The lanky Englishman is the latest navigator tasked with guiding – and perhaps taming – the fast but accident-prone Ulsterman who, after being sacked by Citroen for ‘one crash too many’ in Portugal back in May, has been handed a reprieve by the WRC manufacturers’ championship-winning Gazoo Toyota team.
Meeke sees it as a fresh start after a turbulent 16 month period in Citroen’s wayward C3 WRC which brought him just one victory.
New team, new car and now new co-driver Marshall, who steps in to replace Meeke’s close friend and partner of 11 years, Paul Nagle.
He and Nagle go back to 2007 when the World championship first came to Ireland, and they enjoyed some great moments including winning the Intercontinental Challenge series for Peugeot.
In those days, Peugeot ran television adverts with the slogan ‘Meeke but not Mild’ – an apt description for a driver who has always put everything on the line in his relentless determination to reach, and succeed at, World championship level.
But his five WRC victories, including a stunning win in Finland in 2016, have come at a cost with spectacular crashes and wrecked cars, the last in Portugal being the final straw for Citroen. Through it all, Nagle was the man in the hot seat, stoically taking the bumps and the bruised ribs with the champagne celebrations.
But the move to Toyota has brought a parting of the ways – amicably they both say – and Marshall takes over, shifting from Hyundai where he partnered New Zealander Hayden Paddon for the past two seasons.
He and Meeke have known each other for some time, back to their Peugeot days in fact, although they had never shared a rally car until last weekend’s pre-Monte Carlo test sessions in the south of France which were shared with Ott Tanak and Jari-Matt Latvala.
Before he headed off to spend Christmas with his family, Meeke said: “My first experience working with Seb went really well and we had a great couple of days in the mountains.
“The first day was pretty much bone dry – not exactly typical Monte Carlo weather but perfect for allowing me to find out more about the Yaris. I hadn’t driven the car on asphalt before – so the fact that the conditions were dry and predictable was really useful for me.
“We left the test site hoping that more changeable weather would come in overnight and give us more typical Monte roads for the second day of the test. And sure enough, we arrived to find that there’d been freezing rain and there were five-and-a-half kilometres of black ice up and over a col. Tricky but perfect!
“The ice melted during the day so the conditions evolved; there was a fair bit of mud by the end of our running, really slippery with lots of differing levels of grip. Again, that’s what you’re after when you’re preparing for Monte. We got pretty much everything except pure full-on snow.”