McShea wins home event in Ireland
FIA World Rally Championship
2004 P–WRC Champion Niall McShea and co–driver Marshall Clarke (GB, Subaru) drove a brilliant rally and after a nailbiting battle on the final day with Armindo Araujo (P, Mitsubishi), McShea came out on top to score his first P–WRC victory of the season on the penultimate round of the 2007 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Rally Ireland. Gabriel Pozzo (RA) brought his Mitsubishi to the finish in second which was enough to keep his Championship title hopes alive, ahead of Nasser Al–Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) in third. The result means that Pozzo now heads to the final round of the season – Wales Rally GB – as the only title challenger to Toshi Arai, who, having not nominated to contest the event, will be watching from the sidelines to await his fate.

Andreas Aigner (A, Mitsubishi) won the opening Stormont superspecial stage in Belfast and set the initial pace once leg one stages proper got underway. But Championship contender Mark Higgins (GB, Mitsubishi) soon stepped up his competition and the pair traded stage wins, until an over–zealous approach by Aigner on SS7 saw him roll off the road while leading and out of the event. Higgins grabbed the lead and, having recently finished runner–up in the 2007 Irish Tarmac Championship, experience paid off seeing him clock five consecutive stage wins. But disaster struck on the last stage of leg two when a puncture caused him to slide off the road into a ditch only one kilometre before the finish, seeing all Championship title chances slip away.

Araujo, who had been sitting pretty in second from SS6, stepped up to the lead, heading into the final day with Niall McShea (GB, Subaru) only 26 seconds adrift and prepared to do battle. The duo traded seconds until the pressure caught the Portuguese out on the penultimate stage of the event, when he rolled out of the rally. McShea sat tight until the end and was ecstatic to take his first win of the season, recording the third different tyre manufacturer to win this season (Pirelli, BFGoodrich and Kumho).

Pozzo started steadily but reached third by SS7. He struggled slightly in the heavy fog during leg two and had a spin on SS11 but he kept a cool head, stayed away from the action at the top of the leaderboard and did exactly what was required of him for the Championship – to finish second.

Nasser Al–Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) eventually enjoyed his rally but the Qatari, who isn’t a fan of asphalt events, made a cautious start. He also came to Ireland after a five month break from WRC, but taking maximum points for the Middle East Championship on the Rally of Lebanon last week was clearly good tarmac practice for him, and his patience paid off as relatively problem–free drive rewarded the reigning P–WRC Champion with a podium finish.

Having recently won the 2007 Italian Gravel Championship, Simone Campedelli (I, Mitsubishi) was a bit out of practice on tarmac. He spun on SS6, damaging the exhaust and lost about 15 seconds, then like many other drivers, he overshot a hairpin on SS8 which caught him out. He enjoyed a battle during the first two days with Briton Stuart Jones (Mitsubishi) as the duo traded stage times competitive with each other, until a broken gearbox for Jones saw him drop down the order and the Italian continued confidently to finish in fourth on what he said was the most difficult rally of his career.

Stepan Vojtech (CZ, Mitsubishi) had a puncture half way through SS3 then stopped to change another on SS6. The P–WRC Ireland Round–up, page 2 of 7

first group of stages on leg two saw him struggling to find a rhythm with brake problems and a lack of confidence in his pace notes throughout the day, culminating in a spin on SS13, and although his performance felt better, the times weren’t coming. But he stayed out of trouble on the final day to finish fifth. Not a fan of asphalt rallies, Fumio Nutahara (J, Mitsubishi) drove steadily to begin with but unlike many of his rivals, trouble–free. Although he found the rally technically challenging on a surface he doesn’t have a lot of experience with, he was happy to score three points for sixth place.

Entered into the event by the organisers, Colm Murphy (IRL, Subaru) took the wrong tyres for the opening group of stages on leg one, hitting a fence and damaging bodywork at the rear. He had a spin on SS12 and hit a gate post on SS16, pulling off his rear spoiler and going into a ditch, resulting in a puncture. But he rounded his rally off by winning the final stage, bringing his Subaru home in seventh.

On his second WRC event, Philip Morrow (GB, Mitsubishi) had a difficult start to the rally with two spins and a puncture on SS2 and another puncture after hitting a bridge on SS3. He overshot a junction on SS8, losing 30 seconds when his rear wheels went into a ditch and the last group of stages of the day, already difficult with heavy fog, were made harder with a flashing light pod and a broken driveshaft on SS11 after landing heavily after a crest. The latter part of leg two saw luck go his way, as he set a first, second and third fastest stage time to pull him up the leaderboard to sixth but time lost with a puncture on SS17 saw the 24 year–old eventually take the last available point for eighth. Jasen Popov (BG, Mitsubishi) stopped to change a puncture on SS6 and spun after overshooting a junction on SS11, but he ran relatively trouble–free throughout leg two once the muddy roads had cleared slightly with the rain. Unfortunately a broken turbo on SS17 meant he had to run the final day with no boost, to finish ninth.

After Jones’ gearbox and clutch woes which pulled him down the order to 12th early on leg two, the Briton restarted the final day to simply get Irish kilometres under his belt, to eventually finish tenth.

Behind Jones who finished in tenth and on his first outing in a Mitsubishi, Guest driver Alan Ring (IRL, Mitsubishi) changed a puncture in SS6 and damaged the front left corner of his car going into a ditch, losing a minute and a half, and a wrong tyre choice for the latter group of stages on leg one also made progress tricky. The 2006 Irish National Champion made life difficult for himself by forgetting to adjust the differentials on at the start of leg two and his second day was eventually cut short with a broken rear differential on SS14, but he continued to finish his first WRC event in 11th.

Leszek Kuzaj (PL, Subaru) made a good start to his rally setting top three stage times but an off–road excursion on SS6 meant he restarted leg two with 25 minutes of penalties under his belt for not completing the rest of the day’s stages, but a broken suspension strut on SS13 saw him retire from the rally. Patrik Flodin (S, Subaru) had a disappointing start as he broke the brake pipe on SS3, a problem which has recurred through the season, costing about eight minutes and he took the wrong tyres for the middle group of the day on leg one. He had a great day on leg two winning three stages but a broken clutch on the final test saw him sidelined from the event.

1st – Niall McShea, Subaru Impreza WRX STi:
"This has been an absolutely brilliant rally and thoroughly difficult! I feel very sorry for Armindo, even though I really wanted to beat him – he didn’t deserve it after such a good rally. At the start of the last long stage we shook hands, both agreed we were going to go flat out and see what happens. It’s fantastic! I really enjoyed it here, especially after patching everything together and I am hugely grateful to GT Exhausts, GT Xtreme and Kumho tyres, so I hope this has made all the hard work worthwhile!"

2nd – Gabriel Pozzo, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
"I’m back to life and not dead yet! It’s been a fantastic rally and very, very difficult. I’m very happy with second on tarmac. Now I just have to try and win GB and be champion again, although that will be difficult as I’ve never been there before."

3rd – Nasser Al–Attiyah, Subaru Impreza WRX STi:
"I’m so happy with third. It was very difficult but I’ve enjoyed it a lot and I’d love to come again. I’m not really used to tarmac but I’m really happy with our performance here."

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