Kris Meeke must be feeling like a big weight's been lifted off his shoulders now that his drive with Toyota Gazoo's WRC team has been confirmed. The 39-year-old Northern Irishman had been left with an uncertain future after being dropped by Citroen in May following a string of crashes. Was his career at the top already done? Would his only option for return be with a low-ranking privateer? Nope. He's signed for 2019 with the current leading constructor.
That's some good going for a man in his situation, but it's also totally deserved. Although Meeke was sacked by his former employer for those unscheduled visits to the trees and regularly putting his car on its roof (see below), there's no getting away from his natural speed. This is a five-time rally winner, remember, so Meeke's ability behind the wheel of a car is unquestionable. As is his enthusiasm for the sport and popularity amongst fans.
Toyota puts it simply: "[Meeke] is recognised as one of the quickest drivers in the WRC...[he] will join Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team to form a fast and experienced driver line-up." The company's chairman Akio Toyota added with a message to Meeke: "I have great hopes that with your vast experience you will help make the Yaris WRC even better." Clearly no grudges held there, then.
Meeke, whose Toyota co-driver is yet to be named, said of his upcoming new car: "The performance of the Yaris WRC speaks for itself, but the team spirit here is incredible at every level, along with the Japanese culture of honour and respect". His new boss will be team principal Tommi Makinen, the four-time champ who made his name as a driver in the 1990s. Makinen said: "[Meeke's] technical understanding is at a really high level and I believe he can provide new knowledge and ideas to help us in our aim to keep making the Yaris WRC better."
Although Toyota currently tops the constructors standings with two rounds of 2018 to go, its current top driver Ott Tanak - who'll stay for next year - recently fell to third (behind Hyundai's Thierry Neuville and M-Sport's Sebastien Ogier) in the driver's championship after a mechanical issue forced him to stop on SS16 of Wales Rally GB.
Meeke's arrival at Toyota will fill the void left by departing driver Esapekka Lappi, who will keep his co-driver Janne Ferm and head to Citroen for 2019. The French outfit will also receive five-time champ Sebastien Ogier as part of its plans to turn around its current poor form which has seen it drop to last in the manufacturers' rankings.