FRANCIS BACK IN TITLE HUNT
Payne’s retirement saves Francis. By Simon Gronow
After a morning punctuated with minor issues, everything clicked into place on the afternoon stages for Luke Francis/john Roberts as they won the Nicky Grist Stages in their Mitsubishi Lancer E9.
After retiring from the previous round, it puts them in a challenging position for BTRDA Gold Star honours, and it also consolidated their Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship lead.
Competitors followed the same route of eight stages that the BRC competitors had used on day one of their event, with four forest stages in the Epynt vicinity all run twice.
On the first of these in Crychan, Julian Reynolds/patrick Walsh were 15 seconds quicker than everybody else in their Ford Focus WRC as 2013 winners Euan Thorburn/paul Beaton set second fastest time in their Peugeot 208 T16 R5. They were just ahead of Francis/roberts with the Mitsubishi man admitting to being half asleep.
Things were better for Francis/ Roberts through SS2 in Halfway, where they were seven seconds quicker than BTRDA rivals Charlie Payne/carl Williamson, who in turn, were two seconds faster in their Fiesta than Thorburn. As a result, the Mitsubishi driver moved into the lead as Reynolds dropped time with steering problems.
Having moved into the lead, stage three through Route 60 proved to be a disaster for Francis. “I didn’t get to grips with it,” he admitted, a stall on a hairpin not helping his cause.
Things would get worse on the following Monument test, when the dipstick came out, smearing the Mitsubishi’s windscreen with oil and reducing Francis’ vision.
Neither of the other early pacesetters benefitted from Francis’ misfortune. Thorburn retired his Peugeot with a cracked manifold, and Reynold’s Focus WRC suffered a broken radiator after collecting a large clump of Tarmac on a hairpin. As a result, it was Payne who moved into the lead, seven seconds ahead of Francis, with Stephen Petch/ Michael Wilkinson in third. The latter crew were ruing their tyre choice on their Ford Fiesta R5+, and planned to change them at service.
Fourth placed Paul Benn/richard Cooke found their Ford Focus WR02 to be ideal in the slippery conditions, and they were followed by the leading two NR4 crews. Never more than three seconds apart, Andy Davies/max Freeman’s Impreza was just 0.2s ahead of Russ Thompson/andy Murphy’s Mitsubishi at halfway. Davies had survived a big moment on the Monument test, whilst Thompson planned a change of tyres, with both promising a “big push” in the afternoon.
With neither Payne nor Francis making any changes to their cars, Francis got off to a better start, pulling back almost three seconds in Crychan 2, only for it all to go wrong for event leader, Payne, when his Fiesta retired with electrical problems on Halfway 2.
Fastest times on each of the final three stages meant Francis/roberts took a comfortable win, despite a brief excursion into a stage six ditch, and ensured that their BTRDA series campaign is well and truly alive.
The change of tyres worked well for Petch/wilkinson. “We’ve not been going fast enough for any incidents,” joked the Fiesta driver as the pair consolidated second place with a string of second fastest times.
A sensible approach paid dividends for Benn/cooke, who didn’t enjoy the afternoon stages as much, as they finished a fine third.
11 Wug Utting/ Bob Stokoe (Subaru Impreza N12b); 12 Brian Bell/jamie Edwards (Focus 07 WRC); 13 Boyd Kershaw/ Bryan Hull (Escort Mk2); 14 Bob Morgan/adie Williams (Skoda Fabia Evo VRS); 15 Daniel Moss/ Sam Allen (Lancer E9); 16 Phil Burton/ Mal Capstick (Escort Mk2); 17 Terry Brown/ Den Golding (Escort Mk2 RS1800); 18 Peter Smith/alan Walker (Impreza); 19 Theo Bengry/ Les Forsbrook (Escort Mk2); 20 Gareth Edwards/ Dylan Andrew (Vauxhall Nova). Class winners David Ginn/ Ryan Jones (Nissan Micra); Emily Retallick/ Eliot Retallick (Peugeot 205XS); Richard Wells/ Calvin Houldsworth (Volkswagen Polo); Neil Andrew/ Don Adams (Nissan Micra); Cameron Davies/ Lee Taylor (Ford Fiesta ST); Thompson/ Murphy; Chris Powell/jim Lewis (Talbot Sunbeam); Bob Vardy/ Simon Rogers (Ford Fiesta R2); Edwards/ Tomlinson (Ford Escort Mk 2); Mcgirr/ Mcgarrity (Toyota Starlet); Joel/ Wood; England/ England; David Forrest/jamie Forrest (Ford Escort Mk2); Bengry/ Forsbrook; Gordon Alexander/anthony Litchfield (MG ZR).
Unfortunately for Davies/freeman a broken ball joint on SS6 ended their day, and it was Thompson/murphy who took the NR4 honours. They finished in a commendable fourth place, ensuring an exciting championship battle on the final two rounds.
A change from their Historic-spec Escort didn’t cause Richard Hill/iwan Jones too may problems, as they reacclimatised themselves with four wheel drive as they finished second NR4 in their new Mitsubishi Lancer.
A pleased Martyn and Dawn England took a promising sixth place in their new Fiesta R5. “That’s the best we’ve been in the car so far,” said Martyn England, “I wish I’d put some new tyres on this afternoon now.” ■
Chris Hand/mark Rodway took victory on the 116 Targa Tracks at the very last moment.
They and the Ford Anglia crew of Mark Lennox/ian Beamond were locked in a day-long battle, well ahead of the rest of the capacity 90-car field.
Entering the 11th and final test Lennox/beamond led by 29 seconds. Hand/rodway took six seconds out of that lead on the test. However, more significantly, Lennox/ Beamond came to a stop at the test finish just short of the line and therefore picked up a 30s astride penalty.
This handed the victory to Hand/rodway by seven seconds.
The Anglia crew have now lost out on their first win on several events, most recently the Tour of Anglesey where they retired on the final section whilst in the lead.
Cadog Davies/reian Jones finished in a lonely third place, a position they’d held for most of the event.
To many onlookers, it will be of no surprise that Kevin Hansen is dominating the European Rallycross Championship this season with three wins from three starts. After all, he is the youngest son of the most successful rallycross driver ever, 14-time European champion, Kenneth Hansen.
It isn’t at all unusual for the offspring of successful drivers to compete and indeed succeed in motorsport but, while being the youngest son of a multiple champion and the younger brother of an accomplished and successful racer (World RX race-winner, Timmy) can open doors, it can add pressure too.
Despite carrying the family name, Hansen’s body language both inside and out of his Peugeot 208 Supercar never appears stressed.
While he is almost expected to succeed by virtue of his name, those who have followed his career as closely as I have since he moved from junior karting to junior rallycross in the British Championship in 2012, will be even less surprised by his form this season.
Just three years ago, Hansen claimed the British RX Junior title and since has won the RX Lites Cup on his way to Supercar. Yes, backed by Peugeot Sport he is driving arguably the best car in the Euro RX field, but he makes full use of it. At his home round of the series in Sweden earlier this month, on more than one occasion Hansen had to race in qualifying races where the track conditions were much wetter than for his rivals, who had raced in earlier sessions. He coped admirably, his neat and tidy style appearing almost slow from the outside, but clearly effective inside.
A good proportion of Hansen’s success can be laid at the door of British engineer Graham Rodemark, who has worked with the Swede since his British Championship days. Rodemark not only pushes his young charger when required, but his no-nonsense attitude also plays a vital role in keeping a rising star’s feet attached to the ground.
This season, Hansen is racing in the five-round Euro RX championship and select World RX rounds, where he has also shone. Hansen junior regularly matches and even beats his more experienced Peugeot-hansen stable mates (a certain nine-time World Rally champion by the name of Sebastien Loeb and older brother, Timmy) in a car that doesn’t have the very latest updates.
Yes, being ‘son of’ does open doors in motor racing, but Hansen is already his own man and on current form, will be challenging for World titles in the not too distant future.