Michael Nicholas profiles two of motorsport's most ambitious racers
In the 14th century, Dungannon may have been the chief seat of the O’Neill’s, High Kings of Ulster, but a new force is emerging from the south Tyrone town. Kris Meeke and Ryan Farquhar, two of NI's most exciting prospects on the motorsport scene, are respectively aiming to take the mantle of ‘Kings of the Road’.
After qualifying with a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, Meeke joined Cumbrian M-Sport, the headquarters for the Ford World Rally Team, as a computer-aided designer.
Meeke was a relative latecomer to the sport, but the lure of active competition resulted in his winning a Peugeot competition for new rally drivers in 2000.
‘It wasn’t until I left University that I took an interest in rallying. I didn’t rally during my teens. The Peugeot challenge in the UK was my first taste of competitive rallying, so I suppose I was a sort of a late starter.
'I'm 26 now, which is still comparatively young in motor sport because you need the experience of the events. There's no short cut to that. You can’t buy it. You actually have to go out and do the event and become familiar with it. It's something that takes four or five years to build up.’
At the age of 23, Meeke began a trio of Championship victories that saw him claim the British Junior Rally Championship title in 2002 and 2003, as well as the British S1600 crown in 2003. He's now focused on a successful future in the FIA World Rally Championship.
‘My aim would be to win the Junior World Rally Championship and continue my deal with Citröen. They're keen on me and like my testing ability. I'm getting good feedback from the engineers. Citröen are a manufacturer with a long-term future in the sport.
'However, winning the junior world championship is no guarantee of success in WRC, as there are 10 other guys waiting in the wings for the same break. All you can do is try your best.’
The Dungannon speedster has proven himself as one to watch for the future, and former World Rally Champion Colin McRae predicts a bright future, saying that ‘Kris has what it takes to be world champion’.
Racer Ryan Farquhar from Killyman is at the peak of his career, winning no fewer than 30 National and 3 International Road Racing wins in the last year. Farquhar started short circuit racing in 1993.
This year he will race for the TAS Suzuki team, after spending last year with Kawasaki. It was one of his best years in the sport.
‘Last year I had 33 wins in total. It was my best year to date, and over the past 3 years things have been going really well for me. It has been an upward curve.’
After spending the winter testing bikes in Spain, running, cycling, and keeping his weight down, Farquhar is aiming to finally secure an elusive International Superbike victory.
‘I'm looking forward to working with the new team and new bikes. The testing in Spain went well and I was very happy with my lap times. I still haven’t won an International Superbike race.
Farquhar was crowned Duke Road Racer of the Year in 2003, and has been the Irish Road Racer of the Year twice.
‘It was nice to win the Duke Road Racer award as it's something you get points for at every meeting in every class in the British Isles'.
Farquhar, a former plant fitter, gives up his job 8 months every year, salary free, to race and prepare bikes for the season. During this period he lives from week to week on prize money.
‘It’s a fairly tough business. Your wages are your prize money. If you don’t win races you don’t get paid. My full-time job now is really racing. It’s a 12-month commitment and if you aren’t racing, you're sorting out things for the next season.’