Rally re­ports

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Jack Benyon Pho­tos: M and H Pho­tog­ra­phy

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.

Field was tidy in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions for podium spot GJM Brands Hatch Stages West was spec­tac­u­lar in his Peu­geot 306 Maxi

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