Meeke’s 21-year wait to compete in New Zealand

This week's Otago Rally will allow five-time WRC event winner Kris Meeke to experience famed roads

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For Kris Meeke, the waiting is almost over. It’s been 21 years. But now he’s there. Almost. At the time of writing, he’s probably somewhere over Asia. Or America. Depends if he turned left or right out of Andorra.

Doesn’t matter. He’s going to Otago. He’s bound for the land of the long white cloud.

The Team Rossendale Ford Escort RS1800 is primed, ready and waiting. And so are some of planet earth’s finest gravel roads. No wonder the five-time world rally winner is smiling.

“The WRC stopped in New Zealand in 2012,” said Meeke. “I came in part of 2013 then 2014, so my years in the WRC never coincided with New Zealand being part of the championship. That was a real shame. Especially because I had been there and I’d seen how good the roads are.

“I went on holiday, sort of spectating at Rally New Zealand in 2003. I was working at M-Sport as an engineer and helped design the 2003 Focus. That was the car’s debut event with Markko Märtin driving it. The car flew. Markko was running second and setting loads of fastest times.

“Second day, we were standing waiting at a junction and they retired with an engine problem a kilometer up the road from us. How was that 21 years ago?

“Anyway, I spent two weeks in New Zealand that time; I did both islands and drove the stages of Rally New Zealand. OK, they were up north, but I think everybody knows about the roads in that part of the world: they’re special.


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Meeke traveled to witness Märtin fly on debut of Focus RS WRC03

“And I loved the place. I’ve not spent enough time there, which makes this week really nice. To be visiting New Zealand and driving this car, it’s a bit of an honor.”

While Meeke will drive in the Classic Otago this week, his competitive debut almost came four years ago. Before the world started talking about Covid.

“I was talking to Andrew Hawkeswood about running an AP4 car,” he said. “We got really close, like a couple of days away from booking the flights, but then the pandemic came and everything stopped. So, when John [Kennard, Hayden Paddon’s co-driver] came on the phone and asked if I was interested in Otago in that Escort… it was a no-brainer.

“Have you seen who’s been in that thing? It’s some list: Ari Vatanen, Michèle Mouton, Didier Auriol, Markko [Märtin], so it’s something special to be given this opportunity. Right now, I’m just excited to get down there and drive gain. The Roger Albert Clark finished a bit prematurely in the autumn last year but that really whetted my appetite for the Escort.”

The Central Machine Hire Otago Rally starts from Dunedin on Friday evening and finishes on Sunday afternoon.