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After spending last year competing in the Chinese Rally Championship I have learnt to expect the unexpected and the Beijing rally was no exception.

Generally you expect the unexpected during the rally, but not necessarily before as was the case for Dean Herridge and Tolley Challis who were “kidnapped” by the Chinese authorities in a covert operation around midnight from their hotel and then taken back to Beijing to be isolated for seven days as they sat within 3 rows of a passenger allegedly infected with swine flu. I can only imagine how bored and frustrated Dean must have felt sitting in isolation while the recce and rally was being run. A Chinese motel is not the most idyllic holiday location and made worse by the fact there is no Foxtel!

This left Chris Murphy without a driver and while various mechanics offered their services, Simon Evans (who coincidentally came to China as a spectator), was drafted in to chauffeur Chris around for the weekend.

The drama kept coming with the mother of all mini cyclones only hours after we set up service park. What seemed like a couple of innocent rain drops turned cyclonic from the east. Fortunately we had a large brick wall (in the left of the photo) that shielded us from the worst of the storm. Ten minutes later the storm quickly died down and as we began the clean up, the wind came from the opposite direction. Realising we were fooled by being in the calm eye of the storm, we knew we were in a mini cyclone and with no protection from the storm now, the 'easy up' tent I was holding was lifted into the air, smashing into our spare rally car. Other teams were not so fortunate - as you can see by the red 'easy ups' in the background from our neighbouring team.

The rally in Beijing is a tarmac rally over 10 stages and the route takes you past the remains of the Great Wall of China. The roads are very similar in places to the Targa Tasmania stage “Cethana” yet have a distinctively Chinese character to them as you blast through towns dodging chickens, dogs and the odd local who are all content to stroll alongside the road oblivious to the rally.

Now to the serious part and from the outside it appeared this rally was going to be a Mitsubishi benefit with British driver David Higgins and the Finns Jarkko Mettinen and Jussi Valimaki topping the time sheets on the first stage. Thankfully, this was all that was needed to upset my driver Tony Green and we posted a strong time on the following stage to sneak into third place ahead Valamaki who was struggling with the setup of his car after doing testing on a go kart track earlier in the week. Once Valamaki rectified the setup from a go kart to a tarmac rally setting in service, he posted a couple of fastest times to close on the leaders.

Regardless of our setup changes or how hard we pushed, neither we or the other Subaru drivers, could match the power of the Mitsubishis.

The results at the end of day 1:

1. Jakko Miettinen / Tapio Suominen, Mitsubishi Evo, 9 59.03.7

2. David Higgins / Iuean Thomas, Mitsubishi Evo, 9 59.06.8

3. Jussi Valamaki / Marko Sailnen, Mitsubishi Evo 9, 59.21.7

4. Tony Green / John Allen, Subaru STi, 1.00.18.8

5. Han Han / Sun, Subaru STi, 1.01.07.3

6. Simon Evans/ Chris Murphy, Subaru STi, 1.01.08.1

This left Tony and I with little chance of catching third but also unlikely to be caught by our team mate Han Han and Simon Evans behind us, so we used the second day as an impromptu test session as this was Tony’s first ever serious tarmac rally.

Still, no matter how hard we pushed, the battle out in front was intense and the Mitsubishis were pulling a disheartening one second a kilometre out of the fastest Subaru times. The lead was being swapped between David Higgins and Jarkko Mettinen on each of the four stages and I was honestly expecting to see warning triangles out on the road as we drove the stages with a bent Mitsubishi in the trees, but full credit to all three drivers, they managed to keep the cars on the road.

Jarkko Mettinen took what seemed to be a comfortable 6.7 second lead into the last 17 kilometre mountain stage of the day but David Higgins had other ideas and posted a time 10.3 seconds faster to win one of the most competitive Chinese rallies by just 3.6 seconds.

For Tony and I, we have a few positives that we were the fastest Subaru and were able to hold out Simon Evans in another Subaru on both days in Tony’s first ever tarmac rally. Fourth place, however, is not the result we are after and will be working hard in testing to take the fight up to the Mitsubishis in the next rally in August.

Congratulations to our team mate, Han Han, who secured sixth outright and was the first Chinese driver home to back up his third Chinese place from Nanjing. He now leads the Chinese Rally Championship. (Foreign drivers are not classified in the Chinese Rally Championship).

Final unofficial results from my scoring:

1. David Higgins / Iuean Thomas, Mitsubishi Evo 9, 1.39.39.5

2. Jakko Miettinen / Tapio Suominen, Mitsubishi Evo 9, 1.39.43.1

3. Jussi Valamaki / Marko Sailnen, Mitsubishi Evo 9, 1.39.59.3

4. Tony Green / John Allen, Subaru STi, 1.42.10.9

5. Simon Evans/ Chris Murphy, Subaru STi, 1.43.06.1

6. Han Han / Sun, Subaru STi, 1.44.05.2

- By John Allen

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