Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Niall McShea won the final round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship [PCWRC] today, his first win in this World Series.

The Northern Ireland driver had been challenging throughout the Tour de Corse - Rallye de France and took well-earned maximum points after three days of gruelling competition.

Outright Championship honors went to Britain's Martin Rowe, the Subaru driver's third position enough to clinch him his first world title.

Mitsubishi drivers nevertheless filled seven of the top ten positions on the Corsican leaderboard.

The final leg of the Tour de Corse - Rally de France threw up yet more unpredictable weather conditions for the remaining 39 contenders, something all too characteristic of this Mediterranean island event. While the leg only included four stages to the south of Ajaccio, each was longer than 24 kilometres and the two 56.05 kilometre loops of two stages provided frantic action right up to the finish in Ajaccio at 14:30 hrs. Low cloud settled on the mountain peaks and intermittent rain not only made the narrow and tortuous asphalt stages exceptionally slippery, but made tire choice nightmarishly difficult. It was a stern test of driving skill and courage, but a feast for the thousands of spectators, sounding horns and waving banners, who trekked into the mountains to cheer on their heroes.

Northern Ireland's McShea produced an outstanding blend of speed and judgement to score his first victory in the Production class at World Championship level in his Lancer Evolution. It was a result that confirmed his potential and demonstrated that the Lancer is the ideal vehicle for the stars of the future.

"It's such a tricky place this, so I'm delighted with this result," said McShea. "We've worked really hard and it's been a real confidence booster. The car and the team have been great!"

Second and third positions went to Toshihiro Arai and Rowe respectively, the Japanese driver claiming two stage victories today, Subaru's only two wins of the event.

Behind them, Janusz Kulig finished the rally with a flourish, taking fastest times in the Production Car category in the final two stages to climb from seventh to fourth during today's leg. It was a fine performance from the Pole, who was competing in his first Tarmac rally in a new Lancer Evolution.

"It's been a tough rally for us and a fight from start to finish," he said. "It's gone well today despite the weather and it is good for us to finish the rally in a positive way."

Stig Blomqvist finished in fifth, while Belgium's Bob Colsoul retained sixth of the World Championship contenders in another Lancer Evolution.

Stanislav Griazine put in a fine performance in demanding conditions that reduced the 62 starters to just 34 finishers. The Russian Lancer Evolution driver finished sixth in Group N, although he was not registered for the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. "It hasn't been easy with all the rain and mud. You need to concentrate a lot and on this rally you can't afford to make a mistake. I'm glad we've finished," Griazine said.

Daniel Sola, who had been the star of the Production Car contenders, retired during the leg with mechanical problems. He nevertheless finishes the year as the top Mitsubishi driver in the series.

The 2003 FIA PCWRC has been a hard-fought series, with no fewer than 26 drivers from 18 different nations registering at the beginning of the season, 22 of whom scored points. Seven qualifying events took the crews from Sweden to New Zealand, Argentina, Cyprus, Germany, Australia and Corsica and competition was close from the outset. After years of total domination in this Production Car and Group N category, Mitsubishi was seriously challenged by Subaru and its drivers won five of the events, leaving Daniel Sola and Niall McShea to claim two victories for Mitsubishi in Germany and Corsica respectively.

The crews now have a long winter break before the 2004 FIA PCWRC resumes in February. Next year's series again includes seven qualifying events and in addition to Sweden, New Zealand, Argentina, Corsica and Australia, the crews return to real Mitsubishi territory in Finland and take on a totally new event in Mexico.

Picture credit: Mitsubishi.

 

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