After an 18-month sabbatical from rallying while working in the film industry, Mark Higgins came back with a vengeance to win the opening round of the Chinese Rally Championship.
Based in Chenzhou, the rally took place in searing 31C heat with high humidity on the Tarmac and gravel roads through nearby villages within 50km of the city.
Driving for Subaru Rally Team China and co-driven by Carl Williamson, the Manxman faced tough competition in the form of WRC regular Chris Atkinson driving a Volkswagen and Niall McShea in an ex-works Skoda Fabia S2000. Chinese celebrity and defending champion Han Han was Mark’s team-mate in an identical Subaru.
In the Chinese-built R4 spec Impreza, Higgins set fastest time on the first stage, a super special in Chenzhou Stadium in front of thousands of spectators.
Day two consisted of mixed Tarmac, concrete and fine gravel. After losing time on the first stage to McShea, Higgins fought back and the two continued to exchange stage wins. An inspired tyre choice saw him claw back the lead on the last stage of the day.
Unfortunately, McShea retired in the final service with a clutch problem; Atkinson having also gone out after an off.
With a healthy three-minute lead, the final day should have been a romp for Higgins, but two punctures coupled with a one-minute penalty for a late departure from service while sorting a brake caliper issue made it very tight.
But maintaining his focus, he set the fastest time on the final stage to re-establish his lead and take the win.
‘It’s been a great start for my return to China and I’m very happy to be behind the wheel of a rally car again,’ said Mark. ‘The team and car performed faultlessly. I’m now looking forward to round two in the desert region close to the Mongolian border in July.’