PROCTER WINS AS MOTORSPORT NEWS RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP BEGINS
Fiesta driver dominates as west takes maximum mn points.
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.
Procter was a class apart