September 14, 2013 is a date that will live long in Kris Meeke’s memory for all the wrong reasons.
One minute he was on course to finish Rally Australia fourth overall on his works debut with the Citroën team.
The next he was rolling down the side of an access road in the Outback’s bushes, his world turned upside down – literally – and his chance of penning a contract with the French squad for the following season seemingly in shreds.
Anyone who has followed Meeke’s career will know that he is blindingly quick.
At the same time he is always prone to the occasional accident and when they happen they tend to be big.
Fortunately, his natural speed and car control shone through the plumes of thick dust.
Fast forward three months to December 9, 2013 – a date that will live long in Meeke’s memory for all the right reasons. He was understandably on top of the world that day.
Things were placed very much in perspective after he was handed quite possibly the best Christmas present ever.
What seemed like an eternity was finally made public by Citroën’s Team Principal, Yves Matton: 2014 would see the Ulsterman join his squad.
But not just any squad. With 17 titles to its name between 2003 and 2012 it remains one of the most successful in the history of the sport.
Even so, Meeke wasn’t going to let those numbers play on his mind, because after years of trying to scale that peak, he had finally reached the top.
Following his official unveiling at Citroën’s headquarters in Versailles on the outskirts of Paris, Meeke and his long-standing navigator Paul Nagle acquainted themselves with their new office in a series of tests ahead of Rallye Monte Carlo.
It was ironic that Meeke should secure a factory seat exactly 50 years on from Paddy Hopkirk’s heroics at the same event in a little Mini Cooper.
Ironic still that it was Hopkirk who recognised the 34-year-old’s potential during an event at Silverstone in England at the turn of the new Millennium.
Meeke may not have managed to pull off a similar shock result but third place on a rally that can serve up four seasons on one stretch of road was not a bad effort.
On reflection, should the result have come as such a surprise to some people? Remember that this was the very same man who conquered the Intercontinental Rally Challenge at the first time of asking back in 2009.
After Monte Carlo comes Sweden, the second round of the World Rally Championship, and the talk quickly turns to another podium finish.
No way, according to Meeke, who is keen to keep his expectations, and those of the media and the public, firmly in check.
“It’s impossible to think that we can finish on the podium all of the time,” Meeke tells the News Letter from his County Tyrone home.
“It’s an unrealistic target. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve only completed one round of 13, we achieved an incredible result, but that doesn’t change anything in my head.
“This is just the beginning. We’ve no expectations for me in Sweden. It’s generally impossible for a driver to achieve a result on their first time there so I’ll not be overstepping the mark.
“I’ve never been there before so it will take time to learn. [Nine-time champion] Sébastien Loeb finished 17th overall in a World Rally Car on his debut [in 2002].
“I’m certainly not going there expecting anything.”
The majority of the rounds in the first half of the season are ones Meeke has never driven before, and for that reason this year is all about familiarising himself with the car and getting crucial miles under his belt.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the very mention of titles is laughed off by the Dungannon man.
“It all comes down to my experience,” he says candidly.
“Citroën has produced a rally winning package in the DS3. There is no question that it is capable [of winning].
“It’s great for me to be in the position that I am where I can soak that know how up.
“They’ve been around every corner in the World Rally Championship.
“They can offer me everything to win rallies but the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles aren’t the top priority for Citroën this year.
“That was said at the very outset. Instead, the goal is to bring me and Mads [Østberg] on so we can fight on WRC events later.
“For sure I want to win rallies but I can’t pick and choose when that will happen.
“It’s very easy for people to get ahead of themselves but I know what I need to do to secure wins.
“Right now I just want to enjoy being in the WRC. It’s the ultimate competition because you’re competing against the best drivers on the best stages.”
Meeke appears remarkably calm about it all which will surprise some given that he only penned a twelve month contract with Citroën.
“I can’t start thinking about next season – that will take care of itself,” he says.
“Obviously I have a one-year deal at the minute … but I would like to think that a decision will be made long before the final round in Great Britain [about my future].
“I’m in a good place right now and if I do well enough this season I’ll be in the WRC come 2015.”