Organiser: Chelmsford Motor Club When: January 31 Where: Brands Hatch, Kent Championship: Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship; AEMC; ASEMC; ACSMC Starters: 99 Stages: 8
An outstanding performance on a wet and oily track by Chris West gave the iconic Peugeot 306 Maxi a popular win on the GJM Brands Hatch Stages, as Ashley Field continued his strong push towards the inaugural Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship.
A recurring theme in the championship this year has been tyre choice, and nothing made that more difficult than an outbreak of rain early on Sunday morning. Those on wets soon had an added benefit though, as oil laid down on the track – the viscous fluid could visibly be seen on almost every corner of the Kent venue by the end of stage two – made the conditions treacherous.
But before the conditions could play a part, technical gremlins intervened for one of the frontrunners. Number one seed and previous event winner Jeremy Straker had an electrical fault which meant his Darrian was late to the start, incurring a 30s penalty. His day was turned into an extended test at the end of stage two thanks to a loose water pipe.
It was West and Field who laid down the benchmark on the first stage in Straker’s absence, with the front-wheel-drive Peugeot and rear-wheel-drive Darrian cancelling out the tricky circuit with times two seconds quicker than Ford Focus WRC driver Nigel Mummery in an ex-markko Martin car. Incredibly, the single-venue event boasted two ex-martin Focuses, as 2014 BTRDA champion Steve Perez was out in his Corsica- and Catalunya-winning car. However, Perez was struggling early on with what he believed to be a set of expired tyres, leaving him down in 11th on the first test. Joined by son Seb, Perez was promoted to the first car on the road after Straker was curtailed.
The second test proved the wettest of the day, and the crews struggled through the famous sweeping bends like Graham Hill and in the simulated hairpins set out for the event.
Despite so many powerful four-wheel drives taking part, Anthony Robinson blew everyone away to set the fastest time on stage two – in a Renault Clio. The similar Cup car of Steve Quigley, which is a regular in the championship, was third with Johnnie Ellis’s Subaru sandwiched between.
As the third test was due to get underway, there was a sharp sound in the service park which could only be a damaged gearbox, putting one of the most intriguing entries out. The day before the rally got underway historic rally ace James Slaughter had unveiled his Ford Fiesta R5 in a striking Tiger livery for the British Rally Championship, with the Sunday event scheduled as a test. It didn’t quite go to plan on the first two stages and the gearbox proved the end of a dismal day. European championship regular Marty Mccormack was in the co-driver’s seat for just the second time in his career.
Normality resumed on stages three and four following the giant-killing escapades of the mighty Clios as West again went quickest to extend his lead margin to eight seconds over Field, who was struggling with understeer and getting the Millington-powered Darrian to lay some of its might onto the soaking Tarmac.
With a second placed time on stage four, Field’s closest MN Circuit Championship contender James Sharrock was still in the running, 17s down on West in his Ford Escort Mk 2 – also running a Millington powerplant.
Stage four ended the second loop, which may have confused regular visitors to Brands Hatch as it was run anti-clockwise around the former British GP circuit.
With the track drying after the lunchbreak, the focus switched to the lead battle and whether Field’s Darrian – which has dominated events in the dry in the past – could reel in West.
But the Maxi and its crew were on song. A time three seconds better than Field on SS5 gave them 11s of breathing room, and the two tied on the next run through to maintain the same gap.
After that, it all fell apart for Field, who stalled at the start of SS7. He recovered to finish 24s down on West – and, vitally, held off championship rival Sharrock in third overall.
The front-running order wasn’t due to change as the top cars completed SS8, but the stage was cancelled halfway through when Jade Paveley put her Subaru up on its side after clipping the Armco at the circuit’s pit entry. The crew – with Sarah Alys Edwards co-driving – has been one of the highlights of the championship’s first season, usually cutting their seeding in half in their Impreza. They had been running 25th after being seeded 60th.
West was obviously delighted to hold off Field – who still hasn’t won an outright round of the championship despite being the quickest car on more than one occasion. He will be looking to the next round at Anglesey in March to right that wrong. Sharrock ended a brilliant day as first Escort home in third, with a recovering Steve Perez fourth and Steve Quigley a very impressive fifth.