Niall McShea came through to secure his first FIA Production Car World Rally Championship win of the season on the Rally Ireland on Sunday, the seventh and penultimate round in the series.

McShea began the final day trailing Armindo Araujo by 26.4 seconds, but he brought himself right into contention on the very first stage, when he overhauled the Portuguese driver to take a slender 1.9 second lead into SS18.

Araujo responded in Fardross though to re-take P1 by 2.8 seconds, before cracking under the pressure in the penultimate test when he rolled out. That handed McShea the win on a plate and in the end he took the victory by 44.1 seconds.

"This has been an absolutely brilliant rally and thoroughly difficult! I feel very sorry for Armindo, even though I really wanted to beat him - he didn't deserve it after such a good rally," noted Niall.

"At the start of the last long stage we shook hands, both agreed we were going to go flat out and see what happens. It's fantastic!

"I really enjoyed it here, especially after patching everything together and I am hugely grateful to GT Exhausts, GT Xtreme and Kumho tyres, so I hope this has made all the hard work worthwhile!"

Gabriel Pozzo meanwhile took the runners-up spot, a result that keeps his championship hopes alive. He now trails Toshi Arai, who has already taken in his six nominated events, by 9 points.

"I'm back to life and not dead yet! It's been a fantastic rally and very, very difficult. I'm very happy with second on tarmac," he stated. "Now I just have to try and win GB and be champion again, although that will be difficult as I've never been there before."

Nasser Al-Attiyah, who isn't a fan of asphalt events, took the final spot on the podium, albeit more than 3.5 minutes further back. He made a cautious start and in the end his patience paid off as a relatively problem-free drive rewarded him with six points.

"I'm so happy with third," said the reigning PWRC champion. "It was very difficult but I've enjoyed it a lot and I'd love to come again. I'm not really used to tarmac but I'm really happy with the performance here."

Further down the order, Simone Campedelli was fourth in his Mitsubishi Evo, on an event he described as the most difficult of his career, while Stepan Vojtech was fifth, despite two punctures on day 1 and a spin on day 2.

"I am especially happy to have crossed the finish line on such a difficult rally where top drivers like [Marcus] Gronholm and [Manfred] Stohl had problems," Vojtech stated, "and to have scored 4 points is an added bonus. My thanks naturally also go to the team that did a perfect job."

Fumio Nutahara rounded out the top six, followed by 'wild card' runner, Colm Murphy and Phillip Morrow.

Morrow, on only his second WRC event, had a fraught start, but he kept plugging away and was rewarded with the last available point for eighth. He also posted a fastest time on day 2, when he won SS14.

"The event didn't start well for us but I was able to put the problems behind me and start day 2 with a clear head and a determination to improve my performance," he noted. "To claim a fastest time was a fantastic feeling for me and a massive personal achievement; this event has taught me so much."

Of the rest, Yassen Popov finished just outside the points' in ninth, while Stuart Jones and Alan Ring both utilised the SupeRally format to get to the end and finish in tenth and eleventh respectively.

There were five PWRC retirements in total and in addition to Araujo, Rally Ireland also claimed the likes of Andreas Aigner and Mark Higgins.

Aigner was running at the front of the pack and battling for the lead when he went off on day 1 in SS7.

Higgins then looked well set to take the victory until disaster struck on the final stage on Saturday.

Going into SS16 Mark was more than 30 seconds up on Araujo when a puncture caused him to slide off the road into a ditch only one kilometre before the finish, ending his PWRC title hopes.

"I can't believe it," said Higgins late on Saturday. "The mud had been really bad in the afternoon - and it was raining really heavily. We had a punctured tyre on the car and were caught out by a really slippery right-hander. That's it, all finished - and it was looking so good.

"We had a good lead and we weren't taking risks. This rally has been like that, though - it's exceptionally difficult."



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