Mk2 man brings car home safe with re­tire­ments aplenty in Kent thriller

Motor Sport News - - Rally Reports - Brands Hatch Stages By Christo­pher Sharp

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.

Pho­tos: Gary Hawkins, M & H Photography

Swift was dom­i­nant in Milling­ton Es­cort

Hodg­son pushed hard for sec­ond The En­deans im­pressed in a Micra

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