SHARROCK MAKES HIS MARK
MN CIRCUIT RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP REVIEW
After a first win just after midseason, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ashley Field was on his way to an inaugural Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship.
But after a stunningly consistent year, it was James Sharrock who took home the title despite lacking an overall win.
Both drivers were overshadowed on the opening round, the Neil Howard, as Sharrock had only competed on select events before the start of the championship. Field was debuting the Darrian T90 GTR+ with only one prior rally under its belt.
The season got off to a fanfare as a host of top entries including Neil Simpson’s Skoda Fabia R5 made a UK debut. It was another Simpson – Steve – who took the honour of the first championship win at Oulton in his Subaru Impreza WRC S12B in a series one-off, and another world car made the next round at Cadwell even more interesting with fan favourite and twotime British Rally champion Jonny Milner taking up the battle in his title conquering Toyota Corolla, although he could only manage second. He didn’t appear in the championship again.
The championship battle really started to take shape on the third instalment, the Rockingham Stages, as Sharrock stole second overall behind Cadwell winner David Tinn. Field had dominated the round and was on for a certain win, Tinn had admitted defeat and ruled out the chance of back-to-back honours in the Millington-powered Proton. But a wrong slot at a split meant the Darrian driver packing his bags and trailering the Darrian missile back to Mansfield. That being the case, former 205 Challenge driver Field came back stronger, and reeled off two consecutive second place finishes at Croft (Jack Frost Stages) and the Brands Hatch Stages to step into a lead that looked undeniable. A first overall championship win, at Anglesey in March, meant he was sailing to a title.
Only 2003 Le Mans winner Guy Smith in a Rally Gb-winning Ford Focus WRC at Croft and Chris West’s iconic Peugeot 306 Maxi at Brands could better the Darrian.
Sharrock on the other hand had a nightmare at Croft. A faulty oil pressure sensor meant he had to pullover and concede. “I thought the championship was over at that point,” says Sharrock with hindsight aplenty. “I didn’t have Stuart with me and that was always going to be a challenge from then on. After that we just tried to be consistent and after that we got quicker and quicker.”
Couple that unfortunate end at Croft with a third behind Field at Brands and a misfirey-fourth at Anglesey, it was almost a foregone conclusion for Field.
Anglesey was the round that best defined the MN Circuit championship’s first season. The championship was set up to cater for the crews wishing to do a series around the countries’ single venues. Most of the events were well populated in 2015 as individual rallies, but Anglesey ran with just over 30 cars in 2015. Fast forward a year and the championship filled the entry of over 70 with a little help from the Junior Formula 1000s.
In the lead fight, the tide would change at Cadwell where Field, leading the event, retired with a broken experimental driveshaft. Sharrock pounced and took second behind a returning Tinn to take a strong lead into the finale.
Despite winning the final round at Snetterton, it wasn’t enough for Field. The victory was bitter sweet in what could have been for he and co-driver Janice Moore, but still the duo had proved their pace and fine-tuned the car ready for trips to Ireland and Europe in late-2016 and beyond.
Sharrock was the real winner, in a car originally built for gravel, he and excellent co-driver (and full-time mechanic during the season) Stuart Faulds who’s somewhat of an Escort guru.
Pushing both drivers to the very end were Steve Quigley and Tom Hutchings. A gearbox issue at Oulton and a poor run at Cadwell meant their season took a while to get going, but consistent performances in their Renault Clio Cup car delivered an excellent second in the championship. The front-wheel-drive car had no right to be in the top three come the end of the year. Their results were enough to seal second in the Michelin Cup, as the French tyre marque offered prizes for running on its tyres. Quigley won eight covers as did while Sharrock – the Cup winner – who also took home a free entry to next year’s Neil Howard opener.
It was a season of consistency in the MN Circuit championship, and for only its first year there was plenty of positives for the series to build on. The idea of holding a championship for single venues was rewarded with strong entries even on events like Anglesey that have struggled in the past. Now the budding young organising team have to step it up a gear, and if 2016/17 is anything as good as the last, the MN Circuit Rally Championship will be well on it’s way to establishing itself as a future force. ■
Sharrock (centre left) topped the table Mummery headed D2 class Mairs was a worthy winner