SIMPSON TO TAKE FABIA TO RALLYDAY
Preston driver to give R5 first outing at Castle Combe Photos: Jakob Ebrey, FIA ERC, Roy Dempster, Pro-rally Photography
Neil Simpson will give the Skoda Fabia R5 another UK first when he debuts the Czechbuilt machine at Rallyday later this month.
Simpson – who retired from the Promenade Stages last weekend after clipping a kerb and breaking a strut ( see report on page 30) – had previously given the Fabia R5 a UK debut in the MN Circuit Rally Championship in November 2015.
He retired after a stone broke the radiator while leading the Neil Howard Stages at Oulton Park.
He will now head to Castle Combe for his next outing at Rallyday where there’s also a competiton running to score a passenger ride in the Simpsons Skoda.
“I’ve looked at local events like this [Promenade] and Rallyday for business reasons,” said Simpson. “Rallyday provides me the opportunity to take a number of commercial partners out in the car and I’m looking to take 10 to 15 guests and give them all a good day out in the passenger seat.”
The Preston driver began the year in the British Rally Championship but a string of retirements hampered his campaign. A faulty pop-off valve curtailed the opener after just 400 yards of the opening stage on the in Mid Wales Rally. An off on the Circuit of Ireland followed before an eighth place finish on the Pirelli Carlisle. Simpson has since missed the remaining rounds.
Simpson added: “After an engineering project at work forced me to miss the Scottish and Nicky Grist rallies I decided it wasn’t worth continuing my British Rally Championship campaign this year.”
Ford Fiesta R5+ pairing Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson managed to couple speed with a display of sportsmanship on their way to winning Saturday’s Woodpecker Rally.
When close rivals and fellow Fiesta R5 crew Jamie Anderson/ross Whittock suffered a broken steering rack on the day’s second stage, the County Durham team loaned them their spare, setting up a closely fought duel in challenging conditions, where victory and defeat were separated by eight seconds. Significantly, Petch’s victory, his first at this rally, elevated him to second in the BTRDA Gold Star standings on dropped scores. But in terms of the series, his result was overshadowed by Charlie Payne, also Fiesta-mounted.
Payne – reigned in by navigator Carl Williamson – proved that knowing when to slow down can be as much of a weapon in a driver’s armoury as outright speed.
When his main rivals for the Gold Star title, Luke Francis and John H Roberts, crashed their Mitsubishi Lancer E9 out of the event, the Harrogate driver immediately reduced his pace and by finishing third, became champion with one round still to go.
This year’s Woodpecker Rally came at a crucial point of the season for those contesting the various BTRDA championships. In particular, pressure centred on Francis to maintain his championship challenge. Three maximum points hauls were tempered by two nonfinishes; another DNF would effectively ruin his title chances. By contrast, Payne had scored steadily throughout the year and had only one non-finish.
Last year’s winner, Anderson, led the field away from Ludlow Racecourse and into an opening loop of two stages; the tight, twisty Bringewood and longer, faster High Vinnalls. The predicted wet weather held off overnight but, with leaden skies overhead the inevitable happened; the rain arrived just as the top crews began the first test.
Francis grabbed the initiative, powering his way through Bringewood’s notoriously slippery hairpins and emerging with a three-second lead over Petch. Payne was third, five seconds slower having survived “a bit of a moment” at a tightening left-hander. Fourth-placed Anderson was hotly pursued by a gaggle of Fords: Callum Black/elliott Edmondson (Fiesta R5), Steve Simpson/patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000) and Paul Benn/richard Cooke (Focus WRC02), all covered by the proverbial pocket handkerchief.
But Francis’s early-day push came to nought on the next stage. Reports filtered through to Rally HQ that the Welshman had rolled in High Vinnalls, and the rumours proved true. Payne later reported spotting his rival parked at the side of the track and, he said, he knew straightaway what he needed to do to claim the BTRDA Gold Star crown: set steady pace and get to the finish.
With the lead now in Petch’s hands, he went quickest through High Vinnalls and, after first service, he kept up the pressure through the second loop, consisting of Hopton and Radnor, the day’s longest stage. Another leading time over Hopton’s narrow, bumpy terrain was negated by having to give best to Anderson in Radnor. “It was very fast and very slippery in there,” said Petch at second service. “The car started to get ‘floaty’ so we took it a bit carefully.” Despite his cautious approach his lead now stood at 19 seconds. Anderson overhauled Payne for second, and at second service said he felt at a disadvantage running first on the road the slippery conditions. “We will fit softer tyres for the last loop; it should give us better grip.”
RF1.0: Thomas Bayliss/joe Jones (Nissan Micra) RF1.4: Dominic Hodge/stefan Arndt (Nissan Micra) RF1.6: Richard Wells/calvin Houldsworth (Volkswagen Polo) 1400C: Gordon Alexander/anthony Litchfield (MG ZR) 1400S: Matthew Jackson/claire Williams (Nissan Micra) H1: Barry Jordan/james Gratton-smith (Hillman Avenger) H2: Simon Pickering/siobhan Pugh (Ford Escort Mk2) H3: Ben Llewellin/ Paul Williams (Ford Escort Mk2) N3: George Lepley/arwel Jenkins (Ford Fiesta ST) NR4: Richard Hill/steffan Evans (Mitsubishi Lancer E9) B10: Kit Leigh/tim Leigh (Ford Fiesta R100) B11: Mark Griffiths/ Matt Rogers (Ford Escort) B12: Phil Burton/ Mal Capstick (Ford Escort Mk2) B13: Shaun Gardener/ Ben Innes (Mitsubishi Lancer) B14: Stephen Petch/ Michael Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta R5+) Silver Star: Edwards/tomlinson Production Cup: Richard Hill (Lancer E9) and Andy Murphy (Lancer E9) Historic Cup: Theo Bengry/ Les Forsbrook (Ford Escort Mk2) Rally First: Wells/ Houldsworth ST Trophy: Lepley/jenkins MG ZR Rally Challenge: Alexander/ Litchfield Junior driver: Matthew Tordoff Junior co-driver: Matthew Walk (Suzuki Swift) Senior driver: Ian Joel (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) Senior co-driver: Mal Capstick Lady driver: Emily Retallick Lady co-driver: Jamie Lee Fox (BMW E30)