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GP Week : Issue 123
5 Minutes with ... KRIS MEEKE The Minis are getting ready for their assault on the world championship in the scond half of the 2011 season. Learning from the experiences of independent Mini John Cooper Works competitors since Portugal in March, then the debut appearance of the official team cars in Sardinia in early May, the Prodrive engineers have been working hard to get their cars ready for the five world championship rallies planned for the rest of the year. Northern Irelander and former IRC champion Kris Meeke knows that anything his fellow Ulsterman Paddy Hopkirk achieved in Minis 40 years ago is a minimum of what is expected of him in the coming months. Coming up for the team this year are two world championship gravel events (Finland and Britain) and three on asphalt – German, France and Spain. Kris is looking forward to the hard and the soft stuff – he spoke to MARTIN HOLMES GPWEEK: where are you at in terms of your preparations for the second par t of the year? KRIS MEEKE: We had our first development asphalt test in early June in Sanremo on a variety of roads and we were very happy and enthusiastic. We’re past the point where we are hitting any unexpected gremlins on tests. We have a proper running car now which is fully up to spec so we can get very quickly on the tests with the hard work of establishing setups and so on. This latest test was very productive and I have to say that it felt very good, although again when you are testing by yourself a very good feeling doesn’t necessarily mean you are fast enough. We won’t know that until we get to Germany and find out where we are on asphalt. You have already tasted competition on gravel in Portugal. How is life in the fast sweeping gravel roads in Finland going to be? We’re going to do a Finland test and also Rally Estonia a couple of weeks before, so that will all be a good test for me and for the car but it is starting to get a bit frustrating. I only managed to get in three stages on the rally in Sardinia and, by the time Finland comes round, that will mean three competitive stages in 10 months! To say I’m feeling rally-rusty is a bit of an understatement. So being on a real rally in Estonia will be good warm-up for me. The fact that the Friday of Finland (the first full day) is new territory for everyone (because the route ventures this time down to Lahti before returning to Jyvaskyla) is a bit of a help. On the more traditional stages I will personally be at a big disadvantage compared with Dani, even though I’ve done the rally in the Juniors – but World Rally Cars are a different experience. The speeds are higher and you really need to know the roads very well. The Friday stages can be interesting for me. Looking at the rallies you’ve got coming up this year, which is going to be the one that favours you most? I don’t know. I’m keen for every rally to come. The sensations in Finland are spectacular but I’ve also gone very well in Germany in the past. Alsace (France) will be a relatively new rally for me though I competed there in a French championship rally in 2005 and tested quite a lot in that region with Citroen, but I think they are little known stages for everyone. Obviously I’ve done Catalunya as well a few times and Rally GB is of course my home rally. I don’t have any particular favourite and, as I say, we’re just eager to find out more and more about the car and try and improve it as much as possible. What plans have been made for 2012? We’re going through them at the minute. That is why we’re doing the selected events this year in preparation for 2012, to learn about the car. Prodrive have been out of the world championship for three years and they need to build the team back up, to build the infrastructure back up to the level it needs to be at. That takes a bit of time – it doesn’t happen overnight. We’re going through all the motions at the minute but its fantastic to be in the position to have six WRC rallies this year to learn everything and to prepare ourselves as well as possible for next year. From my point of view I’m contracted to the team for 2012 and 13. How is your teammate Dani Sordo settling in the team? Dani is getting more and more comfortable within the team. Obviously it was a big culture shock for him, having only ever driven for Citroen in the world championship for five years. To step out of that and come to a foreign team and a new car and be involved in its development is all new to him, because at Citroen all the development was done in the background, behind the scenes with their own test drivers. Mini has given him a chance for him to have his own input. I think he is slowly integrating within the team and at our last proper tarmac test he came away very excited. If Dani, who is renowned as a tarmac specialist with his 17 podiums on tarmac and the only driver really to take a fight to Loeb over the last five seasons, comes away excited from a tarmac test it can only be good or all of us. So we’re encouraged but as I said we have to temper that until we get to a rally and see ultimately what speed we have. On a person-to-person basis, how do you relate to Dani? We were teammates back in 2005 in the Junior championship so we know each other very well and we get on very well. We’re guys of similar age at similar stages in our lives and we both enjoy driving cars and for sure it is a good relationship. Ultimately when we’re in the rally cars it is very much a team sport, but we are competing in separate cars so it is an individual sport as well and we are both trying to beat each other. There is no animosity – we are both very good team- mates behind the scenes. Finland can’t come soon enough. Coming up in the meanwhile we are going to Estonia, Finland and Germany, so lots of kilometres to come, but you can’t beat actually competing. I can’t wait to get to Finland for the real thing. 18