Today, Friday, he is getting married, and in a fortnight he’ll be off to Finland to drive a factory DS3 World Rally Car as Khalid Al Qassimi’s stand in at the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team.
“[Citroen Racing boss] Yves Matton gave me the best wedding present of anyone!” explained Meeke when he talked to wrc.com earlier this week about his WRC return.
Q: How did you get to hear about this drive?
KM: “I’ve had a long association with PSA, testing and developing Peugeot and Citroen’s customer programme rally cars, and through this work I talk a lot with Yves Matton. Some months ago he mentioned that Khalid might not be able to do Finland and that my name was on the list of several drivers under consideration to take his place.
"So I’ve known for a few months that there was a possibility, but the decision was only made at the beginning of the month. It’s an absolutely incredible opportunity and now I have to concentrate and make the best use of it."
Q: It must help that you already have a good understanding of the Citroen team
KM: “Yes. We go way back to when I drove a Citroen C2 S1600 in the JWRC in 2005 and 2006. In fact, back then Yves was my team manager at the Junior team, so my relationship with him goes back quite a few years.”
Q: How much experience do you have with the DS3 World Rally Car?
KM: “I’ve done a few tests in it over the years. I did one of the initial development tests before it entered the championship in 2010 and also some general testing towards the end of last year. I’ve also been involved in the DS3 R3 and the upcoming R5 version, so it’s been a busy year with a lot of kilometres on the test roads. I’ll get another day of testing in the World Rally Car in Finland before the recce.
“As a driver you always want to be testing but it’s not the same as competing. I want the adrenaline and buzz of competing - that’s what I’m here for – and that will hopefully change in the coming months.”
Q: You’ve driven a lot of different rally cars over the years, how do you rate the DS3 World Rally Car?
KM: “It is fantastic. I remember telling Yves after testing it last year that I would sell my grandmother for an opportunity to drive one on a rally. I had such a good feeling in it, you know? He hasn’t come asking for her yet, but he’s decided to give me an opportunity. I can’t wait to get stuck in.”
Q: You’ve tackled Rally Finland five times before, four times in S1600 machines and once in a World Rally Car, with MINI in 2011. What are your impressions of the rally?
KM: “When it comes to trying to compete at top level speed, Finland is one of the biggest challenges in rallying. It’s not called the Finnish grand prix for nothing. It’s absolutely flat-out and it’s so difficult to compete against drivers who go there every year and know the stages so well.
“This year's itinerary looks a bit refreshing, however, and there are some new stages and also some others run in reverse. On the new stages in 2011 I had really good speed against Dani Sordo – who was my team-mate then, as he will be next month. But on the traditional stages I was little bit behind. It’s normal in Finland to be like this because you have to learn the stages year-by-year and discover where the speed is. This year should be good because a lot of stages will be new to everybody."
Q: What is your objective for the rally?
KM: “We’ll sit down with Yves and Khalid over the next few weeks to come up with a strategy for me to follow. Everyone knows where I am in terms of experience, they have been there many times with new drivers and know what to expect from me. There will be a clear plan to follow and it will be up to me to try and stick to it.
“Certainly Finland is a massive challenge, but its one that I’m relishing. I’ve been fighting and fighting for an opportunity again for a long time and I can’t wait.”
Q: Is there a chance we’ll see you on any other WRC rounds this season?
KM: “I hope so, I’m working on that all the time. I want to do as many rallies as possible, whether that is in the WRC or the European Championship. Obviously WRC is the pinnacle - that’s where I want to try to get to again. At the moment this is a one-off appearance. It’s up to me to try and make the most of it, and try to create more interest around myself and the team. If there is ever an opportunity to do something again certainly I’ll be interested.”