“The MN series is a fun place to compete”
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.
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.