STUNTMAN SWIFT TAKES FIRST MN VICTORY AT BRANDS
Mk2 man brings car home safe with retirements aplenty in Kent thriller
Organiser: Chelmsford Motor Club When: January 21 Where: Brands Hatch, Kent Championships: Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship Stages: 8 Starters: 89
At the halfway point of the season, Paul Swift extended his Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship lead by taking overall victory at the Brands Hatch Stages in his potent Ford Escort Mk2.
It wasn’t an easy victory however, with the sub-zero temperatures and consequent icy conditions making life difficult for all the competitors. Several were caught out in the early stages as brakes, tyres and drivers warmed up. Grip, most pertinently, was at a premium.
There was a strong possibility of a shock result as the cars lined up to start the first stage. There was drama began before the event had even got underway as Ian Woodhouse, second in the championship, retired en route to the start of stage one.
The drama wouldn’t end there as five minutes into the first run Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield, joint second in the championship in their Renault Clio Cup 172, suffered suspension damage after clipping stage furniture, and stopped in the middle of the Paddock Hill chicane.
Quigley and Littlefield were unharmed but their Clio was stranded in the middle of the circuit forcing their fellow competitors to take to the grass, benefiting the cars that had gone before and were able to take the chicane at full speed.
One such car forced to take to the grass was the Ford Ka of Aaron Rix and Stephen Greenhill who, at the stage’s conclusion, appeared to have defied physics, holding a three-minute lead until it was discovered that they had done one lap too few.
This handed the lead to the 2016 winner Chris West, whose Peugeot 306 Maxi had an uprated engine since last year’s event. But, such was the occurring theme of the day, he was the next frontrunner to meet with his demise. It came in the form of a block marking out the stage, just into SS3 on Brands’ rally school.
This handed the lead to Swift’s sideways Escort, closely followed by fellow Escort driver Martin Hodgson. The pair exchanged stage wins for the rest of the afternoon in the freezing conditions.
It wasn’t straightforward for Swift, though. A flying barrier dislodged by Guy Wigley’s sideways Fiesta S2000 forced the stuntman into a 360-degree pirouette in avoidance. The time loss was minimal, but the damage to Wigley’s car, on only its second event in his hands, was not. The car sat looking particularly sorry for itself on the grass just before Surtees.
The battle went down to the wire with Hodgson’s Smith and Jones-powered Escort and Swift’s Millington-propelled machine. The latter held on by just eight seconds at the finish.
Nigel Mummery took the final podium spot. One of the stalwarts of the series, last year’s championship contender returned to the series after a break and drove accurately and sensibly in his Ford Focus WRC. He also took the Class E victory.
Finishing just off the podium but still winning their class was Steve Beck and Paul Brown. The pair chased down and out-drove cars placed in higher categories on their way to a classic Class C victory.
It was the battle of the Subaru Imprezas for the runner-up spot in Class E; John Griffiths and Paul Baile using the four- wheel-drive of their bewinged saloons to good effect on the treacherous earlymorning stages. Drifting through the Druids hairpin it would be Griffiths who would find the extra grip however, climbing the timesheets and ending the day with a 30-second margin and sixth overall. Despite missing the event class win, he was the highest-placed D2 driver in the MN Circuit Championship’s classes.
Seventh was Gary Mason and John Matthews; it was good enough for second in Class C, but won the MN Circuit Rally Championship’s Class C category.
Only six seconds separated the top two in Class A. The Nissan Micra driven by Matt and Suze Endean edged out the Vauxhall Nova of Anthony and Christopher Newton, both front-wheel-drive cars performing well through the tight sections of the stages. The Endeans’ underpowered Micra was particularly impressive, regularly scoring giant-killing results in a range of different motorsport events. A return to rallying at Brands Hatch proved no different. Sam Johnson/joe Morgan (SEAT Arosa) took Class A victory in the MN Championship.
Class B – both on the event and in the MN Championship – was the story of just two men, Paul Sheard and Shaun Hughes aboard their Mazda MX-5. The pair were masterful throughout the day, taking an incredibly comfortable win ahead of Ben Smith and Steve Mcilroy’s Peugeot 106 Cup, an unfair match-up in terms of machinery. Sheard and Hughes’ winning margin was an impressive one minute and 33 seconds, despite much of their participation over the day coming under threat with exhaust issues.
Turning out for the event among the varied field of the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship entries was a trio of Group 4 Ferrari 308 Michelottos. It was an exciting prospect to witness where they would finish.
However, reliability issues plagued the trio. Kevin Jones suffered gearbox failure on stage one and Neil Mcmahon retired as a result of breaking two oil pans, ending his charge at stage six. Lee Jones was able to complete the rally however, the Ferrari coming alive in the final two stages amid the fading light, finishing fifth in class and 15th overall.
Swift was dominant in Millington Escort
Hodgson pushed hard for second The Endeans impressed in a Micra