Irish drivers Kris Meeke (Toyota Gazoo Racing) and Craig Breen (Hyundai Motorsport) may have to park their own desire to win the Wales Rally GB to ensure their respective teams have the best possible platform to win the WRC Manufacturers’ title.
Following last night’s opening stage at Oulton Park, the real business and the first of the remaining 20 stages begins this morning in the Welsh forests.
On yesterday’s shakedown, the 4.9km Gwydir stage, Meeke was quickest. “It was nice to confirm the settings on shakedown this morning. If you’re feeling confident in these slippery, tricky conditions hopefully it bodes well for the weekend when we expect wet weather,” said Meeke.
He may find it difficult to contain his competitive nature but playing the “team game” is also essential in order to be part of the 2020 campaign with the Tommi Makinen-led outfit. Yet, it’s well within his remit to find that perfect balance to achieve both and his first podium for Toyota.
Meeke’s teammate Ott Tanak (210 points) will battle with Citroen’s Sebastien Ogier (193 points) and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (180 points) for the Drivers’ championship. With a maximum of 90 points from the final three rounds, mishaps will be detrimental to any of the trio.
Meanwhile, Breen is in the shop window once more and his presence is to ensure Hyundai builds on their 19-point lead over Toyota. On his debut with the Japanese outfit in Rally Finland, the Waterford driver dropped a place to finish seventh so that teammate Neuville gained more points. Although he (Breen) spun and stalled on yesterday’s shakedown stage, he was unconcerned. “If there is any place to do it (spin), it’s best here,” he said.
A strong performance through to Sunday will certainly improve his chances of landing a full-time drive next season.
Home hero Elfyn Evans (who won in 2017) is behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta WRC after missing several rounds through a back injury. Along with Citroen pair Sebastien Ogier and Esapekka Lappi, he tied for the second quickest time on the shakedown. While 2003 World champion Petter Solberg will retire after this event much focus will be on his son Oliver (18) who also campaigns a VW Polo GTi R5 and will be co-driven by Northern Ireland’s Aaron Johnston. Wexford’s Eamonn Boland and his Waterford co-driver Mickey Joe Morrissey compete in a Ford Fiesta R5.
On the domestic front, the West Cork Motorcycle Club host the Twohig’s Hill Hillclimb at Clonakilty on Sunday (10.30am). Banagher’s Keelim Ryan (Yamaha R1M 1000) is expected to provide strong opposition for the Cork trio of Bishopstown’s Stephen Casey (Yamaha R6 600cc), Ballinhassig’s Derek Wilson (Suzuki GSXR 1000), and Kinsale’s Stephen Tobin (Yamaha R6 600cc).
Motorsport Ireland recently has announced that seven co-drivers will receive tuition from the MI Academy until the end of 2020. They are Eamonn Creedon (28), Inchigeelagh, Co. Cork, Dylan Doonan (21), Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Conor Mohan (21) Ballinode, Co. Monaghan, Lorcan Moore (21) Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, Derek O’Brien (32) Carrigrohane, Co. Cork, Grace O’Brien (31), Dromtarriffe, Co. Cork, and Dean O’Sullivan (31) Raphoe, Co. Donegal.