FOR­MER BTCC ACE MAKES RALLY DE­BUT

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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

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