| 5.8°C Dublin

Meeke's mission is podium place

WILL reigning champions Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle start their defence of the IRC challenge with victory in Monte Carlo next week? The pair almost succeeded on their first outing last year and were in line for a podium finish -- possibly a win -- until they had a massive crash on the opening stage of the final day.

The Irish crew were caught out by the treacherous conditions, and after a series of sixth-gear right- and left-hand corners they hit slush resulting in the car hitting a bridge and rolling a few times into retirement.

The pair return as champions intent on taking that lost victory, but face a gigantic challenge from the quality entry that includes world champion runner-up Mikko Hirvonen, who is debuting the Fiesta S2000, and last year's shock winner Sebastian Ogier in a 207.

Ogier is a fully fledged member of the Citroen junior world championship team and will have 2007 F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen as team-mate this year.

They also face 2008 IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz in a Fabia along with the Skoda factory pair Jan Kopecky who pushed Meeke for the title and Juho Hanninen who won the Russian round last summer.


Further down the list are Veteran Toni Gardemeister (Fiat Abarth) and Stephane Sarazin in another 207 with Briton Guy Wilks seeded in 10th spot in a Skoda UK-backed Fabia S2000. The Durham driver won Rally Scotland after Kris Meeke was excluded because of a technical infringement.

Late entrant and Renault F1 lead driver Robert Kubica will make his Monte rally debut in a Clio R3 and should not cause to much anxiety to those fighting for overall honours but as a competitive driver who has contested three rallies already he could be in with a chance of taking one of the minor places on the finshers' list.

Home supporters will be keeping a watch on the progress of the Wexford-Waterford crew of Eamonn Boland and Mickey Joe Morrissey in their EvoX and Enniskerry-Navan pair Daniel Barry and Martin Brady who make their Monte debut in their EvoIX.

The event starts with a prologue stage next Tuesday to determine the starting order of the rally which properly gets underway on Wednesday morning and finishes in the principality on Saturday.

p BETTER known for its racing activities, the 500 MRCI hosts the popular New Year Stages rally within the confines of the Kirkistown race track on Saturday.

Past national champion George Robinson Gary White and Stuart Biggerstaff -- all Subaru mounted -- are among the leading entries, as is forestry specialist Dominic McNeill in his Escort WRC.

Mark Donnelly and Connor McCloskey top the Group N category in their Mitsubishi Evos, while former Formula Ford racer Simon Woodside will be in action in his potent BMW. James Logan and Eamonn Doherty are among the two-wheel drive brigade eligible for the seven-round Pacenotes ANICC 2WD Rally Challenge which kicks off at the Co Down track this weekend.

p M-SPORT will hold a Fiesta R2 promotion day open to prospective customers and current championship contenders at Rally School Ireland, Scotstown, Co Monaghan next Tuesday. The new R2 version will be eligible to compete alongside the ST version in the Irish Fiesta Challenge this year.

p CAVAN MC will hold the rescheduled club championship autocross next Sunday.

The event was originally listed for December 27 but postponed because of poor weather conditions.

The event -- the seventh round in the championship -- takes place at the club facility at Latton Cross on the Ballybay-Cootehill road.

Club member Gerry Buckley and Reg Britton are set to return to Finland where they will contest the Arctic rally in an Escort Mk2 BDA at the end of the month. The pair finished third in class and seventh overall in the Historic section of the event last year.

p Details of the 2010 Triton Showers South East stages championship have been released.

Popular with club drivers the long established series comprises four tarmac and three forestry rounds starting with the Tipperary forestry event next month.

The list of rounds includes Tipperary forestry (February 14) Carrick-on-Suir forestry (March 7) Carlow (May 9) Carrick-on-Suir Ravens Rock (June 27) Tipperary Stonethrowers (August 8) Wexford two-day event (September 11/12) before rounding off with the Birr forestry event on October 10.

The prize giving for the 2009 championship takes place at Carrick-on-Suir on Saturday night where Mick Nevin and co-driver Des Moran will be crowned champions. Paul Lacey and Arthur Walsh were second with Noel Wade and Eamonn Tuohy third.

p The Monaghan MC navigation trial, scheduled for last weekend but postponed because of the atrocious weather conditions has been re- scheduled for January 30.