JACK BENYON

“The MN series is a fun place to com­pete”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - Re­sults

Cas­cades in re­verse here Paul, small lift I reckon.” Clunk. Clunk. Si­lence. Gear­box, de­stroyed.

Last week­end I set about the task of nav­i­gat­ing Paul O’neill on his first ever rally. The Bri­tish Tour­ing Car race win­ner joined me in Paul Sheard’s lat­est Mazda MX-5 rally car at Oul­ton Park for the open­ing round of the MN Cir­cuit Rally Cham­pi­onship. With a proper se­quen­tial ’box, throt­tle bod­ies and next to no weight, the car is a great weapon for cir­cuit ral­ly­ing. At least in the dry. In the wet it can be a lit­tle tail happy. Un­for­tu­nately, the ’box let go on us just a cou­ple of miles into the first stage. But no hard feel­ings, ral­ly­ing can be cruel.

I was de­lighted with the level of com­mit­ment shown by ‘Owy’ in the build up to the event. In only my sec­ond event as a co-driver there was scope for er­rors. A prima donna rac­ing driver with an in­flated self-worth wouldn’t have helped. But Owy couldn’t be more the op­po­site. You lit­er­ally have to drag him away from any man and his dog from a chat, the man has 10 min­utes for every­one. Al­though his char­ac­ter should be called into ques­tion for say­ing nice things about me…

Back to the prep. O’neill showed up at 1400hrs on Fri­day – when scru­ti­neer­ing opened – and was there un­til gone 1800hrs. He wanted to know every­thing, how I was go­ing to de­liver in­struc­tions, what the cir­cuit lay­out would be like – the kind of prepa­ra­tion you’d ex­pect from a for­mer pro­fes­sional driver.

We even went to look at the wa­ter­splash at 1730hrs in the dark, which wasn’t the most en­light­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

One thing which did stop and make me think was a line O’neill gave to Spe­cial Stage TV pre­sen­ter Paul Wood­ford: “Even though we re­tired I won’t be go­ing any­where. The at­mos­phere here is bril­liant.”

And he’s right. There’s many rea­sons the MN Cir­cuit Rally Cham­pi­onship has been a great suc­cess. Mainly the hard work of the or­gan­is­ers. But a cham­pi­onship can’t be suc­cess­ful with­out good craic. There’s got to be en­joy­ment or any series will strug­gle. Paul and I both hung around all day and de­spite the weather not be­ing the warm­est, there’s no re­grets. All the driv­ers are wel­com­ing and en­joy your com­pany (at least the ma­jor­ity do) and there’s al­ways a laugh and a joke. Es­pe­cially when John Stone’s Leg­end Fires team is in­volved. We won’t talk about their pre-event video.

So, ral­ly­ing can be cruel, and on Satur­day, it was. But thanks to the ter­rific at­mos­phere around the Neil Howard Stages, the day wasn’t lost and there was still fun to be had. There’s al­ways fun to be had when O’neill is around. And I’m sure this won’t be his last visit to the MN Cir­cuit Rally Cham­pi­onship. Not if my per­sua­sion skills are up to scratch.

POS DRIVER

1 Kevin Proc­ter/der­rick Fawcett 2 James ‘JJ’ Yates/tom Wood­burn 3 Graham Cof­fey/vic­to­ria My­ers 4 Paul Swift/jes­sica Swift 5 Adrian Spencer/mark He­witt 6 David Turn­bull/si­mon John Rogers 7 Ian Wood­house/paul Row­land 8 Bruce Ed­wards/jim Smith 9 Wil Owen/rob Hopewell 10 Steve Quigley/peter Lit­tle­field

Or­gan­iser: Mal­ton MC and Clitheroe and Dis­trict MC When: Novem­ber 6 Dalby For­est, North York­shire Cham­pi­onship MSA English Rally Cham­pi­onship; North­ern His­toric Cham­pi­onship; ANCC Stage Rally Cham­pi­onship; ANCC North­ern For­est Chal­lenge; ANECCC; ANEMCC Stages: 6 Starters: 61

It’s been one of the bet­ter years in Char­lie Payne’s ral­ly­ing ca­reer. Mea­sured, cal­cu­lated, and above all else, rapid pace has given the York­shire­man many spoils.

Af­ter seal­ing the BTRDA Gold Star crown on the Wood­pecker Rally in Septem­ber, a win in the York­shire forests on the Track­rod fol­lowed. And last week­end, the sea­son was rounded off with an­other home vic­tory on the Mal­ton For­est Stages.

It was a wet, damp and slippy Dalby for­est that greeted the com­peti­tors, some of the worst con­di­tions on the rally for some time.

Through Stain­dale, Payne took 10s out of the near­est chal­lenger, with fel­low BTRDA man Stephen Petch the only real ri­val. The Ford Fi­esta R5+ driver has had a year to for­get – aside from win­ning the Wood­pecker – with his car hav­ing myr­iad en­gine is­sues. Again, he was down on power and suf­fer­ing from a mis­fire. There was no signs of it im­prov­ing in the next test ei­ther as Payne took an­other 17s.

Petch was in even more trou­ble as he wasn’t Payne’s strong­est ri­val on SS3, that man­tle went to Hugh Hunter. The Welsh­man was re­turn­ing to the seat of his Ford Fi­esta R5 af­ter fin­ish­ing in sev­enth place on the Track­rod.

Al­though Hunter is a for­mer Gold Star cham­pion, he didn’t show Payne a threat, and re­tired from third place on the fi­nal stage of the day.

In­stead, Peter Stephen­son gave his Ford Fo­cus WRC an­other re­spectable out­ing and a podium, hold­ing sta­tion be­hind the early lead­ers. The BTRDA reg­u­lar headed the ev­er­green and ever-im­pres­sive Steve Ban­nis­ter. The long-time Ford Es­cort pi­lot was top his­toric on the event by quite some mar­gin and beat many more pow­er­ful and four-wheel-drive cars. He was con­sis­tently in the top five in stage times, an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment given the qual­ity of com­pe­ti­tion not so far ahead.

Round­ing out the top five was Stephen Simpson. He’d com­peted in the Neil Howard Stages the day be­fore ( see rally re­ports page 17) and made the long trip from Tar­por­ley to Dalby for the event. Af­ter a sea­son of bed­ding in on gravel, the Ford Fi­esta S2000 driver got pro­gres­sively quicker through the day.

An­other Fi­esta driver fol­lowed Simpson home, for his best re­sult of the year. Steve Petch – fa­ther of Stephen – was field­ing his new Fi­esta af­ter only a hand­ful of events so far.

The drive of the day has to be saved for a look fur­ther down the or­der. In ar­du­ous con­di­tions, Char­lie Bar­low took 24th over­all in his 1400cc Nis­san Mi­cra, top­ping the class in only his fourth se­nior rally, with Dale Fur­niss on the notes.

The 17-year-old is the reign­ing Ju­nior 1000 cham­pion and raced Max Ver­stap­pen in kart­ing, but nei­ther of those things helped him on the tricky Mal­ton mud. He headed nu­mer­ous more pow­er­ful cars in­clud­ing R2-spec ma­chines.

Sam Bil­ham com­peted on the event, and wrapped up the MSA English Rally Cham­pi­onship in the process af­ter a hard year of com­pe­ti­tion in his Ford Fi­esta ST.

The York­shire driver sealed the seven round series with 29th over­all.

MN series is full of fun

BTRDA cham­pion Payne took vic­tory Mal­ton For­est Rally Sam Bil­ham se­cured MSA English Rally Cham­pi­onship in his Fi­esta

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