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Local hero Paul O’Neill to take on Oulton Park rally challenge

Friday, October 28 2016

Former British Touring Car Championship race-winner Paul O'Neill will make his rallying debut at home circuit Oulton Park next Saturday (5 November), when he takes on the Neil Howard Rally.

Widnes-born O'Neill, the half-brother of Spice Girl Mel C, was a BTCC fan favourite in the early 2000s when he raced for Vauxhall. He claimed two race victories in the championship, his first coming at the Cheshire circuit, which he celebrated in characteristically enthusiastic style.

Since his last full-time drive in the championship five years ago, O'Neill has become a BTCC presenter and commentator for ITV Sport, but still makes appearances behind the wheel. The most recent of these has led to his latest endeavour.

"I do a lot of driving in the MX-5 Supercup with Paul Sheard," O'Neill said. "Paul rallies a Mark I MX-5 and he asked if I wanted to do the rally at Oulton. I'd heard massively good things about it and I've never done a rally, so that's basically how it's come about."

Rally3O'Neill admitted that he'll be starting the rally with next to no preparation, however. "I've had two days off since the Brands Hatch BTCC finale for ITV, so I'm not expecting massive things. I say I'm there for a bit of a laugh but really I'm there to compete at the end of the day. I'm a racer and it would be good to see what a different format is like and what I get out of it - I can't wait!"

O'Neill will be joined by Motorsport News journalist and co-driver Jack Benyon for the rally, and admits that taking instructions will be a challenge. "If he's anything like my ex-missus, I think he might struggle," he quipped. "I've been trying out my distances and I'm not that good with them, to be honest, I can't distinguish 50 metres from 100, so I think I've got some work to do!"

Making his rally debut at his local circuit does at least give O'Neill some familiarity, even if the various stages will also include the paddock, access roads, dedicated rally stage and even a water splash.

O'Neill admits that Oulton Park is a special place: "I'm fortunate enough to have won at Oulton Park not just in MX-5 racing, but my first ever win in British Touring Cars as well, and I still remember it to this day. It would be very special to do very well there on a different course and a different format, but [the BTCC win] - I'll take that to my grave if I never race another car again. I love coming to Oulton for anything."

O'Neill will be joined by over 80 competitors in a huge variety of cars from humble hatchbacks to World Rally Specials for the Neil Howard Stage Rally. The event will also include GT86 Rally car drives and rides, children's entertainment, a Paul Swift stunt driving show and a huge fireworks display that will light up the sky on Guy Fawkes Night!

Tickets for the Neil Howard Stage Rally and Fireworks at Oulton Park on Saturday 5 November are available on the gate for £20 with free entry for under-13s. For more information please call 0843 453 9000 or click  here.