Tag Archives: WRC

Brits shine on Wet and Wild Rally GB

With their WRC futures on the line, Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans put in strong final round performances to finish their home event in 2nd and 6th position respectively.

Following the cancellation of the RAC rally, Wales Rally GB 2015 would turn out to be my final event of the year.  And after swearing never to sleep in the car again we headed to Mid Wales for the Friday and Saturday stages complete with the creature comforts of Dad’s new caravan!  Whilst the weather forecast looked bleak, there was an upbeat atmosphere surrounding the event with the genuine potential of both leading British crews featuring at the sharp end of the results.

DAY 1

Pleasingly Myherin had been reinstated to the Rally GB route and it was here that we headed on Friday morning.  Even more pleasingly, having arrived over three hours before the first car was due, there was no issue whatsoever in reaching our desired destination of Junction 24; just the small matter of a 5 mile walk up some very steep inclines to get there.  Never did I imagine that Dad’s decision to bring the Jet Boil in preference to his camera would make me so happy!

Shortly before the crews arrived we were delivered the news that Latvala had retired in Sweet Lamb.  The disappointment was short lived however as judging by the pace of the top crews, Ogier was not going to have things entirely his own way …

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And sure enough, Meeke and Mikkelsen were within touching distance of the Frenchman after the morning loop of stages;  Meeke performing incredibly well in the un-fancied Citroen to keep the young Norwegian behind.  Evans meanwhile was only 40 seconds back but would soon lose buckets of time with a puncture on the second running of Hafren, dropping the Welshman to 9th, and leaving a small mountain to climb in order to bring his Ford back into contention.

With three quarters of the event remaining however there was plenty of mileage for Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt to recover some of the deficit.  And in full expectation of a charge from Elfyn in the afternoon we made our way back towards junction 21, taking in the National crews along the way.  The Mitsubishi Mirage R5 of Jamie Jukes was particularly impressive through one of several painful hailstone showers which blighted our journey back up the stage!

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Having just about reached our desired location in time; a “short cut” over a fenced field not exactly helping, I was plagued, yet again, by the mountings of my 70-200 separating from the lens itself.  Fortunately it was great spot to watch the action unfold as the world’s best drivers launched their vehicles from left to right between the turbine laden hillside.

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DAY 2

Dyfi has long been a favourite stage of ours and it was here that we headed on a, as forecast, incredibly wet Saturday morning.  Thankful of a good nights rest we eventually made our way down to junction 18 after making several wrong turns in the early morning darkness and comically disturbing one particular Marshall’s morning relief; The chances of being disturbed at that ridiculous hour must have been slim to none!

The double Junction of 19 & 12 was our intended target but after some debate we instead opted for the top hairpin between junctions 13 and 14; and it turned out to be every bit the spectacle I had hoped.  Remembering to pack my electrical screwdrivers (something I had forgotten at Zandvoort) I was relatively pleased with the pics achieved too.

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The Brits in particular were quick through here, Meeke although losing time to Ogier, sitting just 15 seconds off the lead while Evans was back up to 8th with 5th fastest time on stage.  Meanwhile, under-performing super-rally returnee, Thierry Neuville had gone quickest in both Gartheiniog and Dyfi before ending his rally for good later in the day with a large off in Dyfnant.

Whilst rain was forecast I at least expected a couple of breaks in the downpour but instead it was coming down even harder by the time of the second run.  Having made our way back to a slight left towards the main Corris spectator area, it would not have surprised me to have seen Noah’s Ark first on the road but thankfully the likes of Ogier, Meeke and Evans were still in full attack mode.  Ogier was more flambouyant than ever before, clearly fearing what the super quick Northern Irishman could produce.

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The original plan of heading to Aberhirnant for the night stage had long been scrapped by the time we were back at the car following the passing of the National field; instead opting for home made stew, Stella, red wine, David Bowie and Scrabble!

But whilst we struggled to place words on the board, Ogier continued his strong run through Saturday’s foul weather to open up a 35 second lead margin by the time the cars reached the overnight halt.  Meeke however had done an incredible job in lets face it, inferior machinery, eeking out 25 seconds to Andreas Mikklesen, while Evans had climbed to 7th partially as a result of problems for Ostberg in the second DS3.

DAY 3

With just the Short Sunday leg remaining Ogier could cruise to victory.  And that he did, going on to claim what turned out to be a very emotional 26 second rally win following the horrific events in Paris on Friday evening.  As it happens managing to run the 36 kilometre leg at all turned out to be a minor miracle following the discovery of a skeleton, high winds and yet even more heavy rain!  Meeke however was able to battle hard against the troublesome conditions and keep a flying Norwegian, in form of Andreas Mikkelsen at bay; recording the best result for a Briton on Rally GB since the late Richard Burns took victory in 2000.

In what turned out to be a trying event for Elfyn Evans, the Welshman did however manage to claw his way back to sixth position overall by the end of the event following the demise of team-mate Ott Tanak.  Evans would however be left ruing his day 1 puncture, without which, 4th position was very much on the cards.  Surely both he and Meeke have done enough to secure drives in 2016, but unfortunately speed is not necessarily the deciding factor.

For us, despite the conditions, Wales Rally GB 2015 had been a good one.  Over the thirty years of attending Britain’s round of the WRC, the car control possessed by the fastest drivers in the world, combined with their commitment into the corners never fails to amaze me;  the speed carried through the fast section of Dyfi 2 will be one of those moments that sticks in the memory for years to come!  Roll on 2016, where hopefully the new October date will bring substantially better weather …

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Nicky Grist Win Blasts Bird into Title Contention

Paul Bird and Aled Davies ended David Weston’s BTRDA winning streak by taking Nicky Grist Stages victory for the second consecutive year; as a result putting themselves firmly back in the title fight.

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A Mammoth 169 car entry had been compiled by Quniton Motor Club for the 35th running of the Nicky Grist Stages rally, where David Weston and Kirsty Riddick were looking to claim their fourth consecutive BTRDA victory of the season.  However, the Scottish duo would face tough opposition in the form of 2014 victors, Paul Bird and Aled Davies, and 2015 Malcolm Wilson Rally winners Euan Thorburn and Richard Cooke.

While there was little to choose between the three main protagonists on stages 1 and 2, the longer stages 3 and 4 proved decisive.  In the space of 13.5 miles, Bird and Davies had leapt from third to first, taking a 19 second advantage into the Builth Wells service halt; the Cumbrian setting a particularly impressive time in Crychan to go 9 seconds quicker than anyone else.

Thorburn set about closing the gap straight after lunch with a very quick time in Monument reducing the gap to 15 seconds, but braking issues in Route 60 dropped the Scotsman to third; his push for victory fading as he sat 29 seconds adrift of Bird and Davies with just 2 stages remaining.  And while they were back in form on Halfway 2, ultimately the Amigos sponsored Focus crew would end the day on the final step of the podium.

Weston meanwhile was setting a strong pace over the afternoon stages; joint quickest on Route 60 promoting the championship leader to second while a sensational time in Crychan 2 secured the runner up spot.  Weston and Riddick ended the event just 14 seconds behind the winners; a story which may have been very different had they not lost 18 seconds to Bird over the first pass of Crychan and Halfway.

Behind, Charlie Payne, Stephen Petch and Jamie Anderson all started the day well; Payne and Petch joint fastest on stage 1 while Anderson claimed stage 2 victory to leave Payne and co-driver Carl Williamson in the lead of the event after the first pass of Route 60.  But while Bird set Crychan alight, Payne, Petch and Anderson began to lose touch; Payne sitting 24 seconds behind the Focus pilot at the Builth Wells service halt, while Petch and Anderson were 9 and 11 seconds further back respectively in 5th and 6th.

Whilst both Petch and Anderson were quicker than Payne on certain stages of the afternoon loop, their inconsistency ultimately allowed the Amigos Fiesta to wrap up 4th position.  Anderson had gone into the final stage just five seconds adrift of the Yorkshire man, but instead of challenging Payne, a slow time relegated the Mitsubishi driver back to 6th.  Petch had earlier fallen behind Anderson courtesy of a couple of overshoots in route 60, however 4th and 5th quickest times in stages 7 and 8 were enough to re-gain 5th by the time the cars arrived back at Builth Wells.

Further back, 10th overall would secure Dylan Davies and Llion Williams top spot in class B13, beating the older specification Subaru of Sara Williams and Mark Glennerster to class honours by 51 seconds.

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All this leaves David Weston and Kirsty Riddick sitting pretty at the top of the BTRDA points table with a whopping 173 points from their first 6 events of the season.  However it is not over yet as three wins for Bird over the final three events would guarantee the Gold star crown.

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Ever a close battle, the Nicky Grist Stages proved no different with the Mitsubishi Evo 9s of Roland llewellin, Tom Naughton and Patrick Naylor fighting it out for event honours in the top show-room class.

While regular front runners, Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy appeared off the pace, Roland Llewellin and Jamie Edwards were most defintiely not; recording 10th and 11th quickest times overall on the opening two tests to open up a 2 second class lead over the chasing pack.  And while Naughton was able to fight back in Halfway, Llewellin and Edwards were faster in Crychan leaving them returning to Builth Wells with a 3 second lunch time lead.

Llewellin was again quicker on stage 5, but Naughton took stage 6, leaving the pair separated by just 2 seconds with 13.5 miles remaining.  The great battle would however come to a premature end in stage 7 as Llewellin and Edwards left the road in Halfway, sadly bringing to an end what had been a great performance.

As a result the path was clear for series stalwarts Tom Naughton and Andi Mort to claim victory by 11 seconds from the chasing Pat Naylor and Ian Lawrence.  Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy meanwhile made up for their slow start to the event, recovering to claim third in class by the finish.

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After a morning battle with Tony Simpson, Ben Crealey and Phil Hall dominated class N3 in their Fiesta ST, climbing 22 positions over the afternoon loop to finish the event in 61st overall, taking class honours by 1 minute and 17 seconds.

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RAVENOL SILVER STAR

In a packed 2 wheel drive field it was the front wheel drive Citroen DS3 of Callum Black and Paul Wakely who got the better of their rear wheel driven rivals to claim the Nicky Grist Stages Silver Star honours.

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Rudi Lancaster had started the event well and found himself leading the Silver Star category after stage 1.  However a quick time for Black in Crychan left the DS3 driver with a 10 second lead at the the Builth Wells service halt.  In fact Lancaster, accompanied by George Gwynn, had an up and down day in terms of stage times but ended on a real high to jump from 4th to 2nd on the final stage of the event; claiming top historic honours in the process with 24th position overall.

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Meanwhile Black and Wakely were consistently the quickest 2 wheel drive machine over the second half of the event, taking 19th position overall and extending their Silver Star lead to almost 1 minute by the end of the rally.

Fourth place in the Silver Star section went to Max Utting and Mike Ainsworth in their Fiesta ST.  After a day long battle with the MK2 Escort of Boyd Kershaw, Utting and Ainsworth claimed class B11 honours after turning around a 27 second deficit on the final stage; Kershaw and co-driver Bryan Hull unluckily suffering from a double puncture on the longest stage of the event.

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It was all Ford affair in class B10, as Mike Harris and Steven Davey overturned a 10 second lunch time deficit to claim a 4 second victory over championship class leader Rhys Yates.  28th quickest time on the final stage, 7 seconds quicker than Yates, rounded off a great afternoons work for the Southern England based crew.

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Meanwhile, within the Historic cup, David Lloyd Roberts and Dei Jones defeated the fellow Escort crew of Neal James and Kevin Jones by 16 seconds to claim class H2; a lead grasped on stage 2 and never relinquished although a slow time on stage 8 somewhat narrowed the final class margin.

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And last but not least, Barry Jordan and James Gratton-Smith claimed top spot in class H1, bringing their Hilman Avenger home in a very credible 63rd position overall, a result that would have been even better but for a slow time on the final stage.

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KICK START 1400

Ash Slights and Alex Lee claimed a very well deserved first ever 1400 category victory on the Nicky Grist Stages, bringing their Toyota Yaris home in 30th position overall, 4th two wheel drive across the line.

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David Bennett and Alistair McNeil would have been many observers pre event favourites, however the Vauxhall Corsa crew were out of contention before the event had really gotten started, suffering from drive Shaft issues as early as stage 1.

Instead it was Dave Brick and Ryan Weston who mounted the main challenge, with both crews in front of the Yaris after 3 of the morning stages.  However, as with many of the classes, Crychan was the turning point as Slights leapt into the category lead with 24th quickest time overall.

From then on, the York man never looked back, setting fastest class time on all remaining stages to take 1400 victory by 26 seconds.  Weston in his Proton meanwhile had the beating of Brick’s Nova over the afternoon loop to claim 2nd in class and cement his place at the top of the championship points table.  This could yet turn out to be a very good year for the Weston family.

Fourth position overall in the 1400 class represented yet another fantastic result for Keith and Mairi Riddick in their 1400C specification MG ZR; the Scottish duo claiming class victory by a massive 2 minutes and 41 seconds!

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VITAL EQUIPMENT RALLY FIRST

Nick Carr and Joe Sturdy claimed overall rally first victory in their 1400cc VW Lupo, beating 1600cc class victors, Matthew Thompson and Charlotte Banner by 24 seconds.  Meanwhile John and Duncan Freeman claimed top spot in the 1 litre class with their Nissan Mica.

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RESULTS

1. Paul Bird / Aled Davies | Focus 07 WRC (B14) | 0:46:14
2. David Weston / Kirsty Riddick | Impreza WRC (B14) | +00:14
3. Euan Thorburn / Richard Cooke | Focus WRC02 (B14) | +00:27
4. Charlie Payne / Carl Williamson | Fiesta (B14) | +00:41
5. Stephen Petch / Ian Windress | Fiesta R5+ (B14) | +01:01
6. Jamie Anderson / Jon Scott | Mitsubishi WRC05 (B14) | +01:01
7. Dave Wright / Michael Wilkinson | Focus WRC01 (B14) | +01:19
8. Desi Henry / Liam Moynihan | Skoda Fabia S2000 (B14) | +01:26
9. Bob Ceen / Andy Bull | Impreza S9 WRC (B14) | +01:27
10. Dylan Davies / Llion Williams | Subaru Impreza (B13) | +02:07

FULL RESULTS

The Ludlow based Woodpecker Stages is next up for the BTRDA crews, where Bird must win again to keep the pressure on David Weston.  Having claimed Woodpecker victory in 2014, the prospects look good for the Focus WRC man …

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Thorburn Triumphant in the Lakes

Euan Thorburn and Richard Cooke put in a sensational afternoon drive on the Lake District based Malcolm Wilson Rally to convert a 15 second deficit into a 46 second winning margin.

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A 2.30am alarm was required for the long journey up to the Cumbria for round 2 of the BTRDA rally series.  The 40th anniversary running of the Malcolm Wilson Rally would see 118 cars leave the M-Sport based start to attempt 8 stages, covering 44 competitive miles, within the Whinlatter, Grizedale and Greystoke forests.

High winds and occasional showers greeted our mammoth climb to junction 7 of Comb for stage 2 and it was Paul Bird and Aled Davies who made the most of the tricky morning conditions; opening up a 5 second lead over Thorburn and Cooke on completion of the undulating Whinlatter forest tests.

Bird then continued his excellent start to the event, making full use of his local knowledge to register fastest time in both Thornsgill and Greystoke to complete a clean sweep of morning stage victories.  Thorburn was however able to keep the Cumbrian man in sight, and by the time the cars reached the first Penrith service halt the reigning Scottish champion was just 15 seconds adrift with more than half of the rally remaining.

Thorburn was using Paul Benn’s 02 Focus WRC for this event and maybe the Scotsman just needed the morning to re-acclimatise with this particular car, having used a similar model to claim the 2013 BTRDA and 2014 Scottish titles.  This seemed to be the case as an excellent drive through Grizedale North saw him take stage victory by 15 seconds before going better still in Grizedale South and registering a time that was a whopping 29 seconds quicker than anyone else to now lead the event by the same margin from Bird and Davies.

Stephen Petch and Ian Windress meanwhile had found a good rhythm in their Fiesta R5+ and joint second fastest time in stage 6 promoted them 3 places up the overall standings to 4th overall; now just 11 seconds behind the very rapid B13 Subaru of Jim McNeil and Tony Bassett.  Conversely, David Weston’s strong morning display, which had seen the WRC Subaru lying in third place overall, unravelled with a puncture in stage 5.  He and Kirsty Riddick however remained just 12 seconds behind the final step of the podium in fifth following the completion of the Grizedale loop of stages

While Bird’s victory hopes had faded, second appeared to be safe having secured a mammoth 1 minute and 17 seconds gap to third with just 8.5 miles left to run.   The fight for the final step of the podium however was most definitely on; now between Petch and Weston following the unfortunate retirement of Jim McNeil’s Subaru with an electrical gremlin.

Heading into the wet final stage, the WD40 backed Ford held a slender 2 second lead.  But try as they might, Petch and Windress could not quite match the 7 minute 30 second marker laid down by the Subaru of Weston and Riddick; eventually missing out on third place by a mere 4 seconds.  Weston on the other hand will have been pleased with third as even without the puncture, the top two would have been difficult to catch.

Upfront, Thorburn continued his total afternoon domination by claiming another impressive stage victory with a time that was 17 seconds faster than Bird to end the rally with a winning margin of 46 seconds.   His time in the wet afternoon running of Greystoke was a whole 21 seconds quicker than the morning test!  This had been some drive by the Berwickshire man.

There was little that Bird could do to defend his lead with Thorburn in this sort of form and so his search for a fifth Malcolm Wilson Rally victory will have to wait another year.  However the Cumbrian will be consoled by the fact that he has a healthy BTRDA championship lead after adding 28 points to the 30 earned from his Wyedean Rally victory.

CLASS B13

Luke Francis and Jim McNeil locked horns early on in the battle for B13 honours; Francis setting third quickest time overall in Revellin Moss, only for McNeil to go quicker in Comb and then Greystoke to take an 8 second class lead into the first Penrith service, with the Mitsubishi of Wayne Sisson and Fiesta of Andrew Gallagher lying 12 and 16 seconds further back respectively in 3rd and 4th position in class.

McNeil then dominated the two Grizedale stages setting 3rd and 5th fastest times overall to take a commanding 42 class lead into the final 2 stages.  Meanwhile, Andrew Gallagher, with Jane Nicol on the notes, had managed to haul in Francis and was now six seconds in front of the Welshman; a battle that would prove key given the demise of McNeil before the start of stage 7.

Indeed, Francis may have been able to cut the gap to just 2 seconds heading into the Greystoke finale, but 5th fastest time overall for Gallagher would ensure that he and Nicol would head back North of the border with class victory and a fine 5th place overall.

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In fact a slow time for Francis on the final test cost him second in class too; Wayne Sisson and Neil Shanks putting in a strong final stage performance to take the runner up spot in B13 with 6th place overall.

CLASS N4

Russ Thompson and Thomas Naughton were again the front runners in the top production class; the pair each taking 2 class stage wins on the morning stages, but with Naughton and Andi Mort holding a 9 second margin over Thompson and Andy Murphy at the first Penrith service.

As in other classes though it was the Grizedale tests that proved decisive; Thompson coming out on top and taking a 17 second lead into the final 2 stages.  While Naughton was quicker in both, the gap was just too big to close, leaving the Clitheroe man to wrap up his second BTRDA class win of the season with 7th position overall.

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CLASS H3

Matthew Robinson, with Kim Baker on the notes this time, put in yet another stellar performance to claim both the Historic and Silver Star honours on the Cumbrian event.  The Escort crew were kept on their toes early on by the evergreen Steve Bannister.  The infamous red striped MK2 however suffered from a puncture in Grizedale North, causing them to take a stage maximum as a result and ending any hopes of class victory.  That aside the Ripon man would have taken some beating; finishing the day in 10th position overall to take Silver Star honours by 1 minute 28 seconds and H3 by a massive 2 minutes 55!

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CLASS B11

You would not have believed Boyd Kershaw had been away from the sport for 2 years after he and co-driver Mark Fisher opened up a 29 second class lead after the first four stages.  In fact the Escort crew went on to set fastest time in class on all eight stages to take a comfortable 1 minute and 14 second victory over the front wheel drive Astra of Stuart Egglestone and Brian Hodgson; ending the day as second 2 wheel drive crew home in 14th position overall.

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The much anticipated pre-event duel between Yorkshire rivals Mat Smith and David Bennett unfortunately ended on the morning loop of stages.  Bennett, with Alistair McNeil alongside, had been lying 16th overall with a 10 second class lead before incurring event ending damage in the short Thornsgill stage.  This left Smith and Giles Dykes to take a comfortable 1 minute and 15 second class victory in their newly liveried Proton; but more impressively ending the day as third 2 wheel drive crew home, claiming 15th position overall in the process.

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Meanwhile victory in the 1400C class was again claimed by Keith and Mairi Riddick in their MG ZR, giving them a large championship class lead at this early stage of the season.

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CLASS B10

Class B10 was settled sensationally on a tie break after both Greg McKnight and Barry Lindsay registered the same overall time after 44 competitive stage miles.  In a fantastic battle that saw the class lead change 4 times throughout the day, Greg and Chris McKnight finally ended the day as class winners courtesy of their quicker stage 1 time.

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CLASS H2

Andy Kelly and Roger Herron came out on top of the all Escort affair that was class H2.  David Dobson had however been leading the class in his MK2 before an off in Grizedale South ended his hopes of victory.  Instead Andy Kelly picked up his pace as the day went on to take class honours by 47 seconds with 36th position overall.

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CLASS N3

Tony Simpson and Ian Bevan were guaranteed class victory with an event finish by virtue of being the only car entered in N3.  However a solid performance by the Fiesta crew was rewarded with 43rd overall.

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CLASS H1

Barry Jordan and James Gratton-Smith were holding a near 4 minute class lead when the only other H1 crew in the event, the Escort of David Thirlwell and Graham Reader, retired in Grizedale South.  Jordan and Gratton-Smith however beat several more powerful cars on their way to an excellent 44th overall.

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RALLY FIRST

Mick Quinn and Neill Cameron in their Nissan Micra got the better of Phil and Chris Spilsted’s similar machine to take RF1.0 class victory with 80th overall.

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Nick Carr and Joe Sturdy claimed RF1.4 victory with a winning margin of 2 minutes and 33 seconds to finish the day in a very respectable 55th position overall.

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While James West and Steve Eggington put in a strong performance to claim RF1.6 honours by over 3 minutes with 49th position overall in their VW Polo.

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RESULTS

1. Euan Thorburn / Richard Cooke | Focus WRC 02 (B14) | 0:45:55
2. Paul Bird / Aled Davies | Focus WRC 07 (B14) | +00:46
3. David Weston / Kirsty Riddick | Impreza WRC (B14) | +02:27
4. Stephen Petch / Ian Windress | Ford Fiesta R5+ (B14) | +02:31
5. Andrew Gallagher / Jane Nicol | Ford Fiesta (B13) | +03:12
6. Wayne Sisson / Neil Shanks | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (B13) +03:29
7. Russ Thompson / Andy Murphy | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) | +03:38
8. Luke Francis / John H Roberts | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (B13) | +03:40
9. Thomas Naughton / Andi Mort | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) | +03:48
10. Matthew Robinson / Kim Baker | Ford Escort MK2 (H3) | +04:50

FULL RESULTS

IN SUMMARY

To be honest I didn’t think anyone would have the beating of Paul Bird in his own back yard but Thorburn’s afternoon charge was simply breathtaking and hopefully he will be making a few more appearances south of the border in 2015;  a major highlight from a great day following yet another well run BTRDA event.

We just about made it to three stages, having almost been turned away from Greystoke due to the car parks being jam packed.  I am not sure I have ever seen so many people in there and for the first time ever I actually enjoyed the stage.  A significant amount of tree felling and surface changes since our last visit has completely transformed the viewing.  Clearly charging a mere £5 for parking works and is most definitely the right way to get spectators to park where you want them to.

After a full days action it was gone Midnight before I arrived back in Birmingham; the 21.5 hour day probably the longest period of time I have gone without sleep since last years Le Mans.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely!

The next rally for me is most likely to be the Pirelli in late April although I may yet be tempted by Rally North Wales …

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Bird Storms to 40th Anniversary Wyedean Win

Paul Bird and Aled Davies put in a dominant Wyedean Forest Rally performance; winning five of the eight stages to claim victory on the opening round of the BTRDA rally championship season.

BirdA huge entry had been assembled for the 40th anniversary Wyedean Forest Rally including 4 previous winners.  However with both the 2013 and 2014 victors missing from the list it was last years BTRDA championship runner up Paul Bird, together with title winning Co-driver Aled Davies, who lead the crews away from the Chepstow rally base.  The organisers had done a great job in finding an 8 stage, 43 mile competitive route with zero double usage.

Speech House and Serridge were our destinations for the day; leaving extra time for the journey turned out to be a wise decision as the car parks filled quickly.  The early start also allowing time to reach the very entertaining open 90 left at junction 16 of stage 2.

While a ‘suspect’ time for Charlie Payne saw the previous winner take an 11 second margin into stage 2, it was Paul Bird who emerged from Speech House with a 15 second overall lead; the Cumbrian registering a time on the longest stage of the event that was 12 and 22 seconds faster than the chasing WRC imprezas of David Weston and Hugh Hunter respectively.

The Focus WRC pilot continued his early domination with another fastest time in stage 3 before David Weston, with Kirsty Riddick on the notes, was able to match him in Chepstow Park, pegging the lead at 21 seconds as the crews arrived at the halfway service halt.  The Scotsman’s time also quick enough to leapfrog Charlie Payne into second position overall.

The trends of the morning appeared to be carrying on after lunch as Bird and Davies were quickest again in the short Yorkley stage.  However, unlike earlier in the day, Weston struck back straight away and claimed his first outright stage victory with a good run through Sallowvallets.

Hugh Hunter and Andy Marchbank meanwhile, in their Melvyn Evans Motorsport S11, were gradually re-acclimatising to the gravel; their increased speed as the day went on rewarded with fastest time on stage 7 by a full 6 seconds.  In fact they were 19 seconds quicker than Payne and Williamson in the Focus engined Fiesta which moved them up to 3rd overall, just 41 seconds off the overall lead.

After 2 stages without victory normality was then restored as Bird took the rally win in style by registering his 5th fastest time of the day on the Mailscot finale.   The winning margin ending up at 34 seconds after Weston lost 12 seconds in Serridge and a further 1 in Mailscot.  The Subaru man was however still quick enough to maintain second overall from the slightly older specification machine of Hunter and Marchbank.

Charlie Payne and Carl Williamson were the second Blue Oval crew home in 4th.  The Yorkshireman had started well but gradually slipped back as the day progressed, ending the event 1 minute and 6 seconds behind the eventual winners.

Nik Elsmore and Matt Edwards had a great run to claim B13 victory in the Matt’s ME Rallysport Evo.  The previous event winner was never outside the top ten in terms of stage times and claimed a mammoth 2 minute and 29 second class victory; moving ahead of Damian Cole and Jack Morton on stage 6 to end the day in a fantastic fifth overall.

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The immense group N battle of 2014 continued across the first 4 stages of the day with Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy trading times with the similar Evo 9 of Thomas Naughton and Andi Mort.  However a damaged crank sensor in Yorkley ended the latter crews day, leaving Thompson and and Murphy to claim a 45 second class victory over Pat Naylor and Ian Lawrence.

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Nick Elliott and Dave Price were in top form on their local event to take an incredible 12th overall, beating 4 WRC cars in the process!  The Cheltenham duo claimed both the Historic and Silver Star victories whilst even more impressively setting the 9th quickest time overall on stage 1!

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Just as impressive were David Bennett and Alistair McNeil in their 1400 Corsa.  After a difficult 2014, the Yorkshire crew started the year in the best possible manner; registering category victory and ending the day in an excellent 18th overall.  Ian Evans and Justin Brooks had been keeping them on their toes until Bennett went 12th fastest overall in both Serridge and Mailscot to claim top spot by a whopping 58 seconds.

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19th overall represented a great return to the event for 3 time overall winner Graham Elsmore.  Together with Stuart Harrold on the notes they ensured that the Elsmore family would need plenty of room in the trophy cabinet after claiming class B11 victory in their Rob Smith Rallying prepared MK2 Escort.

Elsmore Senior

Fellow local crew, Mark Griffiths and Will Rogers, were actually quicker on 5 of the 8 stages, however slow times in Speech House and Chepstow Park cost them a shot at class victory but still came home in a more than respectable 24th position overall.

While Elliott took overall Historic and H4 victory, further back, Jeremy Easson and Mike Reynolds claimed H2 with a brilliant 27th position and Peter Lewis took class H1 in his Mini.  The 240Z of Easson and Reynolds seems to be getting quicker and quicker with this result representing a great follow up to their 7th overall on last years RAC.

H3 meanwhile turned into a good battle between the Ford Escorts of David Dobson and David Lloyd Roberts and the RX-7 of Jake Scannell with just 4 seconds separating Scannell and Dobson at the half way point.  However the unique sounding Mazda was able to ease away over the afternoon stages to take class victory with 42nd position overall.

Scannell

Elsewhere, B10 was a good old front wheel drive vs rear wheel drive battle with the Ford Escort of Robert Smith and Frankie Hillman leading the Peugeot 205 of Thomas Lloyd and Sherryn Roberts at the halfway mark following quick times in Trelleck Common and Chepstow Park.  However Lloyd and Roberts dominated the afternoon leg to take class victory by 24 seconds with 48th position overall.

Lloyd

N3 was not a well represented class on the Wyedean but Geno Cook and Daniel Robinson put in a solid performance to claim class victory with 53rd overall.

Cook

Tim Phelps and Elwyn Manuel were the first B12 crew home in 55th position aboard their MK2 Escort, while Keith and Mairi Riddick claimed 1400C victory with 56th.

Riddick

And finally the 3 Rally First categories were claimed by Mick Quinn and Neill Carman, Morgan Handford and Richard Davies and Mick Smith and Calvin Houldsworth.

I have to say that this was probably the most enjoyable Wyedean Rally of recent years with committed crews throughout the running order, reasonable weather and for once good choice of locations.  Masses of fans flocked to this 40th anniversary event, in fact I have never seen so many people lining the stages of a national rally, which given some of the places onlookers were stood could be seen as both a positive and a negative!  And although the overall fight for victory was not as close as we have become accustomed to in recent years, the driving talent on display made this celebration event a more than worthy spectacle.

Next up is the Malcolm Wilson Rally in early March where Cumbrian, Paul Bird, will be looking to increase his Gold Star championship lead.  The 2014 winner will be a clear favourite for the win and the other crews will need to be on top form to beat the Focus pilot in his own back yard.  If the Malcolm Wilson and the remaining 2015 BTRDA championship events can attract an entry somewhere near the quality of the Wyedean then we are in for one hell of a national rallying year!

RESULTS

1. Paul Bird / Aled Davies | Ford Focus 07 WRC (B14) | 0:42:25
2. David Weston / Kirsty Riddick | Impreza WRC (B14) | +00:34
3. Hugh Hunter / Andy Marchbank | Impreza WRC (B14) | +00:43
4. Charles Payne / Carl Williamson | Ford Fiesta (B14) | +01:06
5. Nik Elsmore / Matt Edwards | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (B13) | +01:36
6. Damian Cole / Jack Morton | Ford Focus WRC (B14) | +01:49
7. Stephen Petch / Ian Windress | Ford Fiesta R5+ (B14) | +02:01
8. Peter Taylor / Andrew Roughead | Fiesta S2400 (B14) | +02:12
9. Bob Ceen / Andy Bull | Subaru Impreza WRC (B14) | +02:29
10. Russ Thompson / Andy Murphy | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) | +02:36

Full Results

For digital images, professional prints or any other requirements please email me at paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

WRGB 2014 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

My penultimate event of the year was a big one; heading to the forests of Mid and North Wales for Wales Rally GB.  My 29th visit and 18th in a row to the annual World Rally Championship finale may have bore little resemblance to my first taste of the “RAC”; confined to a small part of Wales as opposed to traversing the length and breadth of the UK in years gone by but there was however a lot to like about this years event.

Day 1

Tempted by Maesnant, but not by the required extra early start, we headed instead to the infamous Sweet Lamb complex knowing that parking would be less of a problem.  In fact parking was no issue at all, with an arrival 2.5 hours before first car buying us a third row spot and ample time for a cuppa!

Up over the top and the fast tricky section towards the old mine was our first point of call; the downhill section heading down the mountainside the scene of one or two large offs in years gone by including none other than the late great Colin McRae.

By the time the cars reached us, 2014 champion, Sebastien Ogier had already opened up an 8.9 second lead over teammate Jari-Matti Latvala.   The Finn however managed to pull back a couple of precious seconds on the Hafren Sweet Lamb test suggesting this was by no means a foregone conclusion.  The third VW in the hands of Andreas Mikkelsen though was already out of contention having damaged the suspension of his car following an off in Dyfi.

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The wet conditions of the morning were replaced with a dry and sunny afternoon; the blue skies a positive shock to the system as the cars headed back out of Deeside for the afternoon loop of stages.  Continuing to avoid “The Bowl” we moved to the hillside above the main spectator area to a very fast open 90 right which did not disappoint ….

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Whilst the two VW’s continued to trade times and pull away up front, the battle behind was really hotting up.  Mads Ostberg had held third at lunch, but was caught and passed by the Ford of the outgoing Mikko Hirvonen and Citroen teammate Kris Meeke.  And by the end of the day there was just 20 seconds covering Hirvonen in third and the sixth place Hyundai of Thierry Neuville, with local man Elfyn Evans not far behind in seventh.

Lengthly queues heading out of Sweet Lamb meant canning plans for Deeside, replaced instead by a stop for chips in Welshpool and an early night in Dyfnant forest.

Day 2

After a surprisingly good nights sleep and a bacon sandwich we made the long trek from spectator car park N to junction 18 of Dyfnant; the fourth stage of the day.

As the fog started to clear it emerged that Latvala’s chances of victory were over having become stuck in a ditch in on the mornings first stage of day, Clocaenog East.  This eased the pressure on Ogier as he now had a more than comfortable lead of 1m 10 seconds over Hirvonen’s Fiesta.

In part due to the Frenchman’s relaxed pace, Super-Rally returnee Andreas Mikkelsen set out to prove a point as he went on to set fastest time on all 4 of the morning stages.  Not that it meant a great deal though as he was left languishing in 52nd place and ruing his first stage mistake!  Latvala’s demise had allowed home hero Kris Meeke to move up to third overall, the Northern Irishman now just a couple of seconds behind Hirvonen.

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Unfortunately we would only see the top fifteen cars at a competitive pace through Dyfnant 1 as a result of an injury to a volunteer Marshall.  I hope he/she is well on the road to recovery.

With the break in proceedings we decided to head back up the stage to watch the National rally at a tightening 90 left.  It was good to see a wide variety of cars in the event, including the glorious Stratos of Steve Perez, taking part as a warm up for the highlight of my season in just under 1 weeks time (The RAC), and the awesome Vauxhall Firenza in the hands of Jimmy McRae.  The event turning out to be an all Scottish Mitsubishi affair with the victory going the way of Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy.  The podium rounded off by the similar machines of Andrew Gallacher and Barry Groundwater.

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It seemed a much longer walk back to the car following the completion of the stage by the National Rally competitors.  In fact it was an absolute monster of a walk and only left us with an hour to sit down before heading to Junction 13 for the second running of Dyfnant, this time in complete darkness.  The spectator area at this open hairpin right was a little limiting for photographs but the spectacle was still a good one.

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Stage 13, Chirk Castle, had seen a surprise winner in Henning Solberg and the second running of Clocaenog East brought a cheer from the home support as Kris Meeke’s stage victory moved him up to second place overall.  This would not last long though as Hirvonen’s fastest stage time in Clocaenog Main reversed the positions with the order subsequently remaining the same throughout the remainder of the day.

Elfyn Evans had had a great day behind the wheel of his Fiesta and was now lying in 6th place, just 8 seconds behind the Hyundai of Thierry Neuville, himself just three seconds behind the second Citroen of Mads Ostberg.  This trio had however been unable to match the pace of the immense fight for second place and were now 40 seconds further back.  Meanwhile Ogier had not taken a single stage win all day as the double champ casually went about his business, leaving his VW teammates to each take a stage victory on the final 2 tests of the day.

A rather uninspiring trip to Deeside followed, but did at least provide dad the opportunity to purchase the obligatory over priced merchandise!

Day 3

The thought of a second night in the car was not an exciting prospect and although we ended up in a nice spot by the side of Llyn Brenig in car park R we did have the misfortune of being only 5 cars down from the inhabitants of a white van/motor home who were adamant on keeping everyone else awake!  The “music” still going on when our 5am alarm went of!

At 6am, not entirely sure of where we were on the map we decided to head across the road into Alwen through car park S to junction 7, have a look at 8 and 3, but eventually end up at the tight uphill hairpin of junction 6.  Knackered we awaited the first car.

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While Ostberg set fastest time on both the opening Brenig and Alwen tests, home heroes Meeke and Evans were both closing in on their rivals.  Mikkelsen’s up and down rally on the other hand came to an end on the morning loop of stages, the Norwegian failing to make it to the end of the Alwen test.

With a significant amount of tree growth since the last time we visited Alwen, it was not the spectacle we remembered and so there was no alternative but to head back across the road and dam into Brenig for the second loop of stages. While dad couldn’t go further than the dam without a sit down, I somehow managed to muster the energy to have a look at the twisty section above junction 14 before finally settling on a very muddy slight right just after 13.  And fortunately the action here was good …..

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Disappointingly Meeke’s exceptional drive was now starting to unravel, a mistake causing the Northern Irishman to lose 51 seconds in Alwen and a further 44 in Brenig, dropping him to 6th by the end of the rally.   A slight excursion had caused damage to two tyres, and with just the single spare there was no alternative but to nurse the car through the remaining tests.

On a more positive note, Welshman, Elfyn Evans was rewarded for a great effort on his home event with a phenomenal 5th overall, setting some great stage times along the way.  I really hope he keeps his drive for next year.

Latvala was clearly focused after lunch; following up his fastest time in Alwen with ‘Power Stage’ victory in Brenig; a nice way to finish off his championship year but disappointingly only finishing the rally in 8th place overall. The spectators were robbed of any real fight for victory following his off on Saturday morning, which left teammate Sebastien Ogier to literally cruise to victory by 37.6 seconds.

With the VW’s being in a class of their own, Mikko Hirvonen will have been absolutely delighted with 2nd place; a great way to end his WRC career.  And Mads Ostsberg’s battling performance to third place was enough, when combined with Meeke’s 6th position, to seal the runner up spot in the Manufacturers championship for Citroen.  While Thierry Neuville was the first Hyundai home in 4th position which represented yet another mighty impressive performance by the Belgian; surely a future champion.

Further back, Ott Tanak finished a credible 7th in his Ford, while Martin Prokop finished 9th in his privateer Fiesta.  Hayden Paddon brought his Hyundai i20 home in 10th, while the flambouyant Robert Kubica was 11th.  Jari Ketomaa put in a strong performance to take the WRC2 victory with 12th overall in his Fiesta R5 and was rewarded with the runner up spot in the WRC2 championship.

With the rain starting to come down a little more persistently we made the long walk back across the dam to the car and surprisingly the car parks had cleared pretty quickly, allowing for a relatively quick journey home and time for that much needed toilet stop!

The Good, the Bad and the damn right Ugly

I decided there is no better way to sum up the rally than to categorise my views into these three headings:

Good

  • £65 for three days of world level motorsport is very good value for money.
  • The fantastic Marshals were much friendlier and more relaxed than previous years allowing for easier access into the stages.
  • Genuine variety of machinery at the sharp end of the field.
  • Nice to see a proper night stage in Dyfnant 2.
  • Full stage maps provided to the spectators via the event program!
  • The parking in the joined up Alwen/Brenig stages worked incredibly well.

Bad

  • Many will disagree but I am still not sure the current specification of WRC car is as exciting/breathtaking to watch as previous generations.  They definitely lack the grunt of their elder siblings.
  • A winning time of just over 3 hours, with no stage longer than 24 kilometres?  Call me old fashioned but a world rally championship event should be more about endurance than a sprint.
  • Parking in Dyfnant was a shambles.

Ugly

  • Sleeping in the car!  After what must be 20 previous occasions of doing so I will categorically never do it again.  There comes a time when a man just needs a good nights sleep and a clean toilet!
  • The amount of litter left around by some of the absolute scumbags that the WRC attracts.  The picture below is what was left by the very same people who kept us awake all night in the Llyn Brenig car park!

RallyGBMess

Whilst this was an enjoyable three days in Wales it was by no means the best Rally GB.  There is a chance that the memory of Jari Matti Latvala winning the Power Stage whilst also collecting his Christmas tree will remain long in the memory ….

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But it does not compare to seeing McRae destroy all opposition and stage furniture in Dyfi forest in 1997, the iconic images of the same man throwing battered Ford’s through the British forests in the late 80’s and early 90’s or indeed the absolute delight at seeing my sporting hero take the 1995 championship crown.  I am praying that one day our great sport will again reach these incredible heights but for now I am happy in the knowledge that in a health and safety mad world it at least appears to be heading in the right direction.

For digital images, professional prints or any other requirements please email me at paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

 

 

 

Stone wins as Tinn’s hopes go up in smoke

John Stone & Carl Williamson would leave Cadwell Park as victors of the 2014 TJS Self Drive Alan Healy Memorial Rally following a day long battle with David & Alice Tinn in the Millington powered Proton.  

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A stunning entry list convinced me that a return trip to Cadwell, following my first visit last year, was a necessity even after a couple of big names had withdrawn on the run up to the event.

Situated in the predominantly flat county of Lincolnshire, Cadwell Park, nicknamed the “Mini Nurburgring”, defies belief with it’s many changes in gradient, creating excellent views of the circuit wherever you should choose to stand.  Having been granted trackside access this year I decided to head to the Gooseneck / Charlies end of the circuit for the first 5 stages to make the most of vantage points not able to be reached in 2013.

Any thoughts of a fully dry day were soon washed away as the heavens opened just 20 minutes before the first stage.  Being a little ring-rusty, this being my first event in over a month; rain was not really what I had in mind.  It did however provide an opportunity for the spray to be captured on camera.

The downpour would not last though, meaning half the field would encounter a drier stage than the front runners.  And so It would be Tristan Pye and Stewart Merry who were quickest out of the blocks in the challenging conditions to take stage 1 victory; a great effort given the big hitting machinery seeded higher up the order.

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A damp but rapidly drying circuit faced the competitors for stage 2.  David Turnbull, winner in 2013 was unexpectedly caught out; losing control of his Impreza WRC on the run down to Coppice and spectacularly rolling following a backwards collision with the armco barriers.  Thankfully both he and and co-driver, Howard Pridmore, were able to walk away.

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This was not the only incident on stage 2 as a collision with the pit wall for the Renault Clio crew of Shaun McGonigal & Richard Winstanley would cause the stage to be stopped completely with the remaining competitors given a notional time.  It was pleasing to see that again both driver and co-driver were able to leave the scene unassisted.

By the end of the second stage 2 crews were starting to stand out at the head of the field, with John Stone and Carl Williamson holding a 12 second lead over the father and daughter Proton pairing of David and Alice Tinn.

Those expecting the WRC machine to pull away were in for a shock though as the grunt of the Millington powered Proton was more than a match for Stone’s Fabia.  And having dropped time on Stage 3 Stone and Williamson would find themselves 7 seconds adrift of the Tinn’s at the halfway mark with the Subarus of Karl Simmonds, Johnnie Ellis and Tristan Pye rounding out the top five.

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Martin Hodgson and Tony Jones were leading Class C in 8th, closely followed by Royston and Bridge Carey’s Clio in 10th.  One place further back in 11th sat class D leaders Andrew Bayliss and Chris Sharpe-Simkiss in their M3 Compact, who were making a mockery of their lowly seeding.

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Accidents and inclement weather aside it had been a cracking morning’s entertainment leaving a very close battle at the front to be settled.  With this in mind I headed to the opposite end of the circuit for the more conventional clockwise running of the afternoon stages.

And with two afternoon stages down the dual was really heating up; Stone taking stage 6 by 1 second and Tinn taking 7 by the same margin leaving the two cars still separated by just 7 seconds.  Could The Proton really keep the Legend Fires Fabia at bay?  Stage 8, the final of the short stages, suggested it possible as they both posted a time of 3 minutes 20 for the 3.5 mile test.

By now the crowd in front of the clubhouse had doubled in size with spectators eager to see who would come out on top.  One mistake over the final two 6 mile stages of the event could cost either contender the victory.

And so into stage 9 they headed with both crews flat out over the first lap of the circuit …..

…. but then tragically, on the second climb up the mountain, the engine in the high revving Proton let go, causing plooms of white smoke to emit from the bright yellow machine.  This was a huge anti-climax and a terrible end to a fantastic push for victory; the Knowledgeable crowd showing their appreciation with a round of applause for David & Alice’s efforts as they climbed out of the stricken car.

This left John Stone and Carl Williamson to cruise to victory by 1 minute and 14 seconds from the Subaru’s of Tristan Pye and Stewart Merry and Johnnie Ellis and Dave Green.   Alan Oldfield and Steve McNulty would bring the second Millington powered Proton home in 4th with Craig Pennington and Wayne Priest taking fifth.

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Away from the lead battle the star performers of the day were Andrew Bayliss and Chris Sharpe-Simkiss who finished a sensational 6th overall  and with it took the Class D victory by over half a minute in a not far from standard M3 compact.  Remarkably they set the second fastest time overall on stage 9!  Who knows what they could have achieved with a higher seeding.

Class C had turned into a front wheel versus rear wheel drive battle royale.  Royston and Bridge Carey tried everything to claw back the deficit they suffered to Martin Hodgson & Tony Jones’ MK2 at the half way stage, but ultimately ended up just 4 seconds in arrears with 8th overall.

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Class B would go the way of Andrew and Dennis Turner with 27th overall in their Citroen C2R2, with Class A being claimed by Ian Barnard and Andy Bull in their very rapid Vauxhall Nova.

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For the second year in succession I left the circuit with a smile on my face; a sign of a great days entertainment in my books.  There had been some fantastic looking machinery on display and some even better sounding; the Proton’s, BMW’s and the glorious 306 Maxi being my personal favourites.

There is just something about tarmac single venue rallying.  Maybe it is the all day action …. maybe it is the greater difficulty in capturing the action that makes obtaining a good image even more rewarding ….  One thing that is for sure is that I will be back at Cadwell Park next April.  If the entry list is half of as good as this year it will be more than worth it.

Results:

1. John Stone / Carl Williamson  44.00
2. Tristan Pye / Stewart Merry  +01.14
3. Johnnie Ellis / Dave Green  +01.20
4. Alan Oldfield / Steve McNulty +01.40
5. Andrew Pennington / Wayne Priest +01.52
6. Andrew Bayliss / Chris Sharpe-Simkiss +01.58
7. Martin Hodgson / Tony Jones +01.59
8. Royston Carey / Bridge Carey +02.03
9. Simon Chapman / Michael Calvert +02.06
10. Pete Gibson / Josh Davison +02.16

Full Results

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