Pre­ston driver to give R5 first out­ing at Cas­tle Combe Pho­tos: Jakob Ebrey, FIA ERC, Roy Demp­ster, Pro-rally Photography

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By Jack Benyon

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)

Simp­son cur­tailed Bri­tish ti­tle cam­paign Simp­son re­tired on the Wir­ral last week­end

Petch was com­posed un­der pres­sure

Gar­dener took Welsh se­ries win Fran­cis is Welsh champ

Le­p­ley/jenkins took first ST Tro­phy win of the year

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