Palletforce-supported world rally driver Kris Meeke is all set for a very special event this week. Rally Finland is the fastest event on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar and will also mark the Northern Ireland driver’s 100th world rally start.
Meeke, who recently turned 40, won the famous rally in 2016. With an average speed of 126.62 kph, it was also the fastest rally in WRC history and, because of the high speeds, has been affectionally named the ‘Finnish Grand Prix’.
Rally Finland has gained iconic status because of its speeds and legendary rollercoaster jumps. The smooth, ultra-fast gravel stages thread their way through forests and around lakes with drivers rewarded for their bravery and commitment, making it a favourite with both drivers and fans alike.
Based in Jyvaskyla in central Finland, the host city turns into a rallying mecca for the weekend with fans flocking from across the world to experience the legendary rally. It’s a carnival atmosphere out on the stages where spectators line the roads to catch a glimpse of their favourite drivers in action.
This year’s event starts on Thursday evening with a fan-friendly street stage in Jyvaskyla. The following day crews tackle stages to the west before Meeke faces a mammoth 14 hours behind the wheel of his Toyota Yaris WRC on Saturday. Sunday finishes with a short loop of stages to the east including the Ruuhimaki Power Stage.
After leading many of the events so far this season and setting a raft of fastest stage times, Meeke will be searching for his first win of the season and maiden victory with the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team.
Based in Jyvaskyla, it’s the team’s home event and the Yaris WRC has been tested to perfection on these roads.
Kris Meeke said: “It’s incredible to think this is my 100th WRC start and great to be able to celebrate it at the home of rallying. Rally Finland is definitely one of my favourite events with some special memories for me, and I’m really looking forward to taking it on with the Yaris WRC. Finland is where I got my first taste of this car, and we tested there again last week, and the car always feels incredible to drive on those roads.
“It was developed in Finland and we’ve seen in the last two years just how strong it can be on this rally. I think that everyone in the team is feeling confident about the second part of the season, and hopefully we can kick-start that with a great result in Finland. I’m going to be at a bit of a disadvantage because a lot of the route will be new for me, but I’m ready for the challenge.”
Pace in Sardinia but a frustrating end for Meeke
KDM Hire-backed world rally driver Kris Meeke suffered another frustrating result on round eight of the FIA World Rally Championship despite building up his pace to challenge for a podium on an event he has little experience off.
Meeke finished eighth at the wheel of his Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team Yaris WRC after a broken wheel rim forced him into a mid-stage tyre change on Saturday while in a heated three-way battle.
Rally d’Italia, hosted on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, delivers some of the toughest conditions of the year. Its narrow tracks are lined with huge rocks and surfaces range from deep sand to hard bedrock – all this with the typical sweltering summer temperatures makes for one of the most demanding championship events.
However, from the start, Meeke was at a distinct disadvantage having not competed in 2016 and 2018. The opening day on Friday was spent getting more familiar with the stages and setting an improved set of times on the second pass in the afternoon. He still managed to hold fifth place overnight after making more progress with car set-up and using mixed compound tyres for the first time with the Yaris.
Saturday morning saw a similar approach with the Dungannon-driver losing ground over the morning stages but locked in a three-way fight for fourth position. It was nip and tuck in the afternoon with Meeke starting to claw back time and looking like a challenge for the podium was on.
However, an impact with a rock on the final stage of the day saw Meeke forced to stop in the middle of the stage, change the tyre and limp to the end – dropping over two minutes in the process and back to eighth.
He cruised through the final four stages on Sunday and, despite another solid performance on unfamiliar stages, it wasn’t the podium result he was after.
With a five-week summer break, the championship race how heads to Finland and the iconic Neste Rally Finland on 2-4 August – an event that Meeke has won previously and will be targeting again.
Kris Meeke said: “I had highlighted this rally as one of the toughest at the start of the season. Compared to the other drivers, I have very little experience of these stages and it was always going to be difficult to match them.
“However, we did find a strong pace, especially in the afternoons and I was actually quite enjoying the rally as we were in a good battle and making progress. Unfortunately, a broken wheel put paid to that and it meant we had no option but to drive through the final day stages and collect the team points.
“We just need to look forward to Finland and the second half of the season as a whole. The Yaris WRC was really strong on these events last season and the entire team will be pushing for the same again.”
Season’s Best Performance Ends In Retirement For Meeke
Despite again demonstrating rally-winning pace and coming within a few seconds of the lead on the final day, Palletforce global brand ambassador Kris Meeke recorded his first retirement of the season after last-minute drama on Rally Portugal.
Meeke had shown an impressive level of consistency over the tough weekend but succumbed to broken steering just 500m into the final stage of Rally Portugal after hitting a tree stump hidden in the verge.
Rally Portugal was a tough, hot affair with three days of gravel action in high temperatures on the rough roads around host city Porto.
Meeke and co-driver Seb Marshall started strongly on Friday’s new stages to the south. Despite a broken intercom on stage two, where Meeke was unable to receive any of the crucial pacenotes, he set a number of top-times. His afternoon performance on the second pass of the dusty stages was even more impressive and he finished the first day in third place – rounding off a Toyota 1-2-3.
Dust and heat continued to dominate day two and Meeke’s consistent strong approach earned him the right of being the highest performing driver of the day, with a string of top-three times and a stage victory to kick off the day.
He was slowed by a broken handbrake on the longest stage of the rally to finish off the second day but had moved up to second place and into a three-way battle for the lead.
The final day started with another stage win, seeing Meeke close the gap to the front to just 2.4 seconds. But then things went downhill, with a spin on the penultimate stage dropping him to third overall and a mistake on the final test breaking the steering on his Yaris WRC and forcing him into instant retirement, just minutes from the finish line.
It was a bitter end to Meeke’s strongest performance of the season. He had maintained podium positions for the majority of the event and consistently set top times only for a small error to undo all the good work.
But the negatives will be firmly at the back of his mind when he lines up for round eight at Rally Sardinia on 18 June – facing similar hot, tough, rocky conditions as in Portugal.
Kris Meeke said: “Rally Portugal was always going to be tough but for the majority of the event we showed a strong speed and managed the difficult conditions pretty well. The car felt good and I was able to make progress with the hard compound tyres on the rough roads, something I struggled with previously.
“The pace was good, the confidence was high and we set strong times. The team performance showed just how well-uited the Yaris WRC is to these conditions. I was gutted to make a mistake so close to the end of the rally, resulting in our first non-points finish of the season, but we just have to put that behind us and move forward.”
Tough rally Chile but Meeke still holds fourth
Palletforce international brand ambassador and world rally driver Kris Meeke continues to hold a solid fourth place in the FIA World Rally Championship standings after a tough weekend at Rally Chile saw him finish tenth. However, Meeke is one of just three drivers to have scored points on every round this season, proving his consistent approach is helping boost his experience with the new car and team this year.
After sealing his best finish of the season at Rally Argentina just two weeks ago, Meeke took to the stages of the all-new Rally Chile in a bid to repeat that performance. After a stunning ceremonial start in Concepcion, Meeke got off to the best possible start in his Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris WRC car by winning the opening stage on Friday morning.
But the slippery conditions and a lack of complete confidence in his new pacenotes meant Meeke was a little hesitant and couldn’t fully commit on the demanding stages. He slipped down the standings but still maintained a strong top-five position at the end of day one.
However, things got worse on Saturday morning. Meeke ran wide on a slow left-hand corner, touching a bank and flipping his Yaris WRC onto its roof. He had to wait on some help from spectators and lost over six minutes in the process.
Damage to the car was relatively cosmetic, allowing Meeke and co-driver Seb Marshall to push on and set competitive times, even without a front windscreen and despite it being difficult to hear the pacenotes inside the car.
With a full repair carried out in service, the pair pushed on with their mission to climb up the leader-board and salvage as many championship points as possible. With a string of top-times, including going fastest on stage 13 on Sunday, the pair climbed back to eighth and claimed an extra bonus point on the final Power Stage.
But they suffered another set-back, a one-minute time penalty handed out after the rally finish saw them drop back to tenth overall. Meeke still secured enough points to maintain fourth in the championship battle as the race now moves back to Europe.
Rally Portugal, which Meeke won in 2016, is next up. Based in Porto, it takes place from 31 May to 2 June.
Kris Meeke said: “It’s been a tough weekend in Chile. I had some sickness on the recce and some of the stages had thick fog, so we struggled a bit with the pacenotes for these new stages when the rally started. Friday was difficult, we just couldn’t get everything to flow together and I didn’t have the confidence to push flat-out.
“Our roll on Saturday could have only cost us 20-30 seconds as there wasn’t much damage to the car. But it ended up being over six minutes as we had to wait on spectators to help – the team, however, done a great job in repairing the car again. I’m a bit frustrated, we have the speed to push for podiums on every event but just need things to go our way.”
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