BELL CHIMES IN CROFT THRILLER
With Guy Smith’s Fiesta faltering, Bell pounced for first Proton win
After a podium finish on the recent Christmas Stages Rally, local aces Graeme Bell and Russ Radford went a couple of places better to take a debut win in their MEM Proton Satria S2500 Millington on the Jack Frost Stages Rally.
Heavy rain greeted competitors at Croft Circuit for Darlington and District Motor Club’s annual extravaganza. Quickest out of the blocks were Mark Jasper/don Whyatt, who stopped the clocks a second ahead of the MG Metro 6R4 of Peter Smith/graham Wild with Geoff Wright/chris Sanderson in third in their Ford Fiesta.
Already in trouble, however, were last year’s winners, Guy Smith and Patrick Walsh, who struggled with boost problems on their Ford Fiesta R5 and dropped half a minute, which set the precedent for the day. The pair did set a couple of fastest stage times following a steering rack failure later in the day, but effectively it was a test day for the M-sport Bentley GT driver. He was in an R5 for the first time after winning the last two events at Croft in a Ford Focus WRC.
Rob Snowden, partnered by Tommy Rogers, powered their Ford Escort into contention with stage wins on the next two tests to open up a 22 second gap over Jasper with Wright and Bell disputing third. But as the track dried, SS4 proved pivotal to the results. Smith won the stage ahead of Bell, but an incorrect tyre choice cost Snowden nearly half a minute, meaning he was left to rue the decision despite hanging on to a slender three-second lead at the interval. It was to prove a very costly mistake.
By now the track was rapidly drying and it was the Subaru of Liam Harkness that went fastest on SS5, while Bell pulled two seconds back on Snowden meaning they went into SS6 just one second apart with Jasper holding third.
Peter Smith – father of Guy – compounded a miserable day for the family when he put the 6R4 off meaning he retired too, having already had a puncture earlier in the day.
Bell rammed home his advantage on SS6 ahead of Smith and Chris Wise/ Tracey Taylor-west, who were now getting to grips with their newlyacquired Ford Fiesta in third. Bell’s lead was up to 14 seconds as dusk started to fall on the North Yorkshire racetrack.
Smith, now merely testing tyres, was quickest on SS7 ahead of Bell as Snowden dropped more time to his rival. Just to stamp his authority on the event, Bell won the final stage outright ahead of Wright and Snowden to eventually take the victory by 30 seconds.
Snowden was second, and took Class 4 honours, with Jasper a creditable third, 21 seconds further down.
Wright, in only his second outing in the car, took fourth ahead of Wise with Stevie Irwin/dylan Thomas overcoming a broken engine mounting to take a superb sixth overall and Class 2 win in their 1600cc Vauxhall Nova.
Class 3 went the way of Alistair Hutchinson/tom Bruce (Renault Clio) on their way to seventh overall while Class 1 spoils were taken by the Citroen AX GT of Ben Wilson/ Sam Green in 19th.
Bell bettered Christmas podium at Croft Cartersport Jack Frost Stages Rally
Guy Smith’s R5 debut didn’t go to plan with boost and steering issues