Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

We had a fight. That’s all any of the fol­low­ers of the BTRDA wanted this sea­son. The pre­vi­ous year, Dave We­ston Jr had walked away with the Gold Star ti­tle, and, to be hon­est, was at a higher level than the com­pe­ti­tion. He wrapped the se­ries up three rounds early.

This year was the op­po­site. Hard charger Luke Fran­cis took on sea­soned cam­paigner Char­lie Payne. It was Rhud­d­lan v York­shire. Eng­land v Wales.

As to be ex­pected be­tween two feisty com­peti­tors, there was a bit of two and fro through the year, with both crews dis­con­tented at stage times be­ing queried on cer­tain rounds. But it was an ami­ca­ble fight, and one that showed both driv­ers step up in pace.

Fran­cis threat­ened what he’d have to of­fer at the end of 2015 when he de­buted his new Mit­subishi Lancer E9 on the Wood­pecker. Two podi­ums fol­lowed, and be­fore you know it, he was win­ning the Cam­brian to open this sea­son. It was won by a sec­ond when a time was cor­rected; the duo had fin­ished the 40-plus mile rally in ex­actly the same time.

How­ever, Fran­cis would lose ground on the next rally, which would leave him play­ing catch up for the rest of the year. A rod went through the side of the en­gine on the Mal­colm Wil­son Rally, putting him out. Payne took vic­tory on a wet and tricky event that caught many out.

Fran­cis re­acted well. Af­ter a push to get an en­gine sorted for the next event, he ar­rived in Mine­head to win the Som­er­set Stages, ahead of his Har­ro­gate ri­val. Pair­ing that with a podium on the Plains, his sea­son ap­peared to be back on track while Payne’s was stut­ter­ing. Fifth on the Plains and fourth in Carlisle, was his sea­son ready to come un­stuck?

Carlisle proved the turn­ing point. Fran­cis dropped a prop­shaft and his event was over. With only two dropped scores to take, the Welsh­man would need to win the next two events to have any chance of over­turn­ing the bul­let­proof Fi­esta of Payne, who hadn’t fin­ished out­side the top five at that point.

Payne duly de­liv­ered in the shock­ing con­di­tions of the Nicky Grist; the Lancer suited to the fast and flow­ing stages. There was hope yet for the Welsh­man, as Payne ground to a halt not far into the rally with a mys­te­ri­ous en­gine is­sue.

It didn’t af­fect the cham­pi­onship. Fran­cis still had to win.

Two stages into the Wood­pecker, Fran­cis had rolled on a tight left hair­pin. Payne brought the Fi­esta home in third, se­cur­ing the Gold Star crown. One event later, he won the Track­rod – his home event – in style, gift­ing his co-driver Carl Wil­liamson the Gold Star co-driv­ers’ crown.

In the end, Fran­cis fell to sixth with his three non-scores. Stephen Petch won the Wood­pecker, prov­ing his pace to take sec­ond in the cham­pi­onship, de­spite a Fi­esta that had been mis­fir­ing and suf­fered en­gine woe on most rounds of the se­ries this year.

Also in the top five were Pro­duc­tion Cup cham­pion Russ Thompson, Ford Fo­cus WRC driver Paul Benn and gravel rally debu­tant and Sil­ver Star cham­pion Gavin Ed­wards.

It was drama down to the penul­ti­mate round in the driv­ers’ ti­tle bat­tle. Whether Payne re­turns next year or not is up in the air as he pon­ders re­tire­ment or a switch in cham­pi­onships, but the York­shire­man de­serves his ti­tle through speed, con­sis­tency and re­li­a­bil­ity. There’s no doubt that Fran­cis was the fastest man in the cham­pi­onship this year with three wins un­der his belt, but com­bin­ing that with con­sis­tency and re­li­a­bil­ity is the next step. Watch out in 2017, Fran­cis will want re­venge. ■

York­shire­man made a splash Petch ended a tor­rid year sec­ond Fran­cis fought Payne to the fin­ish Jbk jkkb kjkb bkbkjk­bkjkb

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