Kris Meeke confirmed for WRC round in Finland, is he being “tested” by Citroën?

Being either Mikko Hirvonen or Dani Sordo is not easy these days. I mean, it’s not actually that hard, I imagine – it’s a nicely payed job, some say driving WRC cars is fun as well, but it’s not a stress free task! They’re both driving a car that is capable of winning the WRC events, even against the almighty Volkswagen and their colosally big budget. But, it just isn’t happening for either Mikko or Dani. To make things worse, they’re not only off the pace, but actually struggling to keep the car in solid points scoring positions. To be fair, it’s not all that black, but it’s no secret Mikko and Dani are under considerable pressure not only from their own team, but from the fans and the public alike. Should I mention sponsors too? Better not.

Is it even remotely fair from me to judge or discuss the effort and the skill both Dani and Mikko are putting into their work? Of course it’s not, but when did that stop hordes of experts and analysts from drawing all sorts of conclusions and expert opinions, based on nothing more than years of experience of standing by the side of the road, watching the rally cars race by. But, that’s the world we live in, everyone (myself included) is an expert, especially in the field we know little about, and that is the actual driving (as in, sitting behind the wheel, racing 160 km/h on gravel downhill, listening to co-driver and battling against the clock). On a WRC level. Of course, I tip my hat and apologize in advance to those of you that have driving experience and thus can, with a bit more credibility, say if some driver is good or crap based on his driving skills and abilities.

Citroën’s plans for 2014 are clear – they’re joining the fight against Honda and Lada in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. There will be all sorts of cars there, from the current cars, to latest machines (reportedly only Citroën and Honda will have cars built to new 2014 spec, with Seat possibly adding theirs later in the year), and in between will be current 2013 cars with yet undetermined upgrade pack attached, making them more competitive against the 2014 prepped machinery. What’s in WTCC for Citroën, I’m not entirely sure, but I’m sure they’ll do a great job of winning everything, while being on TV, in front of international crowd. And, of course, the series has a “World” in it’s name, so they’ll continue being world champions.

As far as rallying is concerned, Citroën are staying in WRC, but… they’re embracing new system and new challenges. To some of us that sounds like we’ll be having a Abu Dhabi (aka Citroën) battle against Qatar (aka Ford) next year, while Volkswagen (if they stay for another year or two) and Hyundai compete under their respective names. There is also talk of team being ready for change of drivers, all while team principal Yves Matton is openly “luring” nine-times champion Sebastien Loeb back to the sport, in order to help the team win at least manufacturer title. As if Mikko and Dani are not even here. It’s blunt and open, but let’s be honest, it’s the pinnacle of the sport! Either you pick yourself up, get your shit together and do the job (if you can), or you don’t. Jari-Matti Latvala is being mentioned lately as the one who successfully bounced back after many painful setbacks, but he is still not exactly breathing down Seb Ogier’s neck.

I have no doubt there is lots of support for both Mikko and Dani from everyone in their team. But there is also a big pressure to deliver, and from the powers that are way above Yves Matton. To relieve some of that pressure, and possibly test few more options, Citroën hired, or rather, borrowed Peugeot test driver Kris Meeke to compete in 2013 Rally Finland. Or Mikko’s home event. Seriously, I do hope this pisses Mikko off, but in the best possible way!

Quite conveniently, Khalid Al Qassimi will not be able to compete in Finland due to personal commitments back home. One begins to wonder about all those commitments, but hey, let’s not call it conspiracy, put together so teams can test another driver or two without the need for big explainations. Because we all know such conspiracy theories make no sense. At all!

Official Citroën Racing’s press release, announcing the arrival of former Junior World Rally Champion Kris Meeke, follows below. Oh, and take a close look at the closing sentence by Mr. Matton, see those keywords “Abu Dhabi”, “customers racing division”? Those are, I believe, clear signs of where Citroën will take their business next year in WRC, namely R5 for the cash and “Qatar M-Sport”-ish concept for the WRC racing.

KRIS MEEKE TO COMPETE FOR ABU DHABI CITROËN TOTAL IN FINLAND

After the traditional summer break, the second half of the season kicks off at Rally Finland. Citroën’s works crews, Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen, will line up at the fastest, most spectacular event on the WRC calendar. They will be joined by Northern Irishmen Kris Meeke and his co-driver Chris Patterson, who will replace Khalid Al Qassimi and Scott Martin in competing for the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team.

Due to professional commitments, the Emirati driver will be unable to take part in the championship’s fastest rally. Always keen to promote talented drivers, he had no hesitation in asking the British driver to take his place for this event.

“Unfortunately, I cannot take part in the Finnish round,” said the Sheikh. “Kris has real potential as a driver and has the maturity you need to enjoy a sensible and efficient race. I’d like to give him the chance to express himself fully at this unusual event. I hope he is very successful there.”

Kris Meeke, who turns 34 in a few days time, is by no means a beginner. First noticed in the Junior World Rally Championship, especially in 2005 when he recorded his best result in a Citroën C2 Super 1600 by finishing third in the championship, the British driver went on to win the 2009 IRC title in a four-wheel drive car. He was then given a works drive in a WRC for the 2011 season.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us!” said a delighted Kris Meeke. “Taking part in Rally Finland in a DS3 WRC is a dream that I didn’t think would become reality one day. I’d like to thank Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Citroën Racing for the trust they have placed in us. We’re going to benefit from the advice and expertise of a team that has won the world championship eight times. We therefore have every chance of securing a good result.”

Yves Matton, Citroën Racing director adds : « On top on the fact that Kris Meeke will please the British fans driving the World Champion rally car, I am very satisfied to see that Citroën Racing, with the support of Abu Dhabi, is once again offering a seat in WRC to a driver having competed in its customers racing division. »

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