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Meeke excited by New Zealand bow



Kiwi mission: Kris Meeke is on his way to Rally of Whangarei

Kiwi mission: Kris Meeke is on his way to Rally of Whangarei

Kiwi mission: Kris Meeke is on his way to Rally of Whangarei

Craig Breen has submitted a surprise entry for the West Cork Rally and his former Citroen World Championship team-mate Kris Meeke is heading Down Under for his first appearance in New Zealand.

Meeke, who announced his retirement from the WRC when his 2019 contract with Toyota wasn't renewed, is to take part in the International Rally of Whangarei in May. He will drive a car little known in Europe, a Mazda 2 AP4.

It will be run by the local Force Motorsport team, who have enjoyed strong results with the car, including finishing runners-up in the 2019 Asia-Pacific Championship.

The Ulsterman will compete on the iconic New Zealand gravel roads made famous during the days the World Championship was an annual visitor through the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Rally of Whangarei - between May 8-10 - is the second round of both the Asia-Pacific series and the New Zealand Championship and will see Meeke resume battle with a familiar face from the WRC, New Zealand's Hayden Paddon, until this season a member of the Hyundai squad.

Meeke has been keeping a low profile since he bowed out of the WRC, only taking part - and winning - a Legends event in Belgium last month, but says he couldn't resist the opportunity of going to New Zealand.

"It's something I've always dreamed about, driving a rally car in New Zealand, and through all my exploits in the WRC over the years, I was never involved in the series when Rally New Zealand was in the Championship for one reason or another," Meeke said.

"I grew up with the images of these famous stages in New Zealand with Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, and I always wanted to do it, so when I had a proposal from the Rally Whangarei organisers to drive on those roads, for me it was a box I wanted to tick."

Breen, meanwhile, takes every opportunity he can to get behind the wheel and, although his primary target this season is the European Championship, the reigning Irish Tarmac champion is heading home for the West Cork Rally which he won last year.

He was part of the Hyundai WRC team in Rally Sweden last month and at the weekend finished third on a testing exercise for MRF tyres in the Itaralli, part of the Finnish Championship.

It was expected the Azores Rally, the opening round of the European series at the end of the month, would be next on his list but he has elected to join the West Cork line-up over St Patrick's weekend when he will drive an R5 Hyundai.

Breen joins a field which includes the top contenders in the Irish Tarmac and British Championships, including Galway winner Alastair Fisher and British champion Matt Edwards.

Belfast Telegraph