Fi­esta driver dom­i­nates as west takes max­i­mum mn points.

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - by Jack Benyon

Kevin Proc­ter started the Neil Howard Stages in the back foot af­ter the en­graver spelt his name wrong on the event’s tro­phy in hon­our of his 2016 vic­tory. But de­spite a mas­sive fi­nal-stage mo­ment, he de­stroyed the op­po­si­tion on the Mo­tor­sport News Cir­cuit Rally Cham­pi­onship sea­son opener at Oul­ton Park.

The day started badly for Proc­ter as the cold and wet con­di­tions suited the two-wheel-drive ma­chines, and it was the Ford Es­cort Mk2s of Paul Swift/ Cat Lund and Mark Kelly/andy Baker who topped Proc­ter on stage one.

But that was it. That was all Proc­ter was up for giv­ing his co­horts. On the sec­ond stage he went 18 sec­onds quicker than any­one else, which put him into a com­mand­ing lead which he went on to sup­ple­ment by win­ning five of nine stages on the tricky event, which blew mild and cold, wind and rain, sun and mud.

But on the fi­nal stage in the pitch black, he had a big mo­ment.

“Ex­it­ing the rally school the track was re­ally dirty and we locked up,” he said. “We nearly threw it all away!”

In­stead, a neat piece of driv­ing from the Bri­tish and Euro­pean Ral­ly­cross reg­u­lar meant his Ford Fi­esta S2000 – with a turbo en­gine – lived up to the num­ber one on the door from last year de­spite even sterner com­pe­ti­tion. Let’s hope the en­graver gets it cor­rect for the tro­phy next time around.

Be­hind, an epic fight for sec­ond broke out with one of the strong­est en­tries the event has ever seen re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing the ac­tion. MN con­ser­va­tively val­ued the machin­ery in the top 10 on the en­try list at £1 mil­lion.

Seeded at car num­ber two, Stephen Simp­son – 2015 win­ner – felt he had an up­hill task af­ter switch­ing from his usual Subaru Im­preza S12B WRC to a Ford Fi­esta R5 for this year, with the car lack­ing the power and out­right speed of the Ja­panese ma­chine. Nev­er­the­less he took up bat­tle with an in­tense fight for the spots in the top five. Sec­ond to sev­enth in the fi­nal or­der was sep­a­rated by just 36 sec­onds.

Chris West was an­other driver caught out on the first stage as he lay down in eighth in his Peu­geot 306 Maxi, but he steadily worked his way back into con­tention. In the end, he was just four sec­onds off Simp­son in the fight for sec­ond, but still took max­i­mum points in the MN Cham­pi­onship with Proc­ter and Simp­son not reg­is­tered. West has won be­fore in the se­ries, at Brands Hatch, and will be a threat for the ti­tle. He took D1 Class hon­ours to sup­ple­ment his over­all podium.

Just 10 sec­onds sep­a­rated fourth and sev­enth with Kelly con­tin­u­ing his bril­liant 2017 form by se­cur­ing the po­si­tion, but only by a soli­tary sec­ond.

Event spon­sor and two-time NH Stages win­ner Gra­ham Cof­fey, part­nered by Vic­to­ria My­ers, just missed out as they switched from their Im­preza S12B to a Fi­esta RS WRC for the event.

They in turn were marginally ahead of the sur­prise of the event, Joshua Davey/tam­syn Davey. They were seeded at car 45, and keep­ing in mind seed­ing is done on an­tic­i­pated per­for­mance, they did more than cause a stir with two fastest stage times in their Dar­rian T90. Sixth was the re­ward on their first fin­ish in the car.

Just four sec­onds be­hind were last year’s cham­pi­ons Ian Wood­house and Paul Row­land; they spent the day try­ing to re­coup time af­ter an in­cor­rect tyre choice in the morn­ing. Their Ford Es­cort Mk2 didn’t start at the same pace as last year’s ti­tle ri­val Swift, but Wood­house was stronger af­ter Oul­ton Park last year and will surely play into the fight for the ti­tle once more.

Swift started by go­ing fastest on stage one, but the con­di­tions grew to suit the four-wheel-drive cars over the likes of the Es­corts. He was down in eighth when he re­tired on the last stage be­cause of gear­box trou­ble.

He did, at least, get to hoon around and en­ter­tain spec­ta­tors along­side a fire­work dis­play at the end of the day.

John Stone strug­gled to switch on his tyres aboard his Ford Fi­esta S2500 Millington, but was happy to fin­ish af­ter three re­tire­ments in the last five ral­lies, re­plac­ing the ail­ing Swift in eighth.

Last year’s D2 class cham­pion John Grif­fiths steered his Subaru to ninth, one of his bet­ter re­sults in the cham­pi­onship so far, while John Mar­shall made the long trip from Scot­land worth­while with 10th.

Com­peti­tors cred­ited the event or­gan­is­ers for an­other well-run event, this one of the pre­mier sin­gle-venue ral­lies in the UK. The value of the cars on the en­try, and the stan­dard of driver, only go to back that up. The fact that the wa­ter­splash was made shal­lower af­ter con­cerns last year only helped to ce­ment the or­gan­is­ing team’s rep­u­ta­tion as one that works with com­peti­tors and looks to im­prove year on year.

Pho­tos: SMJ Pho­tog­ra­phy

Proc­ter was a class apart

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