DUNGANNON’S Kris Meeke has said he did not have to think twice when he was approached and asked if he would like to take part in next year’s Central Machine Hire Otago Rally in New Zealand.
The 44-year-old has been announced as the star driver for the classic section of the two-day loose surface event, which takes place from April 13 to 14 on the south eastern region of the country.
Meeke is going to experience its fast and flowing roads for the first time in a historic specification Ford Escort RS1800 previously driven by World Rally champions Ari Vatanen and Juha Kankkunen, and Norwegian Mads Ostberg – the person who replaced him at Citroen Racing in 2018.
“When I received the invitation, there was no hesitation in agreeing to it,” explained Meeke, who was at the wheel of a similar specification Ford Escort at last month’s Roger Albert Clark Rally which he retired from at the end of the first day when it developed a terminal engine problem.
“The Otago Rally has a big reputation, and coming to the South Island of New Zealand is something that any rally driver would look forward to. I have always loved competing in the BDA Escorts, and the opportunity to tackle the fast, open Otago Rally roads in the Rossendale Escort is too good to miss. I am excited to meet the competitors and fans because I know they love their motorsport.”
Otago Rally organisers are anticipating a capacity field for an event that will be contested over 171 competitive miles on stages that are only going to be used once. So far, 45 crews have indicated their intention to cross over the ceremonial start ramp in Dunedin’s Octagon on Friday, April 12.
On Meeke’s intention to compete, event spokesman Roger Oakley said: “We are naturally thrilled that Kris has accepted our invitation and have always hoped that he would compete here one day.
“Everyone in rallying knows how fast and spectacular Kris is, and along with his reputation for engaging with the fans, we have no doubt he is going to be hugely popular. The competitors in the Otago Classic Rally have got a world-class competitor to compare themselves against in Kris.”
Back in 2020 Meeke – a five-time winner in the World Rally Championship and a former champion of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge during his Peugeot Sport UK days – had the chance to take part in the International Rally of Whangarei in a Mazda 2 AP4 only for the event to be cancelled.