Belfast Telegraph

Meeke hoping break from World stage will banish his misfortune

By Sammy Hamill

It could be claimed that Kris Meeke is the second fastest rally driver in the world right now. What can't be disputed is his position as No.1 in the Tough Luck Stakes.

As the Dungannon driver steps away for an expected two-month break, during which he will concentrate on the development of Citroen's new rally car for 2017, Meeke can only wonder what he has done to deserve the ill-fortune that has dogged him through the Monte Carlo and Swedish rounds of the World championship.

He might have won both of them and was again the biggest threat to all-conquering World champion Sebastien Ogier but has only a single point to show for his efforts. Yes, he has a reputation for being fast but accident prone and has stepped over the narrow line between hero and zero too often in the past. But not this year.

He has driven superbly, taking the fight to Ogier and the Volkswagen juggernaut, but has still ended up shaking his head in frustration and cursing his luck.

Take Monte Carlo, for instance. On Ogier's home ground in the Alps, Meeke led for the best part of two days only to be sidelined by a damaged gearbox, the result of a freak incident in which his Citroen tore up a rock buried in the road, ripping off the sumpguard and punching a hole in the casing.

Video clips show virtually every driver taking exactly the same line through the same corner and emerging unscathed. Why Meeke? Maybe his Citroen was set up a fraction lower on its suspension. Maybe he was just a little faster. No one seems to know, although the conspiracy theorists suggest the rock might have been placed there by French spectators to thwart his challenge to local boy Ogier.

Sweden was just as strange. This time a rock on the racing line broke the Citroen's steering. Again Meeke (right) was in second place behind Ogier and beginning to close as the snow started to fall, leaving the champion to brush away the power coating on top of the ice.

Meeke had a cleaner road, his studded tyres able to bite better into the ice, and he was going faster than Ogier. Then he hit a rock the size of a football. He insists he took the same line through the corner on the first pass through the stage earlier in the day, which video footage confirms, and there was no sign of a rock. And no one else hit it.

He was entitled to ask - why me?

His misfortune became all the more telling when he re-joined under Rally2 rules. With a 15-minute penalty he had no chance of even making the top 10 but he was fastest of all the drivers through the entire second leg, beating Ogier who, by his own admission, had been flat-out to overcome the disadvantage of snow clearing and staying ahead of the Hyundai of Hayden Paddon.

There was the consolation of a Power Stage point where he set the third fastest time despite taking over the snow clearing role from Ogier. Meeke says he doesn't buy into the conspiracy theories, ruefully reflecting: "It's been a rocky start for sure but there were positives too."

And he added: "In Monte Carlo, I think Ogier might still have had a little bit in hand but we will never know what might have happened if I had been able to keep pressuring him.

"For me Sweden was a rally of what could have been. The speed was there and I believe victory was on the cards. It just wasn't to be but we'll come back stronger from the experience."

It is likely to be Rally Portugal in May before he and co-driver Paul Nagle return to the championship. They will miss Mexico and, disappointingly, Argentina where they won last year, as Citroen step up development work on a revised car to suit the new-for-2017 regulations.

But you can be sure Meeke will be counting the days to Portugal, itching to lock horns with Ogier again and hoping the break will banish his bad luck.

Belfast Telegraph


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