Organiser: Darlington and District Motor Club When: January 17 Where: Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire Championships: MN Circuit Rally Championship in association with MSVR; North of England Tarmacadam Championship; ANCC; ANECCC Stages: 8 Starters: 89
The first sub-zero temperatures of this unusually mild winter came just in time for the aptly named Jack Frost Stages at Croft Circuit.
Freezing conditions overnight and an odd snow flurry greeted the impressive cast, which had assembled for the fourth round of the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship in association with MSVR and they didn’t disappoint.
With top seed and ex-winner Tony Bardy a non-starter due to problems with his Ford Focus WRC on a previous event, it was left to the more modern version of Guy Smith and Patrick Walsh to uphold Blue Oval honour and, despite only securing a run as a reserve literally 48 hours before the start, they emerged victorious.
But it was by no means straightforward for the 2003 Le Mans winner. He was debuting the ex-charlie Payne car and he did set fastest time on the opening stage, complete with intermittent icy patches as a veil of freezing fog blanketed the Yorkshire racetrack.
Scotsman Alan Kirkaldy defied his lowly seeding to set second fastest time just four seconds back in his Ford Escort on SS1, with ANECCC winners Barry and Michael Lindsay third up in Steve Petch’s Mitsubishi, which they were using as their prize drive.
Smith extended his advantage as the fog lifted on SS2 as fancied runners Ashley and Fred Field found pace in their Darrian to stop the clocks second fastest and move up to fifth overall. The Escort Mk2s of Paul and Jessica Swift and Kirkaldy/ Garry Muir started a battle that would last all rally long, but for now, Kirkaldy held sway over Swift after SS2.
Smith was fastest on SS3, ahead of Field, with the Ford Focus WRC of Peter Stephenson/ian Windress third quickest and showing good speed at their local event. By SS4, most of the ice had gone and, despite temperatures hovering around freezing, track conditions were improving, much to the delight of Field, who clawed eight seconds back off Smith going into the lunchtime turnaround.
By now, Smith’s lead was at 25 seconds, ahead of the improving Field who, in turn, was 15 seconds to the good over Kirkaldy. Fourth was local stunt ace Swift, a further five seconds adrift, with Stephenson 11 seconds further back in fifth. Completing the top six was John Stone/tommi Meadows who were giving the Ford Fiesta S2000 (with a 2.5-litre Millington engine) a debut run.
With temperatures plummeting in the afternoon, Smith resumed his battle with Field and went fastest by a second on SS5 before Field responded to reduce the deficit to 22 seconds on SS6.
Behind these two, Swift and Kirkaldy were still hard at it and, after SS6, just four seconds separated the two powerful Fords, with fifthplaced Stephenson now coming under pressure from Barry Renwick/steve Dargan in their Proton.
As dusk fell, Smith knew the final pair of six-milers were going to be crucial and his plan was to protect his lead, but with ice now starting to form, that wasn’t going to be easy. SS7 saw him extend his lead to an important 30 seconds, as Field could only manage third fastest behind a rejuvenated Stephenson, who had hoisted himself up to fourth overall behind Swift going into the darkness of the final stage.
As expected, Smith took it relatively steady to emerge third fastest as Field claimed his third stage victory, but despite his gallant effort, he always knew the rally was Smith’s to lose in the latter stages in the four-wheeldrive Focus. The final deficit was 25 seconds.
Swift claimed the final podium spot exactly a minute further down, with the impressive Kirkaldy claiming fourth on countback having tied with Stephenson on times.
Renwick battled his way up to sixth spot, ahead of Stone, with the Subaru of David White/kurt Doane in eighth.
The all-renault Clio battle went the way of Steve Quigley/tom Hutchings in ninth.