Irish great Meeke jumps at chance to compete in Classic section of 2024 Otago Rally

Kris Meeke speaks at a press conference before a World Rally Championship event earlier this year...
Kris Meeke speaks at a press conference before a World Rally Championship event earlier this year. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
There is nothing meek about this bloke when he gets behind the wheel.

Irish rally great Kris Meeke has been announced as the star driver in the Classic field for next year’s Otago Rally.

Loved by fans the world over for his spectacular, flat-out driving style, 44-year-old Meeke is a five-time World Rally Championship (WRC) event winner.

His WRC wins included success in the world’s most famous event, Rally Finland, with French manufacturer Citroen.

He also drove factory cars at the highest level for Mini, and the all-conquering Toyota Gazoo Racing.

It will be his first visit to the Otago Rally, and one that Meeke is already looking forward to with great excitement.

He will be at the wheel of the Ford Escort RS1800 previously driven to victory by rallying greats such as Ari Vatanen and Juha Kankkunen, and recently Mads Ostberg and Mikko Hirvonen.

"When I received the invitation, there was no hesitation in agreeing to it," Meeke said.

"The Otago Rally has a big reputation, and coming to the South Island of New Zealand is something that any rally driver would look forward to."

Last month, Meeke contested the five-day Roger Albert Clark Rally in the United Kingdom in a Ford Escort RS1800, but had to retire from the rally lead early on with an engine problem.

"I’ve always loved competing in the BDA Escorts, and the opportunity to tackle the fast and open Otago Rally roads in the famous Rossendale Escort is too good to miss.

"I’m looking forward to meeting the competitors and fans as I know they love their motorsport."

Otago Rally organisers are thrilled with Meeke’s addition to next year’s entry list, which continues the tradition of having a WRC great contest the rally each year.

"We’re delighted that Kris accepted our invitation, and have always hoped he would compete here one day," event spokesman Roger Oakley said.

"Everyone in rallying knows how fast and spectacular Kris is, and along with his reputation for engaging with the fans, he’s going to be hugely popular.

"The competitors in the Otago Classic Rally have got a world-class competitor to compare themselves against."

The Otago Rally, to be held from April 12 to 14, will offer 275km of entirely public road stages with no stage being repeated.

The event, which also counts as the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship, has already attracted intentions to enter from 45 crews, including 10 internationals.

It is expected a full field of over 100 crews will start the rally in the Octagon on Friday, April 12.