Niall McShea's chance to battle Kris Meeke
Two Irish drivers, former World production champion Niall McShea and reigning British champion Keith Cronin, have been called into the Proton rally team for the next round of the Intercontinental Challenge.
In a surprise move by Mellors Motorsport, the English company developing the Super 2000 Satria Neo for Malaysian manufacturer Proton, the Irish pairing have been drafted in for the Barum Zlin Rally in the Czech Republic starting on August 27.
Joining IRC champion Kris Meeke in the line-up, they will take over from Australian Chris Atkinson and Scotland’s Alister McRae who will continue to drive for the team in the Asia Pacific championship.
Team principal Chris Mellors says it is part of the development plan aimed at Proton taking a full part in the IRC series next year.
Fermanagh man McShea, the 2004 PWRC champion, first drove the Proton on last season’s Rally Ireland, running initially in a sensational third place before the car was sidelined by an electrical glitch.
He has continued to carry out some test work for a team which has encountered a number of setbacks during development appearances in the IRC although McRae finished second on the Scottish round last November.
Now Mellors has turned to McShea and the up-and-coming Cronin, the first Irish driver to win the British championship in over 30 years.
“I think everybody was impressed with what Niall did on what was pretty much the first time out for the Proton Satria,” he said.
“He’s since done some testing for us and we wanted to put him in the car for an IRC round. Zlin fits perfectly.
“And, when you're looking at an asphalt rally, it's hard to ignore Keith Cronin.
“He's the British champion and one of the hottest young talents around. His asphalt form is pretty sharp too, having just won the International Rally Isle of Man.”
McShea says he is delighted to get another opportunity to drive the car.
“I always felt there was some unfinished business after we ran so well in Rally Ireland last year. I've been busy testing and developing cars recently, so I'm feeling pretty much match-fit and ready to go,” he said.
Cronin describes it as “an incredible opportunity”.
“Obviously, it's quite different to the Group N cars I've been driving in the British championship for the last couple of years, but it won't take me long to get to grips with the Proton.”