SHAR­ROCK MAKES HIS MARK

MN CIR­CUIT RALLY CHAM­PI­ONSHIP RE­VIEW

Motor Sport News - - Front Page -

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

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