Kris Meeke

10 Questions

with Kris Meeke

07 November 2013

Why did you start rallying?

“I think it’s fair to say rallying was in my blood. My father was involved in building rally cars, mainly in Ireland but also in continental Europe, for over 30 years. That was his line of business, and the small workshop where he was based was right beside our family home, so rally cars were a part of our everyday lives. It’s fair to say we grew up in a rally environment so it was a natural progression for me to go in that way.

“Initially I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps in the engineering side but the driving opportunity came up and we ended up in that direction. It’s been a fascinating journey and it’s never straightforward, but I’d never change my life of motorsport.”

Who were your early heroes in life and motorsport?

“Well, I grew up in a rally family, as I’ve mentioned. My father looked after the cars of Bertie Fisher, who was a multiple Irish Tarmac Champion [below], and in my early years he was a guy that I really looked up to – not only in motorsport but also in life, because of what he had achieved there.

1988 Circuit of Ireland - pic by Roy Dempster

“As time passed, Colin McRae came on the scene in the British championship and he did some rallies in Ireland, and I really got the sense that there was excitement around him. When he ended up in the world championship I think the whole of the UK, and probably the whole rally world, was gripped by the phenomenon that was Colin. I have to say that he was a big instigator in my passion for rallying and why I wanted to try to not necessarily follow in his footsteps, but attempt to try to emulate some of the things he could do.

“Between Colin and Bertie, there were two big people I looked up to and wanted to try to replicate what they did.”

If you weren’t a rally driver, what would you be?

“A difficult one, this! Well, I started out wanting to be an engineer, but I remember thinking at school about being a pilot in the RAF. I actually went to some lengths to explore that career when I was at school but ultimately, not knowing that I had some ability behind the steering wheel, I qualified with an engineering degree and ended up working at M-Sport.

“The opportunity came up to drive at a competition, the Peugeot UK competition, which is documented elsewhere, but that was our chance, we took it, and then went step by step from there. If that hadn’t have come along then I guess I’d still have ended up in motorsport somewhere – on-event engineering, or something like that.”

Which rallies do you most enjoy?

“All sorts of different ones, and for different reasons. Certainly I like Finland in the WRC. It’s one of the real showcase events in the series – the fastest, the most exciting, with high speeds and huge crowds. Finland’s a great place to go; so many people in the country are into rallying and it gets such big support.

“I also like Germany, for the nature of the rally; it’s a real challenge for driver and co-driver, because it’s so technical, especially in those vineyard roads. I love that event.

“But I have to say my favourite one is Wales Rally GB. It was my first ever world championship event all those years ago; I grew up doing national rallies throughout Wales, and there’s an anticipation about doing a rally which I call my home rally; it’s as close to home as it gets, really.

Rally GB - pic by Citroen Racing/Andre Lavadinho

“The Welsh forests on a damp November morning, a chill in the air, heading up that road section: there’s nothing like it for getting the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. Throw in the home fans and conditions I’ve grown up with, and I have to say that Rally GB is the top of my list.”

Can you describe your pacenote system?

“Every driver has their own system, and for me pacenotes are a bit like poetry; everyone has their own interpretation of a road and how they want to describe it.

“My system uses numbers to grade the corners – 1 is the slowest and 6 is the fastest. Then there’s other information I put in too; I put a ‘plus’ into the notes for a corner to tell myself that I need to accelerate through it; a ‘minus’ tells me I need to be slowing up through the corner.

“The distances are the same for everybody, and when it comes to positioning yourself on crests then you want neat, short words – always with one syllable if possible. That makes it easier for the co-driver.

I’d find it difficult to drive to another driver’s pacenotes, and I’m sure they’d struggle with mine.

“So for example, I use ‘stop’ if I’ve coming through a fast section and I’ve only a short distance to get stopped for a very slow corner. It doesn’t mean ‘stop’ but when I hear that word I know I have to be slowing down.

“It starts off as a basic system but it develops over the years into something that’s unique to any driver. I’d find it difficult to drive to another driver’s notes, and I’m sure they’d struggle with mine. The important thing is consistency.”

What other motorsports are you interested in?

“Them all, really! If it takes some petrol and there’s a set of pedals and a wheel, then I’m into it. Outside of that, I’m into motorcycles too; I’m a huge fan of Moto GP. I’ve been lucky enough to have had the chance to go and watch some of those races live and what those guys do is just crazy.

“Formula One is interesting from the technical side, but some of the races can be boring. It’s all at a really high level, of course.

“But for me, rallying’s the most dynamic, adventurous side of motorsport. You’re on so many different surfaces, you really have to be ready for anything at any time. It’s a trip into the unknown at every stage.

“At the limits of rallying, I’m interested in the Baja races and the Dakar. They really appeal to me, because of the sense of adventure. I love the idea of exploring these vast places, and it’s something that I may look to do in the future.”

If you could drive any rally car from history, which would it be?

“I’ve been fortunate to have driven a few old rally cars – Ford Escort Mk2s, Talbot Sunbeams, Opel Manta 400s, Opel Asconas, MG Metro 6R4s, Audi Sport Quattros. I suppose one of the ones that I’d really love to drive that I haven’t is the Peugeot 205 T16 – that or the Audi Quattro S1 E2, with the really big wings.

“I’d love to do a stage in Finland in one of those, for sure; perhaps with the way the suspension was on that generation of car it may not be so good over the jumps, so perhaps it’d be underwhelming in that respect. In fact, maybe New Zealand would be the place to try these cars – smooth gravel with not so many big jumps.

“That whole Group B era was an amazing one for the sport, so my ideal day would be a Metro 6R4, a 205 T16 E2 and a Quattro S1 E2 all sitting at the startline of the Motu stage in New Zealand. That sounds like a proper day out.”

What’s been your worst day at the office?

“The thing with motorsport is that there are good days and bad days, and very little in between. You have to be able to take the bad days on the chin, to look back at them now and realise that maybe they weren’t quite as bad as they seemed at the time.

“Probably to date the one that is still painful is the day when the whole MIni WRC thing fell apart, when they told me that I wouldn’t be going to Monte Carlo. Even the previous day I’d been told that I was going, so that one was a very bitter pill to swallow.

“But in the big world of motorsport opportunities come and go; even if you have a contract you can never quite tell how long it’ll last, and at the same time, if you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel then one phone call can change everything.”

Who have been your toughest rivals to date?

“When you’re coming up through different championships you come up against drivers in those series that are strong at the time and you have a big battle with.

“If I think back to the Junior World Championship years, for example, there were so many young, hard chargers then when we were doing it: P-G Andersson, Mirco Baldacci, Nicolas Bernardi, Urmo Aava, Kosti Katajamaki, Dani Sordo. There were so many young guys really pushing for the front.

“Out of that bunch P-G was probably the hardest on gravel; he’d a turn of speed on that surface and occasionally he’d post a time that you’d really raise your eyebrows at. And then on asphalt, of course, Dani Sordo; he’s gone on to prove to be one of the fastest drivers in the world on Tarmac and one of the few, if not the only one, who could challenge Sebastien Loeb on that surface.”

“When I moved on into the IRC then Juho Hanninen was a great rival of mine. He was very hard to beat on his day.

“And now, in the WRC, Sebastien Ogier is the man of the moment. He’s the one that everyone has to beat and hopefully if we get to compete there on a regular basis, we’ll get to put ourselves against him.”

What’s been your most enjoyable win so far?

“It has to be Rallye Sanremo – winning the rally as prestigious as that, up against Italian drivers, in Super 2000, my first time there, in the IRC championship. I went into the final day in fourth, trailing by 20 seconds or so, knowing that if I were to win the rally then I could secure the IRC title with a round to spare.

“To do that, coupled with the prestige of the Sanremo name, and winning my first international championship… that day and that event sit firmly at the top of my list at the moment, for sure.

2009 Sanremo Rally - pic by Peugeot UK

“Of course I want to continue on and surpass it – but for now, winning Rallye Sanremo and the Intercontinental Rally Challenge on 26 September 2009 (above) is at the top of the tree for me.”