Outgoing Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Kris Meeke says he cannot wait to start competing with Mini in next year's World Rally Championship.
The Northern Irishman was announced as part of Prodrive's Mini WRC team at the end of last month, and he admits it's going to be the biggest challenge of his career to date.
"I just can't wait to get on with the job," said Meeke. "To be honest, it's a dream come true, but I haven't really had the time to digest the whole thing yet."
Meeke has driven the Mini WRC in initial testing in Portugal last month and will return to the test Countryman next week. The 31-year-old has been delighted with the initial running, but he declined to discuss the specifics of the car.
"One of the things I'm so impressed with," said Meeke, "is the way the team is going about whole project. Taking next year as the development year is exactly the right thing to do. So many times we would see teams arrive at Monte Carlo or whatever was the opening round of the series still struggling to get their development work done and then forever playing catch up afterward.
"Doing it this way makes a lot of sense: there's no panic; we do the test, then the event, then the test. It's the best way."
Having spent the last two years competing in the IRC with Peugeot UK, Meeke is confident, but he says he knows the World Rally Championship represents another step up.
"The IRC certainly has it's place and, it's fair to say that Mikko [Hirvonen] on the Monte this year, none of the WRC drivers have come and wiped the floor with the IRC guys," he said. "But, the WRC is the pinnacle of the sport and I'm going to have a learning curve to flatten next year."
Meeke added that the impending rule changes for the World Rally Championship should help him.
"It's not going to quite as tough as going in there in exactly the same cars and trying to fight those guys on equal terms," said Meeke. "They're going to have to learn about the new car in the same way that I am – and, with parts of the new car derived from Super 2000, it might be that I have a small advantage in some ways. Whatever happens, it's going to be an incredible journey with Mini - and one that I can't wait to get started on."
In the meantime, Meeke will contest the final round of the IRC, this week's Rally of Scotland with Peugeot.