Kris Meeke’s Dakar Rally hasn’t gone to plan from day one.
After receiving a late call-up in December to stand in for Dutch driver Kees Koolen in the event, Meeke suffered two punctures across in just the first 40km of the rally’s first stage, dropping over an hour to the leaders in the Challenger (formerly T3) class; an experience the Northern Irishman described as “humbling”.
Since then, Meeke has clawed his way up to fourth on the leaderboard after several steadier days. Despite facing the constant challenge of being caught in the dust of other vehicles due to his poor road position, he was back in podium contention as the rally reached its midway point.
But as the crews entered the new 48-hour ‘chrono stage’, which started on Thursday, bad luck was about to strike the five-time WRC event winner once again. This time, however, the consequences could have been much worse.
"We heard something coming and he passed the dune about one meter from the helmet."Kris Meeke
“Everything was going perfect, we had a really good start to the day, and the dunes were amazing. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.” Meeke told DirtFish after reaching his overnight halt 400 km into the 758 km stage.
“I haven’t even seen any splits, but I calculated that with [Eryk] Goczal (current class leader) – and we all arrived in a group together – that we were probably second or third on the splits up to 90 km. And then we came over a little dune, and there’s a pocket [of sand] in behind [it], and we got stuck.
“It would have been perfectly fine, we’d just got out [of the car]. We just had to move a little bit of sand and we’d have been able to reverse. We set my helmet on top of the dune. Three minutes after we’d stopped, Krzysztof Hołowczyc in the Mini came over the dune and landed into the side of the car.”
While the images of the incident are certainly scary, Meeke and co-driver Wouter Rosegaar were thankfully able to get out of harm’s way before Hołowczyc’s Mini made contact with the G Rally team-run machine.
“Luckily we were digging the tires out at the time,” he added. “We heard something coming and he passed the dune about one meter from the helmet.”
Although disaster may have been avoided, the two vehicles were well and truly stuck in the sand after the accident. For Meeke, the incident likely spelled the end of his challenge for a first Dakar podium.
“We had to wait two-and-a-half, three hours for a truck,” he said, “because the top five or six trucks are all in a [truck class] race, they don’t stop. You have to wait for a truck that’s not in the race.
“So then I had a good conversation with Krzysztof. He’s a good guy. We were angry for 30 seconds and then we hugged and chewed the fat for two-and-a-half hours in the desert. Then once a truck stopped, both of us were out within one minute, we had tow ropes ready.”
After reaching the first available bivouac, one of eight available to the competitors during the 48-hour marathon stage, Meeke reflected on the unique challenge of driving in the Saudi Arabian dunes.
“It’s tricky, every kilometer you’re learning,” he admitted. “But my team-mate is a Saudi guy, in the Dark Horse team. Saleh Al Saif. And I started behind him today and after 60km he’d taken like 20 or 30 seconds on me, but he’s a local and he really understands the desert.
“To watch his lines was impressive, there’s a technique to it. And a way to read the desert. But I love it; honestly, it’s sensational to drive. This Dakar is just something else.
“It’s like trying to describe to somebody what it’s like to have children. Nobody understands, nobody has a clue until it happens to them. I’d advise anybody to come and try Dakar, it is a hell of an adventure. You all come with great ambitions but you get humbled very quickly. I got humbled even on day one.”
Although his competitive challenge may be over, Meeke still has one goal left to aim for as his second Dakar Rally adventure continues over the next eight days:
“I got a finishers medal here in 2021. Come hell or high water, I’m gonna get another finishers medal this year. To finish two Dakars would be nice.”