Belfast Telegraph

Meeke relishing challenge of first-time Chile trip

 

Clean slate: Kris Meeke
Clean slate: Kris Meeke

By Sammy Hamill

It is a level playing field for everyone, a trip into the unknown. This weekend's Rally Chile represents a new challenge for Kris Meeke and his fellow World Championship drivers but it is one he is relishing.

And why not? The Americas have provided the Ulsterman with some of the highlights of his career with victories in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. Now he sees Chile as an opportunity to add a first win for his new Toyota team.

Sitting fourth in the WRC drivers' standings, Meeke has also been contributing steadily to Toyota's defence of their manufacturers' title but has been frustrated by niggling problems - primarily punctures - on all five rounds so far. Most recently in Argentina, a flat wheel on the final stage cost him a place on the podium.

But like team-mate Ott Tanak, who has also been hindered by punctures, Meeke has shown he has the speed to challenge Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier at the top of the leaderboard. He feels he just needs fortune to smile on him for a change.

"It has been frustrating," he admits. "It seems every time we get in a position to think about winning, we get knocked back. I love driving this Toyota Yaris and know I'm capable of winning in it if I can get a clean run. Maybe this weekend.

"It is a fresh challenge for everybody and I look forward to that. I like going to new places and experiencing different rallies and countries.

"None of us have been here before so we start with a clean slate and preparing good pacenotes could be key. Seb (Marshall) and I have been working well together and we're looking forward to it."

Based in the port city of Concepción, almost 500km south of capital Santiago, Rally Chile is the first new event to be added to the WRC calendar since Bulgaria in 2010. The gravel stages have been described as a mixture of Rally GB, Australia, New Zealand and even Finland.

Crucially, none the teams have data banks to call on, leaving them to best guess the car set up and tyre strategy required.

"The rally is a bit of question mark for all the teams," says Toyota boss Tommi Makinen. "In general the roads are quite smooth, which should suit our car, but we will know more after a debrief with the drivers when they finish their recce."

Following back-to-back wins in Corsica and Argentina, Hyundai's Neuville leads the series, 10 points ahead of the Citroen of world champion Ogier with Tanak third.

After his fourth place in Argentina, Meeke has moved back ahead of Ford's former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans, who has likened the Chile stages to his native Wales.

After a ceremonial start in down town Concepción tonight, the rally begins in earnest tomorrow in the forests between the Pacific Ocean and the Biobío River.

It finishes on Sunday with the 10 mile Powere Stage which starts by the river and finishes on the Pacific coast.

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