Meeke aims for podium at Portugal in bid to get season back on track

It has been a bumpy World Championship season so far for Kris Meeke, the Dungannon driver up one rally and down the next.He has shown stunning speed in the Citroën team’s updated C3 WRC, but errors have proved damaging, leaving him sixth in the standing and 57 points behind the leader, five-time champion Sebastien Ogier, as they prepare to begin Rally Portugal this evening.

Kris Meeke

Meeke has enjoyed the highs of a podium finish in Mexico, where he won in 2016, and the disappointment of losing another top three finish with a late puncture amid the rocks of Argentina.

He admits it has been a frustrating start to the season, rueing the missed opportunities of two possible victories. But it has been a similar story for his Citroën team-mates, be it nine-time World champion Sebastien Loeb or the usually consistent Craig Breen.

They have made costly mistakes too as they have pushed to match the pace of Ogier’s Ford Fiesta, Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai and Ott Tanak’s Toyota.

Meeke knows Portugal, the scene of his 2016 victory, will be equally hard fought but hopes it should showcase the strides Citroën have made to improve the once troublesome C3.

“After two fairly specialised rallies in Mexico and then Argentina, Portugal will be the first real test in terms of out-and-out performance,” he said.

“The stages are unchanged from last year so everyone has the same knowledge of the roads, but starting sixth should give me an advantage of cleaner roads on day one and I have to try to capitalise on that.

“This is a rally that I really like and I have high hopes that, like in Argentina, I can show the progress that our C3 has made on gravel stages.”

Breen, who sat out two rounds to accommodate the heavily hyped inclusion of Loeb, crashed out on his return to the team in Argentina. But he has shown increased speed this year, often matching Meeke and producing an impressive second place in Sweden.

He was challenging for the lead in Portugal last year before ending up fifth and now has his sights set on finishing on the podium.

Meeke and Breen are joined by Ireland’s 2017 Young Driver of the Year Callum Devine, who continues his challenge for the Junior World title in his little R2T Ford Fiesta. He has finished in the top six in the first two rounds.