Dakar Rally rookie Kris Meeke says he faces a “huge challenge” to get up to speed as preparations for next week’s classic rally raid event pick up pace.
Meeke will contest the Dakar in the Lightweight Prototype class driving a T3.1 Zephyr side-by-side vehicle (SSV) alongside Dutch co-driver Wouter Rosegaar.
A winner of five WRC rallies, all with Citroën, Meeke has undergone a short but intensive testing program with PH Sport, the team that ran him in the WRC in 2016.
Speaking during the official pre-event press conference, Meeke explained that the differences for co-drivers between the WRC and Dakar were the main challenges lying ahead of him.
“It’s a question a lot of people ask me,” said Meeke.
“The WRC is all about ultimate speed, breakneck speed, you’re putting all your trust in every pacenote, you’ve analyzed the road before. Nowadays, the WRC is a complete sprint, so in that respect, this is the complete opposite.
“The navigation plays such a big role in terms of finding your way, the co-driver is very important in that respect. I think in this sport you need to use your eyes a lot more to read the terrain and that’s where experience comes in.
“The guys who have done it five, 10, 15 times before, they’re the guys who can see the obstacles coming so for me, that’s the huge challenge.
“I arrive very humble because, as much as I’m maybe known for my speed in a rally car, this is a completely different ball game. When you come here as a rookie, your sole goal is to make it to the finish in one piece and gain the experience for the future.”
Like the majority of Dakar newcomers, Meeke said his main objective is to simply reach the finish on his first appearance.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic reducing many of the competitors’ testing programs this year, Meeke has benefited from a number of outings in his SSV vehicle, and revealed he first sampled the PH Sport Zephyr in February.
“I was in Dubai for a few days then and that really whetted my appetite; to be unleashed into a full set of dunes with a vehicle was a fascinating experience,” Meeke explained.
“I did a few more days of testing in the South of France during the summer and then again in Dubai about a month ago.
“All in all, I’ve done about seven or eight days in the car. It’s impossible for me to compare as it’s my first time I’ve driven a lightweight SSV, but I’m very comfortable with the team I’m with, PH Sport.”
Although embarking on his first major cross-country rally in his career, Meeke is hoping to utilize the familiarity of PH Sport to act as a confidence booster ahead of the event, which kicks off with a 6.8-mile Prologue on Saturday.
“They’ve got a big history in the WRC and they actually prepared my Citroën rally car when I had probably my most successful season in 2016,” Meeke added.
“I have some very fond memories of working with these guys, it’s like a family team and I think that will add to my experience, being with a familiar team.
“They’ve designed a very good car, and hopefully we can enjoy a good Dakar.”