October 27, 2019 was an awful long time ago. 1292 days ago, in fact. But the desire to compete and will to win hasn’t changed one bit.
Since Kris Meeke’s last World Rally Championship appearance for Toyota on Rally Spain, he’s somewhat slipped off the rallying radar.
He did the Dakar, was heavily involved in the testing and development of Škoda’s new Fabia RS Rally2 and entered a handful of lower profile rallies, but aside from a few links to a vacant Hyundai Rally1 drive towards the end of 2022, Meeke and the WRC looked like they might be done with each other.
This weekend the Northern Irishman is back, albeit under unfortunate circumstances as he completes the program the late Craig Breen had started with Hyundai Portugal in the Portuguese championship, of which the WRC event is a counting round.
Meeke, understandably, is keen to continue Craig’s legacy, but in an open and honest interview with DirtFish, revealed he’s also back for himself too.
“After I stopped in 2019, I had a few ideas to do something but then COVID hit and everything for a couple of years, and then your name’s off the map,” Meeke said.
“I made a few calls last year, trying to see if I could get back in, but look nobody wanted to be in this situation. But life throws these curveballs sometimes… look, we’re here.
“And actually, I’m enjoying it. I’m coming back because I want to drive.
“I’m not… I don’t want this to sound bad but I’m not doing it for Craig, I’m doing it for me, but while carrying the memory of Craig because you don’t sit in one of these cars and take the risks we do on a rally without wanting to do it.
“I even enjoyed the recce which was strange!”
Meeke has performed well in Portugal in the past, winning the event outright in 2016. But this year he will compete for WRC2 honors which he appears to be relishing.
“In WRC2 it’s harder to make a difference,” Meeke explained.
“OK in WRC it’s always the same, you’ve seven [sic eight] cars in WRC now. If you’re fifth, you think you’re going well but there’s only two guys behind you. Whereas here you’ve, I don’t know is there 30/35 WRC2 cars and a lot of quick guys – Andreas [Mikkelsen], Teemu [Suninen]… Teemu’s finished on the podium in Portugal twice [sic once] I think, he’s done the rally the last six years.
“So yeah, it’s not easy to make a difference when the cars are less powerful than the WRC cars. Anyway let’s see, I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“Portugal is always one of my favorite rallies, albeit Friday’s going to be a very, very tough day.
“Two loops on the hardest stages of the rally with no service, so when you don’t understand the car and you don’t understand the energy you can put… when you’re used to a World Rally Car you can be a bit more aggressive, on this you have to maybe manage it a bit more.”
Meeke still has to get used to his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 as well. Although he won the recent Rali Terras d’Aboboreira with relative ease, he is yet to find a setup he is completely comfortable with.
“Everyone knows I’ve been testing the Škoda the last 18 months, stepping into this it feels completely strange and foreign and on the small rally which we weren’t allowed to change a lot during that rally,” Meeke said.
“But here we had a one-day test and we have something I feel half comfortable with but I still don’t understand the car fully.
“But yeah I’m ready to get into any car any time, so let’s see.”