Belfast Telegraph

Toyota boss hints at fresh contract for team player Meeke

 

New deal: Kris Meeke
New deal: Kris Meeke

By Sammy Hamill

Toyota team boss Tommi Makinen has given the strongest indication yet he wants to keep Kris Meeke on board for the 2020 World Rally Championship.

"Kris has done very good in recent rallies, performing well and bringing points for the team," said Makinen ahead of this weekend's Rally Spain - the penultimate round of the 2019 series.

"Before that he was taking too much pressure, but now he is relaxing and there have been no mistakes in Rally GB or Germany and Turkey. He can do it with good speed when he is relaxing."

Spain could, however, be critical in the Finn's decision. It is a rally Meeke won in 2017 but, less than a year later, he was sacked by Citroen, missing the Salou-based event last season, and returns this time under different circumstances.

His role will be to support World Championship leader Ott Tanak, not go for glory unless the situation demands it, and, crucially, secure points for Toyota in the manufacturers' competition in which they trail Hyundai.

After a blip in mid-season, the Dungannon driver has recovered to play a big part in helping the team narrow the gap to just eight points going into the last two rounds.

Another solid performance by Meeke will enhance his chances but, with Tanak expected to turn down overtures from Hyundai and Ford to stay at Toyota next season and 19-year-old Kalle Rovanpera - the WRC2 champion - already signed, Makinen will have to choose between his fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala, a long-time member of the team, and the sometimes wayward Ulsterman.

Meeke is well aware of what is at stake, not just for his own future but for the team too.

"I've always enjoyed the mixed-surface challenge of Spain and last time I did the rally I managed to take the win," he recalled. "I've had a really good feeling with the Yaris WRC on asphalt so far and I'm especially looking forward to that part of it.

"But with the manufacturers' championship being so close now, we've got a job to do, and Seb (co-driver Marshall) and I are certainly going to have to be on our game."

Tanak is on the brink of becoming champion for the first time, the brilliant Estonian leading Citroen's six-time winner Sebastien Ogier by 28 points and he is 41 ahead of Hyundai's Thierry Neuville with only Rally Australia to follow.

Meeke is in fifth place starting the only rally in the WRC calendar which features gravel stages on day one before switching to ultra-fast tarmac.

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