‘West put Peugeot on top at Snetterton’
After previous bad luck, Chris West overcomes rapid Fords for first Snetterton win.
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.
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