DAN MA­SON A

MN’S MAN IN CIR­CUIT RAL­LY­ING “Who are the early ti­tle favourites?”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

s far as ti­tle de­fences go, Chris West was not given an easy start to his.

The reign­ing Mo­tor­sport News Cir­cuit Rally cham­pion only just made it to the sea­son opener at Oul­ton Park ear­lier in Novem­ber, but left the sec­ond event at Cad­well Park in a much bet­ter state of mind.

A new Smith and Jones en­gine was ac­quired for his ti­tle-win­ning Peu­geot 306 Maxi prior to the new sea­son, ar­riv­ing with only 17 miles of test­ing un­der its belt.

It sounded like an up­hill task, yet he has only dropped three points since. The fact he could take the fight to M-sport-built Ford Fi­esta WRCS in a car just “75 per cent there” is an early warn­ing to his ri­vals.

Max­i­mum points went his way at Cad­well de­spite los­ing out to the non-cham­pi­onship-en­tered Fi­esta of ex-sports car racer Guy Smith, but half­way through the event West was al­ready found con­tem­plat­ing con­sis­tency.

So, who are West’s con­tenders? With both win­ners, Smith and Kevin Proc­ter not en­gag­ing in full cam­paigns, you have to look a bit fur­ther down.

Con­sis­tency is vi­tal in mo­tor­sport, and is al­ready set to be the de­ci­sive fac­tor of the ti­tle fight this sea­son. Prime ex­am­ple? West’s in­tended ri­val John Stone sits 18th, hav­ing al­ready used his dropped points score af­ter crash­ing out on the first stage at Cad­well, break­ing a hub in his sec­ond rally in the car. With­out a spare, it was game over.

Pe­ter Smith is an out­side con­tender in a sim­i­lar Fi­esta RS WRC. Once the car’s teething trou­bles are ironed out, Smith has a more pol­ished style com­pared to his ri­vals that, in the long game, may trig­ger a late upset.

The sur­prise pack­age has been Stephen Til­burn in his Ford Es­cort Mk2, sit­ting sec­ond over­all as a re­ward for fin­ishes of 10th and fourth against ar­guably quicker ma­chin­ery.

It’s not just con­sis­tency stand­ing in the way of the quick­est run­ners.

Some reg­is­tered en­tries are yet to even in­ter­lope due to bud­get or grem­lins; a healthy Dar­rian in the hands of Josh Davey one in wait­ing. Proven win­ner Mark Kelly (Es­cort Mk2) also plans to re­turn in the new year.

The fi­nal fac­tor is other classes. Reg­u­lars vy­ing for points in those have iron­i­cally been the un­lucky ones so far.

Reign­ing cat­e­gory cham­pion Paul Sheard’s Class B Mazda MX-5 is bat­tle-scarred but al­ways a con­tender, while the form book in Class C looks too tight to see a con­sis­tent threat to the over­all ti­tle pic­ture. That doesn’t stop Mike English try­ing in his Es­cort Mk2, nor a con­sis­tent Ryan Con­nolly.

And in Class A, Dale and An­drew Law­son’s fine Cad­well per­for­mance came just in time be­fore David Mcmul­lan’s Vaux­hall Nova re­turns for its say, hav­ing taken wins in the class last year.

Back at the front, and West started the sea­son with noth­ing to gain. But it’s al­ready back in his hands to lose.

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