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PHOTO: Third place at Coates Hire Rally Australia was one of Meeke’s best drives this season (Neil Blackbourn pic)

BRITISH driver Kris Meeke will remain with Citroen in the FIA World Rally Championship for the next three years. The 36-year-old will focus next season on developing an all-new 2017 Citroen World Rally Car while contesting some championship rounds for a private team.

A team announcement last night ended speculation about Meeke’s future after he was reportedly approached by the new Toyota factory team and Citroen said it was sitting out the 2016 WRC as a manufacturer entrant.

Having joined the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team at Rally Australia in 2013, Meeke has established himself as one of the few drivers genuinely capable of troubling the dominant Volkswagen squad. On Coates Hire Rally Australia this year he led through the Saturday stages and eventually claimed third place at the finish.

Despite his relative inexperience – having contested only 34 WRC rallies by the end of this year – the Northern Irishman claimed his first win in a perfectly controlled performance at Rally Argentina in April.

“Various options were available to me to pursue my career, but I chose to stay with Citroën Racing to reap the rewards of the work done over the last two years or more,” Meeke said.

“It’s also a way of thanking the team for the faith they have shown in me. We now know each other very well and this understanding will be essential in developing the new car successfully.

“I’m very excited about everything that lies ahead in the next few months. I began my career in motorsport as a design engineer so although I can’t wait to get into the car, I’ll be following every stage of the design and assembly of the first car with great interest.

“I’m also very excited about the new FIA regulations, which look set to deliver more powerful and more spectacular cars. Obviously, all of this work is geared towards me being able to fight for more wins and for the world title.”

Citroen says Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle represent the first part of a plan to return Citroen Racing to top-level competition in 2017. It won eight WRC manufacturer championships with driver Sebastien Loeb up to the end of 2012.

“In terms of our new programme, above all else we wanted an experienced, top-level driver, with sound technical knowledge,” said Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal.

“Kris was undoubtedly the best choice and we are delighted that he has decided to stay with us. We have a lot of shared history, with two seasons in the JWRC in the 2000s and then the last couple of years with the DS 3 WRC.

“However, the most important part of his career is ahead of him, with three seasons to develop and achieve success in the successor to the Xsara, C4 and DS 3 WRC.

“In 2016, the test programme will be the priority for Kris from April, when initial testing of the new car is set to begin. He will nonetheless keep his hand in as regards racing by taking part in several rounds of the World Championship. Initial details of this private programme will be revealed shortly.”

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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