Steve Perez and Paul Spooner ensured the BTRDA title fight will be settled on the final round of the series with victory on the Trackrod Forest Stages. Meanwhile fellow Chesterfield man Richard Hill, co-driven by Steffan Evans, was able to claw back all of the previous day deficit to take top spot in the Historic event.
The Trackrod rally, based in the forests of North Yorkshire, represented both the final round of the RAC Rally Championship and the penultimate round of a very tightly contested BTRDA season. The slightly longer Historic event starting on the Friday evening with two night stages in the Dalby forest complex.
First up was the longest stage of the event with 10.5 miles through the infamous Langdale test. And it was Steve Perez and Paul Spooner who shot out of the blocks and opened up an 8.4 second lead over championship rivals Paul Bird and Aled Davies. Local man Jim McNeil also put in a stellar first stage performance in his B13 Subaru, splitting the two Fiesta R5s of Stephen Petch and Charlie Payne. It would not last long though as a stage 2 off caused the York driver to take a stage maximum, sending himself and co-driver Tom Hughes tumbling down the order.
Meanwhile in the 1400 section a much anticipated tussle between David Bennett and Mat Smith was over before the cars reached Gale Rigg as Smith, co driven by Giles Dykes, broke a drive shaft following a trip into a Langdale ditch. They would manage to carry on but lost 8 minutes to their rivals as a result.
David Weston and Kirsty Riddick, having lost a significant amount of time to their rivals in stage 1, jumped 4 positions to 4th overall with stage victory in Gale Rigg (Stage 2); more than 5 seconds quicker than anyone else. It was a good stage for Steve Perez also as he increased his overall lead to 12.9 seconds. A 4.5 second increase in margin that was then effectively reversed following Bird’s first stage win of the day in neighbouring Cropton.
As in previous rounds, the Fiesta’s just don’t seem to have the outright grunt of their elder siblings and Stephen Petch, try as he might, could not keep up with the two foci in front, or the now charging S12 Impreza of David Weston; Weston claiming third overall from the SGP Motorsport machine following the Cropton test.
Bird found his rhythm as the day went on, taking his second stage win in Staindale to leave a 5.9 second margin heading into the Dalby finale. But whilst the Cumbrian took his third consecutive stage victory, Perez had done just enough to hold onto top spot, taking victory by a mere 3.4 seconds. David Weston rounded off a solid performance with 3rd overall, 25 seconds behind the leader. A what might have been story given the Scotsman lost over 23 seconds in stage 1.
Group N honours went the way of Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy who had the edge on Thomas Naughton and Andi Mort’s similar machine throughout the day, eventually taking class victory by 21.3 seconds and finishing a very credible 6th overall. Fellow Mitsubishi crew, Thomas Preston and Jamie Forrest claimed the B13 class victory with 9th overall while Martyn Hawkswell and Benjamin Cohen were the first rear wheel drive competitors home with 14th overall in the B11 MK2 Escort.
David Bennett, with Alistair McNeil alongside had set a blistering pace throughout the day in the 1400 category, eventually taking class victory by over 3 minutes with a mighty impressive 12th overall. Justin Lawson had been challenging early on but lost a wheel in Staindale causing retirement whilst also ending his title hopes.
15th overall was enough for Paul Street and Clive Hilton to take the historic class victory in their Ford Escort, with B10 victors, Kit and Tim Leigh, finishing one place further back. The Porsche Boxster of Ian Jemison and Dean Kellett was going better than ever on home soil, finishing 17th overall and claiming B12 honours in the process.
Championship wise, the gold star title is now a purely Ford Focus WRC affair with just the Cambrian Rally remaining. Perez currently has 167 points banked and can improve to 175 with a victory while similarly Bird can tally 176. Essentially whoever wins the final round will take the crown with various complicated outcomes should neither be on the top step of the podium. Luke Francis, David Weston and Stephen Petch are now all out of the running courtesy of the 167 banked total of Steve Perez.
It is mathematically a 4 way battle for the 1400 crown; Ryan Weston and Marcel Freling still in with a chance if Dan Gray and Mat Smith fail to finish well on the Cambrian Rally next month. Realistically though it is a dual between Dan Gray and Mat Smith; the odds stacked heavily in Smith’s favour with Gray needing to take maximum class points and have 3 cars between his 106 and the little KA to take the title. Smith’s impressive fight back on the Trackrod, resulting in a 21 point haul, may just be enough to take top spot.
1. Steve Perez / Paul Spooner – Ford Focus WRC (B14) – 41:08.0
2. Paul Bird / Aled Davies – Ford Focus WRC (B14) – +00:03.4
3. David Weston / Kirsty Riddick – Subaru Impreza (B14) – +00:25.4
4. Stephen Petch / Ian Windress – Ford Fiesta R5+ (B14) – +00:36.8
5. Charlie Payne / Andrew Roughead – Ford Fiesta (B14) – +01:14.2
6. Russ Thompson / Andy Murphy – Mitsubishi Evo (N4) – +01:58.4
7. Tom Naughton / Andi Mort – Mitsubishi Evo (N4) – +02:19.7
8. Pat Naylor / Ian Lawrence – Mitsubishi Evo (N4) – +03:31.3
9. Thomas Preston / Jamie Forrest – Mitsubishi Evo (B13) – +03:51.2
10. Steve Petch / John Richardson – Mitsubishi Evo (B13) – +04:19.7
There may have been no Stratos in the Yorkshire forests this year but this was more than made up for by an entry list boasting Ryan Champion in a Porsche, Julian Reynolds in a Fiat 131 and Ben Mellors in a Toyota Celica RA40; enough to wet the appetite of any enthusiast. With the early morning sun shining on a recently felled section of Gale Rigg there really was no better place to take in the action.
In similar fashion to the 2013 event, Matt Edwards, co-driven by Paul Morris, had been able to build a healthy lead of 14.9 seconds after the two friday night stages. Many competitors suffered problems however including local hero Steve Bannister, who went off the road and out of the rally in Staindale. Champion also had issues but was able to restart on Saturday morning under Super ‘Rally rules’ where he and Craig Thorley managed a stage victory on the Cropton test. Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis were another front running crew to lose time; an off in Staindale causing a time loss of over 2 minutes.
Unlike last year however Edwards was not able to maintain the top spot throughout Saturday’s four stages. Instead Richard Hill and Steffan Evans, having taken time out of them on every stage, snatched the victory on the very last test, winning the rally by just 7.4 seconds.
Behind, Tim Pearcey and Neil Shanks recorded some solid stage times on their way to a well deserved third overall with Category 2 victors, David Stokes and Guy Weaver finishing 4th in their Mk1 Escort. An impressive result given vastly experienced local man and class runner up, Warren Philliskirk, was over a minute behind.
Meanwhile category 1 victory went the way of Bob Bean. The evergreen MK1 Cortina pilot securing a winning margin of over 25 seconds by the end of the day.
Nevertheless, second in class was enough for Ray Cunningham to wrap up the title; greatly deserved as it is a long time since the UK rally scene has been treated to a Mini driven like that! I for one hope they return in 2015.
1. Richard Hill / Steffan Evans – Ford Escort MK2 (D5) – 54:41.3
2. Matt Edwards / Paul Morris – Ford Escort MK2 (D5) – +07.4
3. Tim Pearcey / Neil Shanks – Ford Escort MK2 (D5) – +01:10.9
4. David Stokes / Guy Weaver – Ford Escort MK1 (C5) – +02:17.0
5. Tim Freeman / Paul Williams – Ford Escort MK2 (D5) – +02:19.6
6. Warren Philliskirk / Nigel Hutchinson – MK1 (C5) – +03:23.3
7. Charlie Taylor / Steve Bielby – Ford Escort MK2 (D5) – +03:48.7
8. Chris Browne / Ali Cornwell-Browne – Escort MK1 (C5) – +03:49.9
9. Tim Mason / Graham Wild – Porsche 911 (C4) – +4:01.3
10. Andrew Siddall / Carl Williamson – Escort MK1 (C5) – +04:11.6
And so a big well done was in order for the Chesterfield rally community having produced both winning drivers. The annual trip to the North Yorkshire stages had been as enjoyable as ever, with the irritation of Midge bites and a split pair of jeans more than made up for by a fish and Chip tea at the one and only Thompsons! I really have no idea which way the Gold Star title pendulum will swing, but I am thoroughly looking forward to finding out on next month’s Cambrian Rally finale.
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