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Sitting in a car surrounded by fire extinguishers and a car dripping oil is not normally a good omen for Tony Green and I to be any chance of taking out the top placed international driver/co-driver pairing in the Chinese Rally Championship, but only three days later we would achieve this amazing result.

This engine meltdown was the second in short succession.  After popping an engine in the last rally in Longyou, this replacement engine had only done a further 50 kilometres before letting go in high profile circumstances on the official shakedown. 

Those who know Prodrive know their engines don’t just let go for no reason and our chief engineer, John McLean, tested our fuel against a sample kindly lent to us by Subaru Rally Team China.  It appears that our purchase of fuel from a now-defunct Chinese team, was contaminated.  With no other fuel option available to us, John McLean made the decision to use only the top two thirds of our fuel drums and hopefully avoid collecting the dirty fuel.

Our team boss, Mr Chen, kindly donated his well-lifed engine from his car so we could compete on the weekend.  I believe at this stage the car had already exceeded the 1200 kilometre re-build limit before we even started the rally so I didn’t even bother to study Sunday’s pacenotes, thinking the car would be unlikely to make it this far.

China knows how to put on a show and the super special is no exception.  Built at the last minute on over 150 acres of land, and with a newly completed 1500 seat concrete grandstand filled to capacity, and the surrounding hills filled with spectators, we managed fourth fastest behind Finland’s Jarko Mettinen, Juha Salo and then Aussie Dean Herridge…it looked like a Finland/Aussie battle at the front of the field.  I know Tony calls himself a Kiwi, but as is tradition, because he is doing so well, for now we will call him an Aussie. Naturally if he stuffs it up, he will become a Kiwi again!

Leaving the super special was a debarcle!  The people of Shao Wu are fanatical rally fans and the road was quickly blocked in both directions as rally cars tried to overtake stationary cars and spectators decided to do this in the opposite way.  It literally became an impromptu autograph signing session as thousands of spectators also made this journey on foot.  We did the usual signing of posters, t-shirts etc, but then it started getting a bit ridiculous once we started signing anything they could get there hands on, motorbike helmets, money, handbags, jeans, mandarins!? And even Chinese ID cards…I hope that is allowed!

Saturday morning Dean Herridge and Chris Murphy took out a second fastest time on the first stage and Tony Green and I took out the second fastest stage on the second stage.  After that, though,  it was the Finnish boys taking out the top two stage times on the remaining four stages of the day. 

The Finnish boys were in another league.  Juha Salo was first, leading his countryman, Jarrko Mettinen, also in an Evo9 by 36 seconds. A further 18 seconds back was Dean Herridge and then another 23 seconds back was Tony and I after also incurring a 10 second penalty for being one second late into the first time control.  To this day I still maintain I made it in on time to the first time control, but no amount of protesting was going to get this ten second penalty overturned.  I went to bed on Saturday night hoping this wouldn’t cost the team a podium.

That ten second penalty could be academic as on Sunday morning I overhead the team discussing “piston slap.” Those in the know are well aware of my mechanical ineptitude, but I know enough that the term “piston slap” is not the name of an American rap band, even more worringly as a co-driver, I could actually hear it.

The game plan for Sunday was changed slightly.  We figured if the engine was going to let go, we might as well make it spectacular and go for it and try and chase Dean down for the final podium spot.  The last two stages on Saturday we were only 0.4 and 0.2 of a second behind Dean.  On the first three stages on Sunday, the gap was only 0.2, 0.4 and 0.1 of a second, which is amazingly close on 15 kilometre stages.

All was to change on the following stage where we snagged a right front wheel on a hidden washout on a fast 8R.  This nearly ripped out the wheel from Tony and resulted in the front wheel being pushed against the guard.  That basically ended our chances of a podium, however after getting to the end of the stage, we noticed we were one minute ahead of Dean.  All was revealed as we left the control and saw Dean on the side of the road and the car with a huge amount of negative camber on the front wheel.  It appears Dean hit the same washout as we did, but with a worse result. It was really disappointing for Tony and I to see Dean and Chris out like that as we were really enjoying the fight.

With no chance of catching the Finns, we elected for a very safe engine map and hoped to get the car home on the final two stages content with our third place. Four kilometres into the final stage, we had Juha Salo’s co-driver, Mika, waving us down as their car was on its roof.  Again this is not the way we want to gain a position and we finished the stage with our first stage win of this event and second overall.

Better news was to come overall as, with Dean and Juha failing to score points on the this rally, it elevated Tony and I to the champion international driver/co-driver pairing for 2008, and if the rules had allowed, we would have had enough points to be the Chinese Rally Champions…the only problem is we are not Chinese so we don’t qualify!!

2008 has been an amazing year for Tony and I and the newly established Chinese team, FCACA.  This has all come about from a dream of a Shanghai businessman, Mr Chen, with a passion for cars and an amazing talent for picking an unknown driver, but who could see Tony’s passion and commitment for rallying.

After the first rally in Shanghai where we finished second, I proudly stated that no-one had heard of Tony Green, but he is going to be a huge talent in rallying in the coming years.  Thankfully, he has proved me right by winning the international driver award and taking me along for the ride to be international co-driver champion in China in 2008. Amazingly, he did this in a Cody Crocker-like drive without bending one panel all year, until he stood on the bonnet in his final victory celebrations!

Also I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr Chen and his team in FCACA for taking me on as their international co-driver. It was an awesome experience to be a member of the FCACA family in 2008, and hopefully this will continue for many years to come.
 

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