World Rally Championship veteran Kris Meeke “felt like a kid at Christmas” during his first test for PH Sport, with whom he will compete in the 2021 Dakar Rally.
Meeke will drive PH Sport’s Zephyr T3 in next month’s Dakar Rally, which will take place in Saudi Arabia across a total of 4750 miles.
The Northern Irishman is competing in the world-famous rally raid event for the first time, and had originally linked up with PH Sport in talks to compete in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and Dubai Baja, before both events were dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to lockdowns across the world, Meeke had previously tested the Zephyr in the sand dunes around Dubai, and had also conducted further testing in the south of France over the summer.
Meeke likened the original Dubai test to snowboarding, and that driving amid the dunes was a “really special feeling”.
“I’m 41 now, but if you’d seen my face after I drove the first dunes, I was like almost a young boy – I felt like a kid at Christmas!” said Meeke.
“I love the snow, I’ve done in the past lots of snowboarding; snowboarding in the fresh snow when you can use all the mountain.
“I describe the dunes like you have as many kilometres as you want of fresh snow, and you can flow and surf.
“For me the feeling was really special, but you really quickly learn how much respect you have to have for the desert.
“The simple thing I learned is how much everything can change when the sun is moving in the sky; at midday you don’t see the edges of the dunes, everything looks almost the same and that can be really tricky.
“You miss the shadow of the dunes and you have to be really careful.
“But it’s truly amazing to drive in the dunes and I was captivated by it.”
Meeke will have the Dakar-seasoned Wouter Rosegaar as his co-driver – the Dutchman has been in the passenger seat for 13 of the past 14 Dakar rallies.
Asked if his 2019 WRC co-driver Sebastian Marshall was an option, Meeke said that Marshall was not interested in Dakar, and that having two people with no experience of desert racing “was not a wise choice”.
“I did think to do it with Seb, but he is still a young guy, he is still 30-31 years old. Maybe he is too young for Dakar (laughs). He said for the moment he wasn’t so interested.
“Having no chance to prepare in the Abu Dhabi race or Dubai, to arrive to Dakar with two people that have not been in the desert before, I think it was not a wise choice.
“This is the reason I’ve gone with Wouter, he has a lot of experience. His original plan was to do the Dakar with Conrad Rautenbach, but he is not going to do it; he was available and I think he was the best option for me.”