FORMER BTCC ACE MAKES RALLY DEBUT
British Touring Car race winner Paul O’neill will make his competitive rally debut in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship this weekend at the Neil Howard Stages at Oulton Park.
O’neill is a friend of Paul Sheard, who competes in the championship, and providing it is ready, will drive Sheard’s new Mk3 car with a Duratec engine and sequential gearbox.
O’neill often competes in circuit racing for Sheard in an MX-5, and will return to his local circuit and the home of his BTCC win at Oulton Park on Saturday for the Bolton-leMoors Car Club event.
“It will be a bit different to what I’m used to, won’t it,” said O’neill, who first went to watch a rally in the early 1990s. “The first thing I remember about rallying is Juha Kankkunen overtaking me in Wales. He was in a Celica Gt-four, best thing ever. I was sat in the back of a Peugeot 205 GTI, I must have been 13. You come alive when you hear things with anti-lag. I remember seeing Colin Mcrae and the WRC guys.”
More recently, the Widnesborn driver headed to Ireland when it formed part of the WRC with Rally Ireland.
“I also went to Rally Ireland. Me and Kane [Steven Kane, Bentley factory driver] went over to see his parents, that was an interesting weekend. I remember Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb in it and I thought ‘these guys are quick’. I’d not seen it for a long time and it reignited what I remembered about rallying.”
O’neill’s only experience of rallying in the driver’s seat was for a feature in MN. “Drivingwise, we went to Mark Higgins’ rally school and he sat in with me. It was a Group N Impreza and it had launch [control]. I was just understeering like a touring car billy. We’ll be doing something wrong if we manage to understeer this time!”
Paul Sheard has driven MX-5S in the series