Paul Bird, ably assisted by Aled Davies, became a serious title contender after taking his third BTRDA victory of the year on last weekend’s Woodpecker Stages Rally.
Round 7 of the BTRDA championship saw the crews head to Ludlow for six stages in the forests of Shropshire. The 2014 event would see the teams tackle Bringewood, Wigmore, Haye Park and Radnor with local knowledge usually key for a strong performance.
The stage of two halves that is Bringewood was where I headed; it being the only stage used in recent years that I had yet to visit. Having decided that the tight and twisty start of the stage was just too slippery, it was the very fast latter part where I elected to take in the action.
As the well known proverb suggests, it is the early ‘Bird’ that catches the worm and the Cumbrian driver most definitely made the best of the unexpected dark and damp morning conditions; noticeably quicker passed me and leaping into a 7 second lead over the B13 specification Evo 9 of Luke Francis and John H Roberts. Francis meanwhile maintained his exceptional start to the event by managing to hold onto second place through the 6 miles of High Vinnals; keeping the super high traction WRC machines of Steve Perez and David Weston at bay.
Perez, co driven by Paul Spooner, was back on the pace in stage 3 however. Fastest time through Radnor ended Bird’s monopoly of stage victories and allowed him to climb to second overall, in turn narrowing the lead margin to just 10 seconds. Weston on the other hand seemed to be struggling with the S12 Impreza and remained 4th, some 50 seconds behind Bird at the mid event service.
Behind, Alex Allingham and Chris Williams were leading an intense battle for Group N honours, with Tom Naughton, Roland Llewellin, Jamie Anderson and Russ Thompson all within 21 seconds of the class leading Impreza. This would be some battle over the remaining three stages.
The infamous full length Haye park test was first on the agenda after lunch followed by a single visit to Wigmore and the Radnor finale. All three stages gave ample opportunity for crews to improve their positions especially as the weather had improved significantly. Bird and Davies however carried on where they had left off and went on to win all three tests, taking a convincing 27 second victory over the similar Focus WRC of Steve Perez and Paul Spooner. Weston, co driven by Kirsty Riddick was much closer to the leading pace after service, but was unable to claw back all of the time lost to Luke Francis, leaving the Evo 9 pilot to take a fantastic third overall.
The group N battle continued to be hard fought. Jamie Anderson, with Jon Scott alongside, set a fast time in Haye Park to leap frog both Naughton and Llewellin. He was then able to take 5 seconds out of Allingham in Wigmore cutting the lead to 21 seconds as the crews headed back to Radnor for the final stage. And after taking a massive 18 seconds out of the the long time class leaders over the 10 mile finale they must have been left wondering what might have been.
In the 2WD section, local man Joe Price, re-united with Chris Brooks, made his long awaited return to competition in the newly built historic spec MK2 Escort. His flamboyant style had most definitely been missing from the stages as they sought yet another Woodpecker class victory. On the day however, already crowned champions, Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis proved just too quick for the Ludlow crew claiming the historic and silver star class victories by more than 1 minute.
In the 1400 category, the rapid duo of Mark Gamble and Steve Link made a one off appearance in their Suzuki Swift, hoping to take the fight to the BTRDA regulars. Although championship front runners Mat Smith and Giles Dykes took an early lead, Gamble was able to improve his pace as the day went on. And after Smith lost time with a puncture in Wigmore the two crews went into the Radnor finale tied on exactly the same time. Indeed momentum was with the Japanese machine and the little Ka could not keep up with the the now flying Swift leaving the Wolverhampton man to take a well deserved victory.
Smith and Dykes would still head back to Yorkshire with the maximum category score however as Gamble and Link were not registered for championship points; thus keeping their title hopes alive but needing healthy tallies on both remaining events.
Class-wise, Opel Manta man Jon Ballinger, paired with Mike Wilding, claimed B11 with 24th overall, whilst also winning the award for most sideways passed me in Bringewood.
Joe Price’s old ride came home 35th overall in the hands of younger brother Harvey. He and co-driver George Gifford claiming class B12 in the process.
Three places further back in 38th, Barry Jordan and James Gratton-Smith put in a strong performance to claim class H1 victory in their immaculate Hilman Avenger.
John Baker and Ian Jones would take the class H2 honours with 45th overall while B10 went the way of Vauxhall Nova crew James Hutchings and James Hood with 47th. And Sacha Kakad and Andrew Price would yet again claim top spot in N3 with 50th overall in their Fiesta ST.
On reflection it was nice to have a Woodpecker rally without the dust, but I would like to put in an early request for more sunshine next year! Whilst it was also good to tick Bringewood off the ‘to do’ list, it won’t be a stage that I rush back to. The second half of the stage must be great to drive but doesn’t present the same spectacle for the onlooker due to the over hanging trees that line the hillside route. The final couple of corners in Haye park on the other hand were great to watch, with Robinson being particularly impressive around the fast open right hander at Junction 18.
Rallying wise, next up for me is the Trackrod which just happens to be the next round of the BTRDA championship. Paul Bird now has 4 very strong points scores but must score well in the two remaining rounds to take the Gold Star crown. Chesterfield man Steve Perez is potentially in a better position as he could in theory afford a none finish while Petch, Weston Jnr and Francis are all still in with a chance of top spot. This title race could go all the way to the final stage of the Cambrian Rally in October…. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
1. Paul Bird / Aled Davies – Ford Focus WRC (B14) – 0:41.33
2. Steve Perez / Paul Spooner – Ford Focus WRC (B14) – +00.27
3. Luke Francis / John H Roberts – Mitsubishi Evo 9 (B13) – +00.59
4. David Weston / Kirsty Riddick – Impreza S12 WRC (B14) – +01.01
5. Alex Allingham / Chris Williams – Impreza N10 (N4) – +02.02
6. Jamie Anderson / Jon Scott – Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) – +02.05
7. Tristan Bailey / James How – Mitsubishi WRC 04 (B14) – +02.12
8. Tom Naughton / Andy Mort – Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) – +02.18
9. Wayne Sisson / Neil Shanks – Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) – +02.39
10. Russ Thompson / Andy Murphy – Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) – +03.01
11. Matthew Robinson / Sam Collis – Escort MK2 (H3) – +03.08
23. Mark Gamble / Steve Link – Suzuki Swift (1400S) – +05.38
24. Jon Ballinger / Mike WIlding – Opel Manta (B11) – +05.41
35. Harvey Price / George Gifford – Escort MK2 (B12) – +07.27
38. Barry Jordan / James Gratton-Smith – Avenger (H1) – +08.15
45. John Baker / Ian Jones – Ford Escort MK2 (H2) – +09.12
47. James Hutchings / James Hood – Nova (B10) – +09.12
50. Sacha Kakad / Andrew Price – Ford Fiesta ST (N3) – +09.28
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