Kris Meeke on Wales Rally GB


So far in this series, we’ve spoken about British Rally GB legends Richard Burns and Colin McRae. Now we talk to the man hoping to inherit their mantle: Citroen’s Kris Meeke.

To buy the lead image click here

Rally GB will be your home event. Is it something special for you, or do you just treat it as an event like any other?

KM: “No, it’s special. It’s one of the traditional events: a real classic. You always go there expecting tough conditions: it’s going to be dark, foggy, muddy and slippery. With the rally having moved back north, based out of Chester, we get to use the northern stages again, which I really like. But there is that extra edge, because it’s your home event. Rally GB was the first WRC event I did, back in 2002, so it means a lot.

How many times have you done it?

KM: “No idea, let me see… 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 – then I didn’t do it again until 2011, and then 2014. So this will be number seven.”

What do you remember about that first 2002 event?

KM: “We did it in a Super 1600 Ford Puma: I’d won the British Junior Championship that year and we did Rally GB (pictured above in the International Rally of Wales). We were competing in the same class as the Junior World Rally Championship, which Sebastien Loeb had just won the year before, and at one point we were second or third fastest, I think on Rheola, and that created a bit of a buzz and got people talking about us moving up to the Junior World Rally Championship the following year. So it was another stepping-stone. But for me it was a real culture shock, in a good way. I’d been used to one or two day events on the British Championship and here we were with three very long days and a 5am wake-up every time. It was like Groundhog Day! I loved it.”

Everyone has his or her own Rally GB hero. As his protégé, for you I guess it has to be Colin McRae?

KM: “Absolutely. The first Rally GB I went to watch was in 1997; I was at Queens University in Belfast at the time and a group of us decided to get a minibus and go over to watch. I was about 18. I remember standing in Radnor, the first stage on Friday morning, and seeing Colin through the fog: it was spine tingling, surreal. I was a massive Colin fan even back then, so everything that has happened since has just been amazing.”

From the Archive: Spotlight on Kris Meeke (2014)

You beat Colin one year, didn’t you?

KM: Yes: it was 2005, he had a Skoda Fabia WRC and I had a Subaru Impreza WRC. In fact that was my very first-ever rally in WRC machinery. Those were good times, amazing memories.”

What’s the key to Rally GB? Is it anticipating the changing grip?

KM: “I think so but it surprises you every time. Last year in particular they rolled the stages: first they re-graded them, and then they rolled them. So there was this thin crust on top and the first car had a massive advantage. Once the first car was through, then it got really muddy and slippery. But the thing that gets you every year is the second pass, when it cleans to the slate and the bedrock. Then it’s like slippery, muddy, wet cobbles, and you have zero grip – even on the ideal line. So you can’t believe that Jari-Matti Latvala or someone can take 30 seconds off you when you’ve been fighting for grip every inch of the way.

Does that mean that Rally GB is the most slippery gravel rally of them all?

KM: “Yes, in those types of conditions, definitely. You look at what some of the really quick people do, and they come out of a corner and go deliberately into the ditch – and you’ll see them carry on, completely in the ditch, for 200 metres or so – just to gain traction. Then they’ll come up to a corner and switch to the outside where there’s grip: they’re never actually on the line. That’s just something you have to learn: where you can do it and how you can do it. But certainly the second pass over some of the stages on Rally GB is treacherously slippery.”

Do you do that; take these unconventional lines?

KM: “I do, but it takes you time to learn it and believe that it’s going to be quicker. Your every natural instinct is to follow the normal line. Then when you try something different and you’re scampering in the ditch for a couple of hundred metres you’re convinced that there’s no way in hell this is going to be faster. But actually it is because at least you’re moving forwards.”

From the Archive: Colin McRae on the challenges Meeke faces (2006)

This might be the last time we see Rally GB at the end of the season for a while, as Rally Australia looks set to take over the season finale slot. Is that a pity: does Rally GB belong at the end of the year, with typical British winter weather?

KM: “I think it does. That’s what the rally is all about, after all. I’m not sure what the rationale behind the move is, but after a long hard season everyone just wants to go home, whether it’s Wales or Australia, because you spend a lot of time travelling away from your family. In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter when Rally GB happens because it’s a beautiful rally, but I’ve always grown up with Rally GB meaning a risk of snow, plenty of mud, fog, lights, and rain. So I think it should stay like that.”

Of all those six Rally GBs you’ve done previously, which was your favourite? Or the one that sticks in your mind?

KM: “Last year we were fighting with Mikko Hirvonen for second place, which was good, until I slipped off into a ditch in Brenig and got a double picture. But the one I remember most fondly was probably 2003, when I did it in the Opel Corsa (above pictured in the Ulster Rally). That year we were doing the Junior World Rally Championship and we’d gradually been getting quicker all season. So we got to Rally GB, it was the first stage, and I was quickest by seven seconds, then on the second stage by five seconds. By the time I got to service I had a 20-second lead. It was the first time that I knew I could drive a stage and be fastest. I had a great battle with Daniel Carlsson, but then I had a throttle sensor problem that meant I only had 60% throttle for two stages and I lost more than a minute. But in spite of this, 2003 was probably my favourite Rally GB: to dominate a Junior World Championship event like we did gives you that sparkle inside which means you know you’re going to go further.”

There are the inevitable comparisons with Colin McRae; how similar would you say your driving styles were?

KM: “I don’t know really. People often compare our driving styles but I wouldn’t say that they were similar at all: it was a completely different era when Colin was driving so the technology wasn’t the same. You had to manhandle the car more back then. Maybe I have the same temperament as Colin but my engineer says my driving style is more similar to that of Sebastien Loeb.”

Could Rally GB be the place where you add to your win in Argentina?

KM: “That would be an amazing way to finish the season, but with the way things have been going for the last two and a half years, you can’t be too confident because Volkswagen has been so dominant. We won in Argentina this year because all three Volkswagens had a problem; Thierry Neuville won in Germany last year because Sebastien Ogier, Latvala and I all crashed. Apart from that, they would have won everything. So on pure pace alone, that’s not possible. But Rally GB is always an event where you have to expect the unexpected…”

Buy tickets for 2015 Wales Rally GB here
Colin McRae’s victorious 1995 Subaru will be on show in the Service Park at this year’s Wales Rally GB as part of a significant 20th anniversary celebration. Derek Ringer will be there throughout with Jimmy competing in the Network Q National Rally in his Magnum

Our thanks to Certina Watches for their help with this feature.

You may also like