Outgoing champion Kris Meeke is about to end his IRC career for now to lead Mini's new program in the World Rally Championship. The Briton spoke about the Mini challenge and about his final outing in the IRC.
Q. How does it feel to have signed the deal to drive for Mini in the World Rally Championship?
Kris Meeke: It is a dream come true. It's quite surreal, in fact. To be honest, though, I have been so busy, I haven't had a minute to think about it. In the last two and a half to three months, I've only been at home for three days. In 10 weeks, I've done six rallies and eight tests with three different manufacturers. It's been busy.
Q. And how does it feel to be coming to the last event with Peugeot UK?
KM: Again, I haven't really had time to think. I'm sure once we've done Scotland, I will sit down and think about what we have achieved in the last two years.
Q. How do you feel about next year?
KM: It's a fantastic opportunity for me. You know the WRC is the pinnacle of the sport and I'm going to have to step up to that, but next year is great because it gives me the time to grow into the team.
Q. And what about the deal?
KM: It's a long-term deal.
Q. So, you'll start the full program in 2012?
KM: Yes, that's right, but I'm not going into the specifics of the agreement.
Q. With the new rules coming, this isn't a bad time to be joining the WRC?
KM: Absolutely. That's another part of the beauty of this deal. These new rules will bring the cars back a little bit and it's going to take some of the guys in the WRC a little bit of time to adjust. Obviously, I'm going to have a lot of adjusting to do as well – and it will be tough against the likes of Sebastien Loeb and Mikko [Hirvonen]; they're robots, you know. They just get in the car and drive it, banging in the times.
Q. Given that you come from a Super 2000 background, driving a car with the same transmission as you've had in the Peugeot, with no active center differential, does that give you an advantage?
KM: Maybe a small one. I don't know. Like I said, those guys are like robots – they're the best drivers in the world. The transmission does make a bit of a difference to the car, though. A current World Rally Car can carry more speed into the corner and still hit the apex with neutrality, that's where the active [transmission] is doing its thing. For me, in the Super 2000 car, I go into the corner a bit slower and possibly with a little bit of understeer.
Q. But the engine is all new to you...
KM: It certainly is. For all of my career, I've been driving a naturally aspirated engine and now I have to get used to the turbo. When I switched from the Super 1600 car in the Junior World Rally Championship, it was no problem because I was used to revving the nuts off the car, but in the Peugeot I just had a hell of a lot more traction. But with the turbo, I'm going to have to get used to using the torque lower down. Then again, the guys from this year will have to get used to less torque and a little bit less horsepower. That's what's making next season so intriguing: there are so many questions that nobody has the answers to.
Q. And you're one of those questions.
KM: I will be. The WRC is where I've always wanted to be and it really feels right with the Mini as well. You know, the whole Paddy Hopkirk thing, everything, it just feels right for me. It is going to be a great journey.
Q. But it's Scotland this week, though.
KM: It is – and it's going to be a hell of a fight.
Q. Who's the danger man for you?
KM: [Juho] Hanninen, it has to be. Don't get me wrong, Guy [Wilks] will be right in there, but he's struggled a bit for pace and I think he'd admit that – but he's going to make damned sure he's at the races. But, Juho's on good form and this event will suit him.
KM: The stages are very flowing and Juho's good in the quick stuff – he's a Finn.
Q. What makes these stages so good?
KM: Well, Saturday's stages are well known for being good roads, but Sunday's stages in the Trossachs really are something special. Before last year, they hadn't been used for 15 or 20 years. The only vehicles which had been in there were the logging trucks, so that made for a really hard base with a layer of loose on the top. The loose isn't bad enough to penalize the guy at the front of the field, it just makes for the perfect road. Look at the Loch Ard stage, it's something more than 30 kilometers and, in there, there's three junctions at the most; it's all fourth, fifth, sixth gear stuff and it just flows. It's fantastic.
Q. Can you win?
KM: We can win, but it's going to be hard work. My approach will be the same as it always is, but at the same time I have to remember that we've pushed as hard as we can this year and the Skodas have taken time out of us. I will do what I can, but I'm not really going to turn the tide on this event and if, come this time next week, I've been out and rolled the car into a ball of snot then people will naturally ask why didn't I back off.
Q. It's easy to say that, sitting here, though – not so easy when you're in the thick of the fight.
KM: It's the game we're in. It's a fight against the clock and when you're born with that inside you, you can't accept anything except for the win. You're right, though. And, being honest with you, that's what happened in Sardinia and Ypres this year. I had to go over the limit to make the times. In the heat of the battle, I let it happen and when I was in a good position I made a fool out of myself. I don't want that to happen in Scotland.
Q. What has happened this year? Everything that went right last season, seems to have gone wrong this year.
KM: Well, it didn't start very well in Monte Carlo when we went off the road. But then we won in Brazil, but even when we did that, I knew something wasn't right. For example, there was one 18-kilometer stage where I was 20 seconds faster than I had been last year – and in 2009 I was 10 up on everybody. But this year, Juho [Hanninen] was right with me, snapping at my heels. Last year, we seemed to be able to hit the midpoint of the event in the lead and then control them from then on. This time around, we have been hitting the midpoint of the event with work to do, so we then had to put the squeeze on in the latter stages of the event and that's where the problems have come.
And there have been mistakes and problems. If you add up the points we've lost from the mistakes I have made, we'd be champion and if you add up the points from the mechanicals with the car, we'd be champions again. Where we were winning last year, we've been struggling for second or third this season. In Argentina, we were struggling, we just couldn't keep up with Juho and Guy, but then in the Canaries, we were 20 or 30 seconds up when we had a problem with the bolt and that cost us the win. Like I said, then I pushed like hell in Sardinia and Ypres and tripped up.
Q. How has this year felt compared with last year?
KM: It's definitely been a different experience! But, like last year, I've still learned a huge amount, the main thing being that you absolutely can't take your eye off the ball. I don't think I have taken my eye off the ball, but Peugeot didn't push maybe quite as much as they could or should at the start of the season. There's no room for resting on your laurels in this sport.
Q. See you in Scotland then.
KM: Yeah – and I absolutely can't wait to get back into those stages again!