Motorsports: Meeke out to make amends in Sardinia
After an agonising wait, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle take to the WRC stages with their Mini Countryman in Sardinia this weekend.
Meeke and Nagle, the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge champions, will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the crash on the Italian island that dented their 2010 IRC title defence 12 months ago, as they step up to the premier championship with the BMW-owned manufacturer.
Mini's return to world championship competition with the Banbury-based Prodrive team is Meeke's ticket to the big show just a few weeks shy of his 32nd birthday and comes after more than a year of preparation.
Meeke, and Spanish team-mate Dani Sordo begin their limited WRC campaign over 18 gravel stages starting on Friday as the iconic Mini marquee returns to the top level of rallying which it dominated for a period in the 1960s.
For Dungannon native Meeke, his arrival in the premier class of the world championship is the confirmation of potential that attracted the patronage of the late Colin McRae early in his career.
That 2009 IRC title, along with some very impressive results in the Junior World Rally Championship in 2003 and 2004 cemented Meeke's reputation as one the brightest up and coming talents of his generation, but until Prodrive came calling last summer, he was facing an uncertain future.
With Killarney native Paul Nagle on pace notes in recent seasons, Meeke has developed the consistency to make him a championship contender and he'll be hoping that Prodrive's peerless experience at WRC level, most notably with Subaru, will make Mini's return a fruitful one.
In Sordo, he has a team-mate who regularly ran former Citroen team-mate Sebastian Loeb close during their years together and who provides a useful benchmark for both the new car and for Meeke himself.
"I am pleased we are starting our season (in Sardinia) as I know the conditions well from my time in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge," said Meeke this week.
Meeke will be joined on the stages by Craig Breen who heads to the second round of the WRC Academy Series on the back of a successful outing in the British Rally Championship Pirelli International Rally last weekend.
Seventh overall, top Fiesta Sport car, second in the R2 class and third in Formula 2 was the haul for Breen who deemed the event a useful workout ahead of Sardinia.
Meanwhile at home, Tim McNulty is in a race against time to repair his Subaru WRC in time for this Sunday's Mount Wolseley Hotel Carlow Stages Rally, round three of the Dunlop National rally Championship.
Having won the two counting rounds to date, McNulty holed the engine block on last weekend's International Rally of the Lakes in the Tarmac series, giving his hard-pressed team further headaches as they try to keep the Meath ace in contention in two championships.
McNulty is expected to take his place on the start ramp in Carlow where he will face opposition from Robert Barrable who secured a fine second place finish in last weekend's third round of the British Rally Championship, The Pirelli International.
Barrable is clearly finding his feet with his recently acquired Skoda Fabia.
It will be interesting to see what kind of opposition he can present to the Dunlop National Rally Championship regulars with his S2000 specification machine.
Former triple national champion Niall Maguire is seeded second for Carlow and will be eager to make up the 21 points deficit to McNulty, while Kildare man Kevin Barrett is also expected to take his place at the start in Tullow.