Belfast Telegraph

Realistic Meeke is not optimistic for Rally GB success

 

By Sammy Hamill

It has been wet - very wet - in Wales, leaving the forest roads awaiting the crews in Rally GB saturated and slippery.

No surprise there, and most of the teams will be prepared following pre-rally test sessions in the local environment.

Contrast that with Kris Meeke's Citroen team, who elected not to travel to Wales but instead head to the south of France where the gravel roads were dry and dusty. They are reported as saying it was too expensive to hire a Welsh forest to prepare for the penultimate round of this year's World Championship.

It seems to suggest their expectations of Meeke repeating his stunning Rally Catalunya 'comeback' win less than three weeks ago are not high, even though it is effectively the Dungannon driver's home round.

Indeed, some of the stages being used this weekend are the same ones he made his rally debut on in 2000 and where he has competed many times since.

But wet, muddy gravel roads, in contrast to the smooth, dry tarmac of Spain, are where the 2017 Citroen C3 is at its weakest and where it has caused so many woes for Meeke and Craig Breen.

With no quick fix for its suspension troubles before next season, Citroen appear to be looking for little more than respectable finishes from Meeke and Breen while Ford duo Sebastien Ogier and Ott Tanak fight for the title.

Despite saying he is "very motivated" after his Spanish victory, Meeke is realistic about his chances of a first GB victory.

He said: "We had a difficult period in the middle of the year and the win has boosted morale in the team. The car worked well on the tarmac surface in Spain but, as regards raising expectations for GB, it's difficult to say.

"We know it is fast, but at times the car has felt a bit nervous on certain types of gravel. We will have to wait and see.

"It's impossible to judge what the car will be like or what the weather conditions will be like. We know our lowly road position of ninth on Friday is not ideal. Running near to the front is an advantage.

"Predictions aside, the only thing I have to do is my very best - as I always do. The aim is to get a good finish." 

Breen has been the most consistent Citroen performer this season with six fifth-place finishes, and the target for the two-time Circuit of Ireland winner is to "do a bit better".

"Between my appearances in the British Championship and the WRC, I feel I know this event well and I have a lot of good memories here, the highlight being when we won the Junior WRC title," he recalled.

"It's pretty difficult to set a specific target given how much the conditions can affect the standings but, after six fifth places, I'd love to do a bit better and finish in the top three."

The Irish are well represented in the Citroen squad with not just Meeke and Breen but co-drivers Paul Nagle and Chris Patterson, who will be in the third C3 alongside Khalid al Qassimi.

Heading to Wales, too, is former Irish Tarmac champion Eamonn Boland with co-driver Mickey Morrissey in their R5 Ford Fiesta, as well as two of Ulster's young rising stars, Callum Devine and William Creighton.

It was originally thought British Junior champion Devine and co-driver Keith Moriarty would miss the rally - their Opel Adam is up for sale - but they are now expected to start along with big R2 class rivals Creighton and Liam Regan. Also in the list are Marty Gallagher and Dean O'Sullivan, another leading R2 crew.

Based at Deeside, the rally starts with a short stage at Conwy Tir Prince this evening before the serious action moves to the forests tomorrow morning.

There is a marathon 17-hour leg on Saturday before the Sunday finish which includes the final TV Power Stage.

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