Kris Meeke had a shorter than expected first day in his Mini John Cooper Works WRC, but he still made a big impression by running fourth before his SS3 retirement.
At the end of the day he talked to AUTOSPORT about realising his dream of becoming a factory World Rally Championship driver.
Q. When did you first notice there was something wrong with the car?
Kris Meeke: On the road section out to the first stage this morning, I noticed it wasn't lifting off when I came off the throttle. I called in to the team straight away and told them about the problem. The team told me the problem would only come in 'road' mode, they told me to put it into 'stage' mode, which I did and it was fine. Then in stage two on the first two or three kilometres, when I was trying to turn in to slow corners, I felt it was pushing on all the time. When we got the car back here to service, the team could see on the data what was happening. After stage two, I called the team and told them it was getting uncomfortable.
Q. But you were third quickest in stage two. What did you think of the time?
KM: When we came over the finish, Paul [Nagle, co-driver] said: "I think that was slow, you felt uncomfortable didn't you?" I wouldn't trust Paul to park my car in a bus stop, but he can sense what energy's in the car and he felt there had been more to come in there. We're not there yet. I was happy enough with the time in the first stage, we had run at a fast recce speed and, with a bit of road cleaning, we were seventh. That was okay. It was the same plan for stage two, just drive turn-in, through the corners and away again.
Q. What exactly happened when you went off?
KM: After we'd felt the problem in stage two, we said we'd be careful on the slow corners in the next one. It was the very first fast section with a fifth-gear left into a right and I was just changing the direction of the car by lifting for a moment and braking, but when I lifted off it [the throttle body] opened up and stayed open for two seconds.
We had no chance. We went down an embankment into a field and hit a rock. It knocked the wheel back and took a driveshaft out. I think a tree came between the wheel and the chassis link. We went off the road pretty much flat out in fifth gear, so we're lucky to have a car to start day two.
Q. What caused the problem?
KM: It's something on the throttle body. When you come off the throttle, it's supposed to close, but it didn't - it stayed open.
Q. There have been a few rumours about the reasons why you went off, with some people pointing to that time on stage two...
KM: What can I say? We went off the road because of a problem. I can't say anything more than that.
Q. How do you feel about the performance yourself?
KM: Not having done a rally for seven months and then lying fourth after 40 kilometres was brilliant. I'm not at a level where I can lead a rally yet and I still have so much to learn, but it's great to know that, without me doing a rally for so long, and running in a brand new car we could do what we did.
Q. What did you think when you saw the time on the board at the end of SS2?
KM: 'Bloody hell!' We thought there was a bit of road-cleaning, but [Sebastien] Loeb was able to go quickest today, from being first on the road. The road was cleaning, but not as much as we thought as we thought.
Q. Give us your assessment of your first day as a Mini driver in the WRC.
KM: Brilliant but frustrating. And doubly frustrating that we had the pace with no dramas, no heroics. There have been a lot more positives than negatives from the first day.
Q. What's the plan for day two?
KM: Go out and find our feet and do it again. There's no tactics to go on a big push, just to go on and drive.