Epic BTRDA ti­tle bat­tle con­tin­ues be­tween Fran­cis and Payne in Som­er­set.

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Jack Benyon

As the cars reached the cer­e­mo­nial fin­ish on the Mine­head Prom­e­nade, it was once again a straight fight for a BTRDA Rally Se­ries win be­tween Luke Fran­cis and Char­lie Payne. But it was Rhud­d­lan’s own Fran­cis who tri­umphed in an­other epic bat­tle.

At the fin­ish there was a sense of deja vu. In the open­ing round of the year, the Cam­brian, Payne ar­rived at a sim­i­lar coast­line in Llan­dudno as the win­ner, only for Fran­cis’ co-driver John H Roberts to query a time that gave them a sin­gle sec­ond. But that was all that was needed to di­vide them.

In Som­er­set last week­end it was tight again, and, for a mo­ment, the tim­ing screens couldn’t split them. When Fran­cis ar­rived at the fin­ish though, the re­sult was up­dated and de­cided in his favour, and it was Payne’s co-driver Carl Williamson who was query­ing a time – although with­out the same suc­cess of Roberts at the Cam­brian.

Sand­wiched be­tween was the Mal­colm Wil­son Rally the sec­ond round of the se­ries, An equally close bat­tle was un­fold­ing on the Mal­colm Wil­son Rally in March too be­fore a rod came out of the side of Fran­cis’ car and ended his rally as Payne won.

It was Fran­cis who was up in the open­ing Tim­ber­scombe test, and again in the first run through Croy­don as the Ex­moor forests proved mighty for the Mit­subishi Lancer E9 crew. The gap was eight sec­onds and with a host of shorter stages to come through the day, it was a fan­tas­tic start. Payne, how­ever, suf­fered a punc­ture. Only an ab­so­lutely rapid run through SS5 Knowle saved his morn­ing, with Fran­cis only fifth fastest through. That left the gap at just three sec­onds.

The par­al­lels with the Cam­brian con­tin­ued with an as­phalt stage for the com­peti­tors to sink their teeth into: the in­fa­mous Por­lock, run twice.

Un­sur­pris­ingly and in the same vein as the sea­son so far, they evened out. Fran­cis took three on the first stage, and Payne re­took that back on the next. Fran­cis ad­mit­ted to “scar­ing him­self” on the first run, with he and mul­ti­ple crews re­port­ing how slip­pery the loose-cov­ered as­phalt was. Fran­cis added that large parts of the sur­face are shel­tered from the sun and don’t dry out as quickly. That may have ex­plained his loss to Payne in the sec­ond run de­spite drop­ping only a sin­gle sec­ond on his own time through the first run.

De­spite a typ­i­cally dra­matic open­ing leg, there was also drama in ser­vice. The Ford Fi­esta of Payne and Williamson had broke an al­ter­na­tor bracket, and the crew didn’t have a spare. Payne de­scribed the prob­lem in his typ­i­cal laid-back fash­ion, but cred­ited the crew for their hard work later on as a com­pro­mise in­volv­ing drilling and metal wash­ers was forged, and the rally could go on for the sec­ond placed crew. Fran­cis still led by 3s.

In­cred­i­bly, the lead­ers con­tin­ued to trade hand­fuls of sec­onds, as Fran­cis stole 1s through the quick SS8 Ken­nisham test. Then there was two runs of the Char­got test to run through.

There was trou­ble for Payne on the first. He spun and stalled at a tricky sweep­ing hair­pin, which is also one of the most scenic spec­ta­tor ar­eas in a for­est any­where in the country. He must have pushed hard through the rest as the dam­age was only four sec­onds but, in his bat­tle with Fran­cis, it was an eter­nity. He lost an­other two on the next run of Char­got and the lead was al­most in­stantly up to 10s, with Fran­cis well and truly in the prime seat with three stages to run, to­talling just 10.59 miles.

The pair­ing tied on SS11 Croy­don, but Payne clawed back two sec­onds in Tim­ber­scombe. With only the short Knowle test to go, could the Fi­esta driver re­ally take 8s out of Fran­cis on the de­cider?

No. An­other tie – four min­utes to com­plete the stage – meant Fran­cis took an im­por­tant win af­ter re­tir­ing on the Mal­colm Wil­son. Payne holds a strong lead with two sec­onds and a first feather in his cap.

“The spin re­ally cost us,” ex­plained Payne. “But it’s all what ifs. We’ve scored good points to­wards the cham­pi­onship to­day.”

Fran­cis – com­ing off the back of win­ning Rally North Wales two week­ends be­fore – sits fifth, but that’s in­clud­ing his poor score from the Mal­colm Wil­son, which he can

drop at a later date. The bat­tle for this year’s BTRDA Rally Se­ries cham­pi­onship is well and truly on, and a lot closer than last year’s se­ries to boot.

The bat­tle for third be­came a lot more in­ter­est­ing with two stages to go as a punc­ture for even­tual podium fin­isher Karl Simmons stoked the fire. The man chal­leng­ing him was Mar­tyn Eng­land, in his re­cently ac­quired Ford Fi­esta R5 two-litre, de­but­ing the car in the BTRDA, and on gravel for the first time.

The car had suf­fered over­heat­ing brakes on its first out­ing un­der Eng­land’s watch on the Tour of Caer­went, and pre­dictably the crew eased into the run­ning. A sec­ond fastest stage time on SS4 was a sign of things to come, and when the rally hit the tar he was fastest for the first run through Por­lock. Simmons had built up a de­cent lead through the morn­ing, but af­ter the as­phalt runs it was down to 10s and Eng­land had despatched Rus­sell Thomp­son for fourth over­all.

On the sec­ond of the two runs through Char­got, Simmons as­serted his au­thor­ity in the Subaru Im­preza, ex­tend­ing the gap to 12s, but in stage 12 he hit a rock. Although it didn’t cost him time in that test, he be­gan SS13 not know­ing he’d picked up a punc­ture. The gap was nine sec­onds at the be­gin­ning of the stage, but it was 2s by the end af­ter just 3.70 miles. Simmons was lucky to hold on, but both crews were happy with their pace, par­tic­u­larly Eng­land in the R5 on gravel for the first time.

Thomp­son con­tin­ued his rapid but con­sis­tent pace with co-driver An­drew Mur­phy along­side. The duo once again took NR4 hon­ours and set top five times through­out the day, although they fell down the or­der in the af­ter­noon as more pow­er­ful cars came to the fore. Peter Stephen­son brought his Ford Fo­cus WRC home in fifth af­ter an­other con­sis­tent run, which also leaves him sec­ond in the over­all points. Paul Benn was go­ing strongly in the morn­ing and felt fine in the Por­lock as­phalt test, but the times didn’t re­flect that and he hem­or­rhaged time on those two stages. He took sixth.

Thomp­son was seventh un­til the fi­nal stage when an­other new car in the se­ries usurped him. Tom Pre­ston and Jack Mor­ton were de­but­ing the Skoda Fabia R5 – never seen in the se­ries be­fore – as they pre­pare for the dif­fi­cult chal­lenge of the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship in Carlisle later this month.

Pre­ston – pre­vi­ously seen in a Ford Fo­cus WRC02 car – bed­ded in nicely, with only a cou­ple of stalls in the morn­ing halt­ing his progress, mainly down to the switch of car. The Fo­cus would have pow­ered through hair­pins in sec­ond gear but the Fabia needed first, a les­son learned on the stages. A strong af­ter­noon over­seen by a man who used to watch over Colin Mcrae’s cars at M-sport – Martin Wilkin­son – yielded the seventh place fin­ish over­all and a very happy crew with added seat time in the car. The CA1 Sport-run duo only had a short test in the ma­chine the day be­fore at Hig­gins Rally School.

Sacha Kakad took ninth in his Lancer E10, with Andy Davies con­tin­u­ing his strong start to the sea­son to round out the top 10 spots.

Just out­side, an ad­mirable 11th from sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian Brian Bell in his Fo­cus WRC07 car – reigned in by co-driver Jamie Ed­wards, while Gavin Ed­wards/caron Tom­lin­son headed home Boyd Ker­shaw/bryan Hull for the first two spots in the Sil­ver Star cham­pi­onship in 12th and 13th over­all.

Photos: Writ­tle Pho­to­graphic

Fran­cis held on af­ter MW re­tire­ment

Pre­ston built up speed on Fabia R5’s first BTRDA ap­pear­ance

Punc­ture and a spin cost Payne/williamson chance at sec­ond

Eng­land nar­rowly missed podium on R5 2.0 de­but in the se­ries

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