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

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Rallying Zafira -

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

E

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. ■

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