Kris Meeke will make his competitive debut in New Zealand when he starts next year’s Otago Classic Rally, driving the Rossendale Ford Escort RS1800.
The Northern Irishman will follow in the footsteps of fellow World Rally winner Mikko Hirvonen when he fires up Brent Rawson’s Escort for the Dunedin-based event in April. The Finn won the South Island event on his debut earlier this year.
“It’s fair to say there have been some fairly famous backsides in that car,” Meeke told DirtFish, referring to the likes of Hannu Mikkola, Juha Kankkunen, Ari Vatanen, Markko Märtin and Michèle Mouton.
“New Zealand is one of the few places I haven’t competed, but it was always somewhere I was really keen to drive. My time in the WRC just never quite coincided with Rally New Zealand. I did the recce for it, which kind of made it worse – I got to see how amazing the roads were at 50mph! This is why I’m so pleased this opportunity has come up.
“I’ve seen something of the event and talking to John [Kennard] really got me excited for the roads.”
Having retired a similar Escort on the opening day of last month’s Roger Albert Clark Rally in the UK, Meeke is keen to be back out in an RS1800.
“Like you can imagine, the R.A.C. was a real disappointment,” he said. “I was really looking forward to the event and to five days in an Escort. Getting down to Otago is definitely going to help to make up for some of that disappointment and give me a taste of rallying in New Zealand. I’ve always fancied a shot at the Silver Fern [Rally] as well, like I said, rallying down there has always been of interest for me.”
Otago Classic Rally spokesman Roger Oakley told DirtFish: “We’re delighted to have Kris with us for next year’s event. As a five-time World Rally winner, he’s an absolutely world-class driver and somebody who’s definitely going to enjoy the famous Rossendale Escort!
“Kris is somebody we’ve always hoped would come down here and compete with us. He’s fast, spectacular and great with the fans.
“But beyond his abilities as a driver, Kris’s absolute love of the sport he grew up in is fantastic. He’s always one of the most engaging stage-end interviews and we really look to welcoming him to this part of the world. Anybody watching on next year’s Otago Rally is going to be in for a treat.”
Next year’s event runs from April 12-14 and includes 170 competitive miles across two days of sport.