After the opening leg of competition in Rally Australia, Niall McShea has powered his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution into second position in round six of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship.

The Ulsterman has steadily climbed into contention, setting two fastest stage times today, and sits 21.3 seconds adrift of overnight leader Martin Rowe in the Subaru.

Australian hero Ed Ordynski is once again proving his worth in similar Mitsubishi machinery and is the leading Group N driver overall, albeit not registered for championship points. He lays 16th overall, first of the non-World Rally Car drivers.

Rally Australia kicked off last night with the opening super special stage in the center of Perth but, in contrast to most recent years, Gloucester Park played host to this traditional crowd-pleaser. An estimated 12,000 fans packed into the city's trotting track, which has been redesigned into a dual-lane rally stage for the weekend, to witness the 49 crews power their cars around the floodlit track. This morning however, the action took the crews south of Perth and into farmland around Dwellingup for a further eight stages, before returning to the city for a repeat of the Gloucester Park stage.

Overcast skies and light rain greeted the crews early this morning and although this gave way to breezy sunshine later, conditions have been far from easy with inconsistent levels of grip over the often muddy and treacherous Australian stages. However it has been a day of flat-out competition during the longest leg of the event covering 142.75 competitive kilometers today.

Ulsterman Niall McShea completed last night's super special in seventh position but had powered into fourth by the end of today's opening forestry stage. A string of top stage times saw him gradually consolidate his position and from third of the Production Car contenders in the penultimate stage, he set fastest time in the final super special to overhaul Marcos Ligato and move into second position.

"I've actually been making a few small mistakes, but the car is working well", commented McShea, whose performance is all the more impressive being that it's his first time competing in Australia. "Maybe we'll soften the suspension now though, to keep the car in the ruts a bit more. It's really good though and I'm pleased".

Marcos Ligato set an electrifying pace from the outset, the Argentinean winning the opening super special stage in Perth last night. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver then went on to set fastest time in the first four stages today, pulling out a 44.7 second lead before losing time with a drive-shaft problem in stage six, which slashed his advantage to 14.8 seconds. Despite this set-back, the Argentinean held on to his lead until the end of stage seven, but was ultimately overhauled by Rowe in the following stage and then McShea on the super special, where he spun and dropped to third.

"It's been a difficult day because the stages are often slippery and they can be quite tricky", commented Ligato. "I'm pleased with our performance anyway, but think we are due for some good luck."

Reigning Production Car World Rally Champion Karamjit Singh lies hot on Ligato's heels, just 2.7 seconds adrift in his Proton, with 2003 series leader Toshihiro Arai trailing less than 10 seconds in fifth position. Joakim Roman is sixth, the Swede piloting one of five Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions in the top eight.

Spaniard Daniel Sol? has survived a tough leg in good shape to be seventh of the Production Car crews in his Lancer Evolution on his first attempt at a notoriously difficult rally.

"Everyone said that this was a rally that you must learn and I can see what makes it difficult", he said. "Still, we have been quite fast and the car goes well; I think we can still get a good result".

South Australia's Ed Ordynski already has a phenomenal eight Group N wins on this rally to his name and another masterly performance in the first leg suggests that he is well on the way to adding another in his Lancer Evolution.

"The stages have been pretty rough in places and we nearly hit a big rock on the long Stirling stage, but we survived and we've got a good lead over our main rivals now. I just hope it keeps going like this", Ordynski said.

Tomorrow's second leg of Rally Australia takes the remaining crews east to Mundaring for a compact leg comprising two loops of four stages, all based from the single service park at Jarrahdale, 70 kilometers south of the city. The crews then return to Perth for two runs over the Gloucester Park super special, rounding off a day of action that takes in 10 stages and 124 competitive kilometers.

Picture credit: Mitsubishi.



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