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