WRC star Meeke confirmed for Whangarei
Former WRC winner Kris Meeke will head to New Zealand for the first time this year to tackle the International Rally of Whangarei in May.
The Northern Irishman will compete on the iconic New Zealand roads made famous during the days the World Rally Championship was an annual visitor through the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Until this season, Meeke has been a regular in the WRC, twice finishing in the top five in the championship and claiming five WRC round wins including the fearsome Rally Finland. The 40-year old was also crowned Intercontinental Rally Champion in 2009.
He will be joined in Whangarei by regular co-driver Sebastien Marshall.
The pair will contest the event in a Force Motorsport-prepared Mazda 2 AP4. The team has enjoyed many strong results with the Mazda 2 AP4 platform, including the 2017 New Zealand Rally Championship title (Andrew Hawkeswood) and finishing runner up in the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship in 2019.
The announcement comes in a bumper year for the sport, with 2020 also seeing the World Rally Championship return to Auckland after eight years away.
The International Rally of Whangarei – to be run May 8-10 – is the second round of both the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship and will see Meeke resume battle with New Zealand’s own world championship driver Hayden Paddon, who recently announced the event as part of a busy 2020 schedule.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed about, driving a rally car in New Zealand and through all my exploits in the WRC over the years, I was never involved in the series when Rally New Zealand was in the championship for one reason or another,” Meeke said.
“I grew up with the images of these famous stages in New Zealand with Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae and Richard Burns and I always wanted to do it. So when I had some contact with Andrew and he made a proposal for me to get an opportunity to drive on these roads, for me it was certainly a box I wanted to tick.
“Obviously we all know of Hayden Paddon and his exploits, certainly he’s been a top line WRC driver for a period of time. I want to go and have fun, that’s number one priority, I want to enjoy myself and experience the roads, I have no expectation to try and beat Hayden but certainly if anyone knows me by now, I go and give any challenge 100% and see where we end up.”
Rally organisers are delighted to have a driver of Meeke’s calibre competing at Whangarei – adding to what is already a very strong field.
“To have a driver like Kris come to contest the International Rally of Whangarei is a huge coup for the event but also shows the international draw of the world-famous roads the event has access to,” chairman Willard Martin said.
“We look forward to seeing Kris line up against not only the top drivers New Zealand has to offer, but also those from the Asia-Pacific region,” Martin added.
The International Rally of Whangarei runs from May 8-10 and is based out New Zealand’s most northern city, Whangarei, offering up 262 kilometres of famous Northland gravel roads.
The 2020 New Zealand Rally Championship is proudly supported by Brian Green Property Group, Gull New Zealand, Dunlop New Zealand, HELLA New Zealand, Stadium Finance and Omega Rental Cars.