Kris Meeke and the new WRC Mini showed their potential in Sardinia. But all too briefly.
The Ulsterman was in the top four alongside the likes of seven-times champion Sebastien Loeb in the early stages as the Mini made its World championship debut in the Rally d’Italia back in May.
For a few hours Meeke and the Mini were the talk of the World rally series.
But it didn’t last, a problem with the electronic throttle leading to an accident and the decision to retire the car.
Meeke’s team-mate Dani Sordo experienced the same problem but, forewarned, the Spaniard nursed his car to the finish in sixth place.
It was a promising start but after a two-month break the Mini team is back for its second appearance on Rally Finland which begins tomorrow afternoon. They will be under the spotlight as rival teams look to see if Meeke’s stunning start was a flash in the pan.
“The whole team was hugely encouraged by the performance of the car in Sardinia,” said former Intercontinental Challenge champion Meeke (pictured).
“Genuinely, I wasn’t pushing hard on those early stages and was as surprised as anyone to be within a couple of seconds of a world champion like Sebastien.
“The throttle problem was unfortunate. We hadn’t experienced any trouble with it before so it came as a shock. But it has been re-designed and has been 100% perfect in all the testing we have done since.
“Finland is an entirely different rally — very fast with huge jumps and knowledge of the stages is key which is why so few non-Scandinavians have won.
“On some events you can make the pace notes and then drive with total commitment but not here because the jumps add a third dimension.
“This is a rally that can bite as I discovered when I hit a rock at the edge of the road during testing.
“It was a warning that you have to treat this rally with respect and although I’m hungry to get back into action after the long gap since Sardinia I have to keep in mind that this year is primarily about familiarising myself with these events.”
And he added: “I don’t have a target in mind other than to set some competitive times and to be there at the finish.”
Meeke and the Minis will be the sideshow as the Citroen duo of Loeb and Sebastien Ogier lock horns again in their increasingly contentious battle for the world title, but this is a rally where they are likely to be overshadowed by Ford’s flying Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala.
Irish interest spreads to co-drivers Chris Patterson and Michael Orr who will be alongside Petter Solberg and Khalid Al Qassimi.
In action, too, are Alastair Fisher and Craig Breen who have been the pacesetters in the new WRC Academy series for up-and-coming drivers.