Kris Meeke will make a return to contemporary stage rallying when he contests the Qatar International Rally later this month, the opening round of the 2021 Middle East Rally Championship.
Meeke contested a historic rally early last year, winning Legend Boucles à Bastogne, and this Qatar event will otherwise be his first proper stage rally since he left the World Rally Championship at the end of 2019. The five-time WRC rally winner will compete in a Škoda Fabia R5 run by Latvian Sports Racing Technologies (SRT), taking on 14-time event winner Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Meeke recently sampled Middle Eastern competition on his first-ever Dakar Rally, winning the prologue and final stage, and told DirtFish he agreed to take part in Qatar shortly before his Dakar bow.
“Somebody approached me and said would I be interested in doing it?” Meeke said. “I asked Seb [Marshall, co-driver], and Seb was keen and I said ‘why not?’
“I’m interested in the Dakar side of things now, and that’s the cross-country, something I’d love to explore further. Why not do a rally in the Middle East? It’s a stage rally, it’s back to what was common to me before. Why not go and put myself up against Nasser Al-Attiyah? They maybe found somebody stupid enough to go and try and take on Nasser Al-Attiyah!
“I’m not going there to try and beat Nasser, I’ll do my best, I have no expectations to beat him on his home patch, he knows his level over all the years.
“I’ll go and soak up the experience. It’s more just keeping my toe in the water in that part of the world and you never know what can happen. That whole desert side of things, hopefully, I’ll see a lot more of it in the future and this was just another chance to do a rally in the Middle East and stay sharp.”
Meeke already has experience aboard a Škoda’s Fabia Rally2 evo, having tested the car in Italy last August.
“The spec of the cars [that I’ll compete in] is a top-spec car,” Meeke confirmed.
“With 2020 the way it went, I did deals to do this and that, then the whole coronavirus thing hit and everything I wanted to do was put to bed. Dakar was the big target for the beginning of this year, and to get the deal together was a feat in itself during the whole pandemic.”
Meeke added that he “loved every minute” of his Dakar debut. Meeke and his Dutch co-driver Wouter Rosegaar brought their PH Sport Zephyr T3.1 home 85 hours behind the winner after suffering a number of mechanical issues throughout.
“I always knew that style of stuff could possibly suit me pretty well,” he told DirtFish. “I absolutely loved it, it was mega, loved the improvisation of it, the sitting on the startline, they give you the roadbook, nobody knows whether to turn right or left off the startline. That’s for 500kms. Mega.
“There’s stones the size of wheely bins. You’ve got stones the size of soccer balls, you wouldn’t dare take a tractor on it. You’re in that for two hours, trying to find the waypoints. People just think it’s desert, sand, dunes – it’s not.
“Your first Dakar will always be something special, everything was new, the scale of it was just crazy.”