Kris Meeke will make his competitive debut in New Zealand driving a Mazda 2 at the International Rally of Whangarei in May.
Beyond a trip to Dakar with his neighbour and friend Cyril Despres earlier this year, Meeke has kept a low profile in rallying since he lost his full-time Toyota World Rally Championship seat at the end of last season.
The Whangarei event will not only change that, it will also be the realisation of Meeke’s long-held ambition to compete in New Zealand.
“I did the recce for Rally New Zealand before, but I never actually got to do the rally and that was one I always wanted to have a go at,” he said.
Meeke and co-driver Seb Marshall will compete in a Force Motorsport AP4 car.
“I grew up with the images of these famous stages in New Zealand with Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae and Richard Burns and I always wanted to do it,” Meeke added.
“So when I had some contact with [2017 New Zealand Rally champion] Andrew Hawkeswood and he made a proposal for me to get an opportunity to drive on these roads, for me it was certainly a box I wanted to tick.”
Meeke will be reunited with his old WRC rival and six-time Whangarei winner Hayden Paddon, who will drive his Hyundai i20 AP4 on the North Island rally.
“Obviously we all know of Hayden Paddon and his exploits,” said Meeke. “Certainly he’s been a top-line WRC driver for a period of time.
“I want to go and have fun, that’s number one priority. I want to enjoy myself and experience the roads, I have no expectation to try and beat Hayden but certainly if anyone knows me by now, I go and give any challenge 100% and see where we end up.”
The Whangarei-based event, the second round of both the NZ Championship and the APRC Pacific Cup, uses classic Kiwi stages like Helena and Waipu Caves.