“Seven or eight seconds won’t win or lose this rally.” These 10 words capture perfectly the transformation that has taken place inside of Kris Meeke since mid 2015. They were spoken as he described his spin at the stop control of SS1. It wasn’t so long ago that we would have seen Kris so upset at himself after a mistake that he would try too hard and throw it all away.
What a difference 6 months makes! Back then, it seemed like everything had gone off the rails for the Ulsterman. With a cloud of uncertainty hovering above him regarding Citroen’s plans for him and their WRC program, it appeared like Kris had lost his way. Even in a season where he finally collected that elusive maiden WRC victory, in mid-summer 2015, Meeke’s confidence was eroding. It was at that low point that something must have happened. Maybe he settled himself down and figured it out. Maybe he received some reassurance from Citroen regarding 2016 before the news became public. We may never know the reasons, but from that low point in Finland, Kris has been a changed man. It started with a string of top 5 finishes through the autumn and culminated with a fantastic 2nd place at the season finale in Wales.
Those words uttered by Kris at the end of SS1 this weekend confirm what we were seeing on the timesheets towards the end of 2015. These are not the words of a driver who is worrying about his contract or feeling he has something to prove. These are the words of a man who is determined, focused, and completely at peace with his current situation. As we have seen on multiple occasions, Kris is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. Whether it’s the incredible highs of moments such as his win in Argentina, the devastating lows like the mistake in Finland, or the frustration of hanging dust in Australia, there is never any doubt what Kris is feeling when he speaks. When he pulls up at the stop control and Julian Porter shoves a microphone into the car, we get Kris’s raw, unedited emotions. It is for that reason that these 10 words are so significant. Kris doesn’t put on a show… he doesn’t fake what he is feeling. If he says something, it is coming straight from the heart, and we know that it is the truth. These words reveal something that was at times lacking from Kris last season… a poise… a steely determination… and a renewed focus.
Yes, despite what we saw on the opening stages, Kris’s Monte Carlo Rally did come to an unfortunate end on SS12. However, this was not the result of a silly mistake like we have seen from him in the past. Even though at that point, Ogier had gradually stretched his lead, there was no panic on Meeke’s part. He continued to run at his pace while keeping the pressure on the defending champion. If it wasn’t for an unlucky piece of bedrock over a fairly innocuous cut, Kris would have been on the podium. Despite this disappointment in the season opener, 2016 could just be what the doctor ordered for Meeke. Without the pressure of contract worries or trying to consolidate manufacturer points, he is free to drive within himself and see what he can do. Let’s hope that this show of form on the season opener will convince Citroen to give Kris Meeke a few more rallies. He certainly deserves the chance!