Kris Meeke has held out the intriguing possibility that he could be in the line-up for the Circuit of Ireland Rally when it makes its bow in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge at Easter.
He was a guest at the launch of the 2012 Donnelly Group Circuit in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter and when asked, as a former IRC champion, which of the current crop of rising young stars in the Challenge series he thought might win, ears pricked up when Meeke remarked: “I might risk a fiver on myself.”
The Dungannon driver has, of course, moved on from his IRC days, stepping up to the World championship with the new BMW Mini team, but is currently sidelined as the team struggles for funding and yesterday he made it clear he is anxious to get back into action as soon as possible.
His Circuit comment may have been part serious/part tongue-in-cheek, but there is no doubt he would love to be on the start line at Easter.
“Like every other driver in Northern Ireland this is the rally I grew up with,” he said.
“I have only done it once before, in 2007 and was close to winning it until there was a problem with the engine.
“You could say it remains unfinished business.
“Will I be there at Easter? I really don’t know. My situation is complicated because I’m still under contract to Mini, but when I see the way the Circuit is shaping up this year I genuinely want to be part of it.”
The launch reception in the old Drawing Office building, where the Titanic was designed, included several other Northern Ireland drivers who have the Easter date marked in their diaries, notably five-times Irish Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly who begins his bid for a record sixth title in Galway next weekend.
British F2 champion Marty McCormack was there too along with his Australian girlfriend and WRC Academy contender Molly Taylor, as were two more of Northern Ireland’s brightest young challengers Alastair Fisher and Jonny Greer.
Donagh Kelly, the 2010 NI production champion, announced that he too will be in the line-up as part of his switch from national events to the Irish Tarmac championship. The Circuit will count as rounds of both the IRC and the premier Irish series.
With First Minister Peter Robinson in attendance along with IRC development manager, former Monte Carlo Rally winner Jean-Pierre Nicolas, rally director Bobby Willis unveiled a route which begins with a super-special stage in the Titanic Quarter as part of the centenary celebrations to mark the launch of the ill-fated liner.
There will also be a repeat of the popular Power Stage in Lisburn city centre on Easter Saturday.
The rally is to be based, once again, in Armagh but will start from Belfast city hall at 4pm on Friday April 6, moving directly to the opening stage beside the signature Titanic Building which is nearing completion.
The meat of the two-day event will be in counties Down and Armagh with the service park based at the City Hotel in Armagh.
It will be broadcast to 59 countries around the world by Eurosport.