Just as on his World Rally return in Finland a few weeks before, Kris Meeke’s maiden European Rallycross appearance came to a premature end after demonstrating blinding speed.
Meeke was in the Albatec team’s second 550bhp Peugeot 208 Supercar for the event at Loheac in France, watched trackside by 60,000 very vocal French fans.
Like fellow wildcard entry Sebastien Loeb, Meeke was soon circulating as fast as the Euro RX regulars. But a smashed wheel in one heat (following a scrape with title protagonist Davy Jeanney) and then controversial exclusion from another (officials said for wiping out an opponent – a decision that left Meeke fuming) meant a much hoped-for semi-final place was out of reach.
But Meeke’s duck-to-water debut impressed just as much as his return to WRC action with Citroen had after 18 months away from competition.
So how did he feel after competing in Euro RX’s biggest event yet?
“To be on the pace right away against drivers and teams of this calibre is something, and I have to say the team and the car were incredible.
“But that’s not the game – you need to get through the first corner and we had a few issues there. The black flag I totally disagree with – it sounds like sour grapes when a driver’s complaining, but I think anyone can see it wasn’t a black flag.”
Here you’ve had four other cars around you. In rallying it’s just you on your own…
“That’s the slightly frustrating thing. You can be in control of your own race in a rally, but here you’re not in control. Ultimately we had the speed and if a couple of decisions had gone our way might have had a big result.”
What was toughest thing for you on track?
“I’ve not found it tough at all and never felt anything was beyond me. I’ve really enjoyed it and the car was a pleasure to drive. The first start when all the cars were lined up and you can see the sheer volume of spectators – yes the heart rate was going.
“Five cars going for one spot into the first corner… there are always going to be knocks and I was just on wrong end of that.”
Rally Australia and a second outing with the Citroen is this week – what’s your goal there after that stunning performance in Finland?
“The goal has changed. My future depended on what we did in Finland and we did enough there before the accident. In Australia I have to score points with the team, that’s why we’re there. And it will be more of a level playing field than in Finland. The event has moved to the East coast and hardly anybody knows the stages so it should suit me better.
“It’s still a pure gravel rally but when it was in Perth the stages had these ball bearing surfaces so road position was crucial. It’ll still be important, but these stages are more traditional gravel.”
Have you any other events lined up this year?
“It looks like I’ll do the Sanremo round of the European championship, driving Peugeot’s 208 R5 as a zero car. But I won’t be going for points as the car won’t be homologated until January.”