Meeke determined to break way into rallying's 'rich' club

Kris Meeke, who drives in this weekend's Wales Rally GB, tells Derick Allsop of his fears that lack of cash will block British drivers aiming for World Championship glory
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The Independent Online

Britain's rallying fraternity will tell you that switching this country's round of the World Championship back to the end of the season is a welcome return to the good old days.

Alas, the prospects of a Briton evoking glorious times past by winning his home event and challenging for the title appear ever more remote.

One man with acknowledged potential even suggests it could be a decade before the UK can hope to have another driver emulating Colin McRae and the late Richard Burns.

Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke goes into Wales Rally GB, which starts tonight, anxious to register an irresistible claim for a WRC drive next season.

Meeke, who drives a Citroën C2 in the Junior World Championship category, is in contention for a WRC seat with the Kronos team that provided that the title-winning Xsara for Sébastien Loeb this year.

The problem for Meeke is that he has to find €2 million (£1.35m) to contribute to the team's budget. And he fears that, just as two winters ago, when he was unable to raise the €1.5m required by Subaru, the opportunity will pass him by.

Drivers such as Meeke and Guy Wilks, a similarly regarded Englishman, cannot bring in the funding to compete with their overseas counterparts and the Ulsterman accepts that, at the age of 27, his time is running out.

"The WRC is where I want to be. I believe I am good enough and people have been saying I'm good enough," he said. "But it's so difficult for me and any British driver to get a drive.

"It's such a commercial and expensive business that teams want young drivers who can bring in money. That's why I lost out for the Subaru drive in 2005. Countries like Finland, France and Australia support their drivers financially, but the only contact I have with the [UK governing body] MSA is when I send them a cheque for my licence.

"They have a policy of trying to help young drivers but they spread their resources too thin. If they put their money behind somebody with the potential to become world champion it would surely be better spent.

"Guy and I believe we are capable of competing for the World Championship, given the opportunity, but we're not getting any younger and I don't really see anybody coming up behind us. Unless we do something about this in the UK it could be another 10 years before we have anyone fighting for the World Championship."

McRae was so convinced Meeke had the necessary talent he took him under his wing. But the Scotsman, who became the youngest world champion at 27, discovered to his dismay that even his name could not attract the sponsorship to further Meeke's cause and eventually he gave in.

"Colin did more for me than anyone could ask," Meeke said. "He would dip into his own pocket when he couldn't bring money in. With hindsight, I think maybe people were turned away by Colin's fame and wealth. It probably had a negative effect. But I owe him so much.

"I'd love to be in a position to do what Colin did in rallying and there's phenomenal interest out there among the public. But there won't be another Colin or Richard Burns for them to follow unless we have the help to get a drive."

Meeke can scarcely be accused of depending on others to pave his path to success. "I've put everything I've ever had into my rallying. I've never earned a penny from it. I don't own a house, I live with my brother. Just about the only thing I own is the shirt on my back.

"But this is probably the one thing I do well - or least I think I do well. I've taken so much enjoyment out of it I could never regret it. But I would be frustrated if I couldn't go any further because I believe I've done enough to merit a chance in a WRC car."

So, while Marcus Grönholm, Petter Solberg and company contest the main prize in south Wales this weekend, Meeke will be seeking supremacy over his peers in the hope of forcing his way into the big boy's league.

"It's getting to a crunch point for me," Meeke admitted. "The Kronos drive would be a fantastic opportunity, but I've been in this situation before and at the moment I can't see how it's going to happen.

"All I can do is my best on Rally GB and see where that takes me. I've not had the best of luck this season but if I have reliability and drive to my capability, I can win my class on the event. That has to be my target."