THE NIGHT A ZAFIRA RULED THE LANES
Rallying has some strange winning cars. Meet the Zafira, perhaps the oddest winner of all. By Jack Benyon
Road rallying is probably the most accessible discipline in the sport. Here’s MN’S guide to some of the complicated terms you’ll hear when it comes to fun in the lanes.
Give Way – On road rallies all forward motion must stop at junctions. Make Up Time Control – This is where competitors, who have lost time, can regain some or all of that time and get back
mbarking on only his second year of rallycross competition, Dan Rooke stated before the 2016 season that he hoped to be fighting for podiums towards the end of the year in his maiden Supercar campaign.
That was a fair target, albeit a steep one. The 2015 season had been a strong year for the MSA British Rallycross Championship, recovering from a downturn in entries the previous year. During that season, engine-builder Julian Godfrey and his Ford Fiesta claimed the crown for the fifth successive year.
Including Godfrey, three drivers with at least one MSA British Rallycross title to their name committed to the season from the start. Ollie O’donovan and Pat Doran were the other former winners, who would race a Ford Focus and Citroen C4 respectively this year.
The series also received a boost by new drivers joining the Supercar ranks. Former rally driver James Grint joined Albatec Racing in a Peugeot 208 for a title assault having contested the European Championship in 2015, while British Touring Car Championship race winner Dave Newsham switched to the dual-surface discipline with a Ford Fiesta run by BTCC squad Power Maxed Racing.
Dave Bellerby finally moved into Supercar in an ex-dermot Carnegie Ford Fiesta having won almost everything else there is to win in British Rallycross, while Steve Hill returned for a full tilt at the title with his unique Mitsubishi Evo X. Super1600 champion Jack Thorne joined as another young hope for the series and he, together with Rooke and Grint, significantly lowered the average age of the Supercar drivers.
One of the title favourites heading into the season was former European Championship event winner Kevin Procter who, despite winning multiple British RX events in the last decade, had never committed to a full championship tilt.
It was Procter who won the first round at Croft in his unique Super2000 Fiesta-based Supercar, despite a surprise challenge for the lead in the final from Rooke. O’donovan completed the podium.
At the next round at the ‘home of rallycross’, Lydden Hill, the pre-season form book was tossed out of the window as Rooke survived a dramatic final to claim a maiden win.
He was ahead of former Euro RX racer Mark Flaherty and Grint, who even spun in the final but still made the podium. Procter limped through the first lap of the race with a broken intercooler caused by first corner contact, while O’donovan retired from a healthy lead with turbo issues.
The third and fourth rounds of the campaign were a double-header at Pembrey where, for the first time ever, the circuit was run in opposing directions on each of the two days.
On the unfamiliar anticlockwise route in difficult wet conditions, Procter claimed victory in round three, moving back into the championship lead. Rooke finished second with Bellerby scoring a maiden Supercar podium in third.
O’donovan didn’t make it beyond practice with engine failure, but while his Tony Bardy Motorsport team changed the unit, Albatec Racing was forced to head for home after Grint’s Peugeot 208 hit similar troubles.
It was Procter’s turn to suffer from engine dramas on the second day in Wales, as Godfrey notched up his first victory of the season ahead of O’donovan and Doran, while Rooke retired from the final on lap one with a broken exhaust manifold but retook the points advantage.
Procter’s title chances took a further beating at the following round in Belgium. Fastest in the first qualifying race he led Q2, only to crash on his own, which put him out. Rooke’s second victory moved him clear in the points as Godfrey and O’donovan completed the podium.
As the series returned to Lydden for the traditional August Bank Holiday meeting, a third victory for Rooke and Procter suffering engine sensor problems meant that the title was within the 19-year-old’s grasp. Bellerby and Godfrey joined Rooke on the podium.
Against all the odds, amongst the toughest competition in years, second place to O’donovan at the penultimate round at Pembrey was enough to secure Rooke the crown as the youngest ever champion.
Rooke’s nearest points rival and outgoing champion Godfrey could finish no higher than sixth. Bellerby scored another podium and Procter retired with yet more engine issues.
At the season finale at Croft, Rooke didn’t even qualify for the semi-finals, his Citroen DS3’S engine expired in the qualifying stages, but by that stage, it mattered little.
In a showdown to earn second and third in the points, O’donovan won in his World Rx-specification Ford Fiesta to finish as series runner-up and second place was enough to earn Godfrey an overall rostrum, while Doran completed the final podium of the year.
Outside of the battle for top honours, Hill had a solid season and just fell shy of finishing on the podium, while Steve Harris campaigned his Citroen DS 3 for a final time before handing the car to son Jake for next season.
The Power Maxed team and Newsham dropped out mid-season without a strong result, their focus switching back to the BTCC, and rallycross stalwart Andy Grant racked up points throughout to finish eighth overall. Thorne started the first three rounds but a troubled time with his exOMSE Fiesta ended his season early. ■