Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Comeback kid Niall McShea shows class in China

Niall McShea

Niall McShea got his Chinese rally championship campaign back on track with a strong second place on the Zhangye Rally.

The former World production champion from Fermanagh, now driving for the Red Bull China Skoda team, finished just over a minute behind the Subaru of Mark Higgins and over eight minutes clear of the third-placed Li Wei, the leading Chinese driver, also in a Subaru.

It was an encouraging comeback by McShea who led the opening round of the series last month until clutch failure forced his S2000 Fabia into retirement.

Round two was held in the remote desert region of Inner Mongolia in northern China, close to the Tibetan border, and McShea and co-driver Marshall Clarke endured a "nightmare" eight-hour coach journey just to reach the start venue at Zhangye after flying in to Beijing.

"We were very happy to set second," said co-driver Clarke. "It was a tough rally, very hot conditions and very fast which suited turbocharged cars like the Subarus.

"It was good to get points on the board and we move on to round three which is a tarmac event close to the Great Wall of China."

The early leader at Zhangye was Finn Jari Katomaa in a Chinese-built SouEast but he was later excluded when he ran out of fuel and had to receive outside assistance.

Three-time British champion and former Ulster Rally winner Higgins took over in front with McShea in hot pursuit ahead of Australia Chris Atkinson in a FAW Volkswagen and Han Han, the current champion, in a Subaru.

Han Han, who is one of China's leading authors and the world's most prolific internet blogger with more than half-a-billion followers, later crashed out and Atkinson retired with engine failure on yesterday's final stage where McShea was fastest but still lost out to Higgins by 64 seconds.

The rally was suspended for a time on day two when a microlight aircraft hit power lines and crashed, killing a press photographer.

* Kimi Raikkonen is confident Lotus will be able to win again in 2013 provided they can maintain the level of performance they showed at the last race in Germany.

In the eight races since he opened the season with an assured win in Melbourne, Raikkonen has finished in second place four times, with his latest victory near-miss coming at the Nurburgring three weeks ago when he chased down Sebastian Vettel to the chequered flag.

"Obviously we are here to try and win races," the 2007 World Champion said.

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