At last weekend’s Rally Portugal, Meeke and navigator Paul Nagle experienced a severe accident in their Citroën C3 WRC and were fortunate to escape unharmed.
Although the Northern Irish rally driver has won five WRC events with Citroën over the past three seasons, he has also had a number of crashes.
A statement issued by the Citroën Racing World Rally Team said: “Due to an excessively high number of crashes, some of which were particularly heavy and could have had serious consequences with regard to the crew’s safety, and given that the risks involved were unjustified by the sporting stakes at play, Citroën Racing WRT has decided to terminate the participation of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle in the 2018 WRC.
“The decision becomes effective from Rally Italia Sardegna [the next round of the WRC, which takes place on 7-10 June], and we will shortly be announcing the team’s line-up of crews for the remainder of the 2018 season.”
The French team’s boss, Pierre Budar, added: “This wasn’t an easy decision to make because it affects a driver and a co-driver, but it's largely founded on safety issues, which come under my preoccupations as team principal. We have consequently chosen to make this decision as a preventive measure.”
Meeke's axing appears to have come to a surprise to the driver himself, who said that he was "looking forward to the next event in Sardinia" in a Facebook post made just minutes prior to the release of Citroën's announcement.
After scoring his inaugural WRC victory with Citroën in Argentina in 2015, Meeke was signed on a three-year deal ahead of the 2016 season. It was a big break for the Dungannon-born rally man; although he had enjoyed a long association with Citroën, he had waited a long time to land a full-time ride with the factory team.
The plan was for 2016 to be a building year with the outgoing DS3 World Rally Car ahead of a switch to the new C3 WRC at the start of 2017 – but Meeke was dropped by Citroën for one rally midway through the 2017 season after a spate of accidents. He bounced from that disappointment by winning in Spain near the end of the year.
This year he was expected to be a title contender, but Citroën’s C3 WRC has not proven to be a consistent match for M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta, Toyota’s Yaris or Hyundai’s i20 Coupé. The French is currently fourth in the manufacturers’ points standings and Meeke exits the team in sixth place in the drivers’ standings.
Citroën’s other entries for Sardinia, for Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen, are unaffected by the decision. A potential replacement for Meeke is nine-time title winner Sébastien Loeb, who competed for Citroën's works team at the French and Mexican rallies earlier this year and is already slated to make a further appearance in Spain later this season.