‘West put Peu­geot on top at Snet­ter­ton’

Af­ter pre­vi­ous bad luck, Chris West over­comes rapid Fords for first Snet­ter­ton win.

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By Dan Ma­son

Chris West over­came power steer­ing prob­lems in his Peu­geot 306 Maxi to come from be­hind in the Snet­ter­ton Stages Rally and clinch a closely-fought first win in the Mo­tor­sport News Cir­cuit Rally Cham­pi­onship season, while Paul Swift main­tained his points lead with a podium fin­ish.

A cool but clear fifth meet­ing of the season at the Nor­folk cir­cuit fea­tured an early fight for West, as he had to re­cover from me­chan­i­cal grem­lins early on the Sun­day morn­ing. He then had to over­power the stern de­fence of ti­tle con­tender Ian Wood­house in his Ford Es­cort Mk2 to fi­nally earn brag­ging rights in dry con­di­tions.

While it was joy at last for West, poor for­tune in­ter­vened for one of his main ri­vals mo­ments be­fore the start of the first stage of the day.

A fuel leak meant the much-fan­cied Dar­rian T9 GTR, which topped the Rock­ing­ham round, suc­cumbed to a 30-minute time penalty be­fore the start. Bruce Edwards and Jim Smith’s un­planned late ar­rival to the open­ing stage put them out of con­tention for suc­cess be­fore their at­tack had even com­menced. Fur­ther drama fell their way later in the af­ter­noon. The Dar­rian’s rear body­work mak­ing a bid for free­dom in the pair’s pur­suit of stage wins.

With the car that went on to win the open­ing four stages put out of the run­ning for vic­tory, a three-way duel looked set to be waged be­tween the Es­corts of Wood­house, Swift and Martin Hodg­son, who locked out the top three in the early go­ing.

That fight was soon in­ter­loped by a charg­ing West, de­spite the bur­den of wrestling a front-wheel-drive 306 Maxi with­out the help of power steer­ing through the morn­ing’s timed laps. The fail­ure was the re­sult of dam­age sus­tained from the pre­vi­ous round af­ter West hit an un­seen con­crete block at Brands Hatch.

West con­quered the re­sult­ing un­der­steer into the af­ter­noon, be­gin­ning a fine fight­back with a Mk2-beat­ing ef­fort in the more tech­ni­cal third and fourth stages to edge the 306 closer to the head of the field.

Con­fi­dence was high and the tide had turned in favour of the Peu­geot squad, West even scat­ter­ing traf­fic cones in his ex­u­ber­ance on the way to clinch­ing a first stage vic­tory af­ter the in­ter­val to shift the pres­sure onto Wood­house.

The in­evitable oc­curred and the lead soon changed hands as the Peu­geot seized con­trol while day­light be­gan to fade, West greet­ing his ri­val Wood­house with a hand­shake be­fore the pair re­turned to the cir­cuit for one fi­nal dash with just three sec­onds sep­a­rat­ing them.

The best was saved un­til last as West stopped the times with a win­ning cush­ion of eight sec­onds, Wood­house a gra­cious sec­ond af­ter a crank sen­sor prob­lem stymied the lat­ter’s chal­lenge late on.

“The win is sweet be­cause we beat the Es­corts in the dry when all the top guys were in with a shout,” said the ju­bi­lant win­ner af­ter­wards. “Our car is quicker than theirs in the wet, but I didn’t think we could win to­day [in the dry]. The car just got quicker and quicker and felt hooked up.”

Third on the road, and with the cham­pi­onship sce­nario crossing his mind, Swift’s style was cramped some­what by stick­ing gears in his Es­cort dur­ing an ac­tion-packed third stage. He es­caped a kiss with a tyre bar­rier in his pur­suit of the top two when dirt off­line dragged him wide.

Com­pound­ing that was 20 sec­onds in time penal­ties that dropped him briefly be­hind the sim­i­lar Ford of Hodg­son. Swift was con­tent af­ter­wards with a podium place to con­tinue his con­sis­tent form ahead of a Don­ing­ton visit that the stunt driver pins high hopes on.

“You want to win ev­ery round, but at the same time it’s still im­por­tant to get to the fin­ish each time and we’ve come away with some good points,” said Swift, who main­tains his place at the top of the cham­pi­onship with three rounds re­main­ing. “I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to go­ing to Don­ing­ton next. I think we’ll be quicker there than we were here.”

An­other Mk2 was next up in the hands of Hodg­son, while the Subaru Impreza S12B WRC of Robert Swann was one of only two fin­ish­ers in the top 10 not to be driv­ing Ford ma­chin­ery.

Cham­pi­onship co-or­di­na­tor Dar­ren Spann was among an im­pres­sive 82-car en­try list, co-driv­ing for Nigel Mum­mery in a Ford Fo­cus WRC. They came ninth.

Mini Chal­lenge racer Chloe He­witt also va­cated the driv­ing seat for co-driv­ing du­ties at Snet­ter­ton, fin­ish­ing a re­spectable 28th over­all in a Mit­subishi Lancer E7 along­side driver David Earthy.

Photos: SMJ Pho­tog­ra­phy, M & H Pho­tog­ra­phy

West was spec­tac­u­lar in Peu­geot 306 Maxi

Rock­ing­ham win­ner Edwards had a host of prob­lems at Snett

Paul Swift had a trying day but main­tained MN se­ries points lead

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