Tom Hewick and Mick Johnson established an early Northern Historic Rally Championship lead with a comfortable class victory whilst Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson claimed overall Riponian Rally glory following final stage drama for Ryan Champion.
Having initially planned a trip to Mid Wales for the opening round of the BHRC, a more varied entry list, Gale Rigg and the promise of Thompson’s Fish & Chips saw us instead make the relatively short trip up North for the Riponian Stages Rally. It has been many a year since the event, jointly organised by Ripon Motor Sport Club and Whitby & District Motor Club, has used forestry roads as far east as Cropton and Gale Rigg and with a strong historic entry including marques such as Porsche, Datsun and BMW, it proved too good an opportunity to miss.
At the head of the field however, Stephen Petch, in his newly acquired Fiesta WRC would lead the cars away and it was he and Michael Wilkinson who would be spraying the after event champagne. Though it could have been a very different story had Ryan Champion and Craig Thorley (re-united with their 2006 BRC campaigned Evo 9) not suffered differential problems in the very last stage. Having held the lead all day, the Whitby man dropped to third; losing 20 seconds to the eventual winners following an altercation with a bale that would ultimately cause the Mitsubishi to complete the stage in 2WD!
As it happens Champion may well have struggled to keep Petch behind even without the drama as, after a cautious start, the WD40 liveried Ford crew had upped their pace following the Mid point service halt; setting fastest stage time on all 3 afternoon tests to take victory by 7 seconds from the very well driven Fiesta R5+ of Callum Black and Elliott Edmondson.
With a free entry to the RAC rally in November on offer to the 2017 NHRC champions there was much to play for in the forests of North Yorkshire. And whilst the usually front running Escort of Steve Bannister did not appear on the entry list it was another MK2 in the hands of Tom Hewick and Mick Johnson who proved to be the class of the field. Their day was however made somewhat easier when the Porsche of 8th seeds Tim Mason and Graham Wild caught fire in the very first stage but by setting fastest historic time on all but one of the 6 stages, Hewick and Johnson were able to claim Riponian Historic victory by a fairly comfortable 27 seconds, finishing the event in 9th position overall.
Quickest historic through the second running of Gale Rigg was in fact the glorious Datsun 240z of Jeremy Easson and Mike Reynolds and it was they who would end the day as closest challengers to the class leading MK2; the Datsun more than a match for the Ford on the long straights but perhaps losing out to the more nimble machine through the twisty sections of stage. Nevertheless, 2nd in the historic section and 11th overall represented a very good return.
Richard Lepley and John Connor were a more than welcome addition to the Riponian entry list in their Prepfab Porsche and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in the afternoon sunshine. Lying 5th at the halfway point behind Bob Bean’s MK1 Escort and the BD powered MK2 of David Goose, the Dukeries Motor Club man found more pace in the afternoon, passing Bean with quick times in Cropton and Gale Rigg and taking advantage of the gearbox enforced retirement of Goose and co-driver Caron Tomlinson; Lepley and Connor thus claiming a well deserved podium with 14th position overall.
Class H1 for the smaller engined historic machines would feature a good early battle between the MK2 Escort of Kim Gray and Tom Murphy and the Avenger of Keith Davison and Henry Richardson. Whilst the Avenger crew would steal an early 6 second march on their rivals with a strong time in Roppa it would be the Orange Escort which lead the class after stage 2. And from then on in Gray and Murphy never looked back; some very quick times in the afternoon landing them 25th position overall and class victory by 1 minute and 42 seconds.
Whilst the early pace of Davison would fade courtesy of engine problems which would ultimately lead to their retirement, another Avenger in the hands of Christopher and Roger Bown would end the day second in class; 33rd overall a fantastic result for the number 67 seeds (if not artificially low due to lack of recent activity). Indeed the Bown’s were in a close battle with the 1600 MK1 Escort of Stuart and Linda Cariss early on but a strong drive through Gale Rigg saw them pass the Ford pairing and open up a 24 second advantage.
Stuart and Linda Cariss in the end would have to settle for 3rd in class despite being 4 seconds quicker than Bown over the afternoon stages; another story of what might have been for the Husband and Wife crew.
Elsewhere victory in class C would go to Ross Brusby and Kevin Wilson with an excellent 13th overall whilst Mike Wolff and Mark Twiname would take class D honours with 23rd. Meanwhile, Barry Jordan and James Gratton-Smith would keep the 1600 front wheel drive machines at bay to record class B victory with a fantastic 15th overall in their Avenger and David Coatsworth and Chris Pattison would emerge on top of the battle for class A honours with 34th position overall in their MG.
Despite a high level of retirements and a relatively early finish this had been yet another excellent adventure into the forests of North Yorkshire. The mega prize fund offered up by Barry Jordan, combined with the price-hike in Welsh gravel entry fees will no doubt encourage further participation in the Northern Historic Rally Championship in 2017 with more competitors possibly tempted to concentrate on events in the Northern parts of the UK.
Which brings me to the question of why 2 forest rallies such as the Red Kite and Riponian must take place on the same day? Not only is this a strain on entry levels but will also have some impact on the availability of Marshalls. Whilst I accept that both events are geographically dispersed there are clearly some competitors who may have entered both. Throw in the previous day’s Snowman Rally and there is little wonder why both the Riponian and Red Kite struggled to attract more than 60-odd entries. Will the Red Kite be able to run in 2018 with similar entry levels? I fear not …
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)