championship for the first time.
He joined Prodrive engineers and a number of drivers including five-times Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly, who will drive the Mini on its debut in Galway next month, British champion David Bogie and British F2 champion Marty McCormack at a two-day test session in the Sperrins.
Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle were also scheduled to make their first public appearances since the announcement their places in the Mini team were being auctioned off to a succession of paying drivers by attending the official launch of the Circuit of Ireland in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.
For the first time the Donnelly Group Circuit at Easter will be a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, a series which was won by Meeke and Nagle in 2009 and provided the launch pad for their progression to the world championship.
But the Mini move has turned sour with the team run of behalf of BMW/Mini by British engineering specialists Prodrive hitting serious funding problems.
Contractual obligations have meant Meeke has been unable to speak about the situation but today intended to honour his promise to circuit director Bobby Willis to attend the reception.
Although he still can’t discuss the Mini decision, Meeke will have been slightly encouraged by the words of Prodrive chairman David Richards who was quoted this week as saying they were “making every effort” to get him back into the world championship.
“I very much hope we can get him out. That’s what we are working towards and that’s still our goal,” said Richards.
But while his old team-mate Dani Sordo was finishing second on the Monte Carlo Rally, Meeke was burning off some of his frustrations by taking part in the Omagh duathlon at the weekend.
The fitness fanatic completed the two-mile run, 10-mile cycle, two-mile run in under an hour to finish in 17th place.
Meanwhile plans for the April 6/7 Circuit were being outlined today with a spectator Power Stage widely predicted to take place at a Belfast venue and the rally to be based in Armagh.
What price Meeke being on the start line on Good Friday? With a smile he would only say: “Unlikely but after what has happened in the past month who can tell.”