January 2nd, 2017
Max score for ex champ. The Christmas Stages run once again at Croft Circuit near Darlington kicked off our 2017 championship on Bank Holiday Tuesday. Our 2012 champion driver Paul Swift came away a maximum set of points by finishing 2nd to event winner Guy Smith and playing his ‘Joker’, ensured that the local boy made the best possible start to our new year.
The days leading up to the rally were extremely windy as storm Connor left his mark on a cold Christmas but once the set up crews went home on Boxing Day, a wonderful calm descended of this converted wartime airfield in North Yorkshire. A couple of degrees of frost welcomed crews to the opening test and some occasional icy patches would keep drivers on their toes. But for the hardy spectators, it might have felt a little warm under the sunny blue sky and 7oC heat.
Paul Swift had his wife Jessica sitting alongside him in his usual Ford Escort MkII and opened his account with a couple of 4thfastest times. He complained of some baulking that didn’t help his cause but managed to hold onto 3rd overall at the lunch halt. Some brake issues solved by a little bleed and then a change of steering arm after contact with a substantial object did little to hinder progress and they would eventually finish rally runners up. They head into 2017 with a very healthy lead in the championship.
Taking 2nd placed championship points were car 87, Neil Prior and Peter Littlefield. This was only Neil’s second rally in a Subaru Impreza and the improved performance of the car belied his running order on the road. Although their poor seeding didn’t help them on the stages, after the first test the Tynemouth crew were 11th fastest and continued this upward progresses to 7th at halfway. They were a bit concerned about the engine’s high water temperature during the afternoon runs but were very happy to end the day still in 7th position.
Rounding off the rally’s top ten and taking 3rd championship place were contenders Stevie Irwin and Ian Middleton. The man from Berwick was driving his usual Vauxhall Nova and happy with his almost trouble free day despite some reservations about the gearbox and nudging the odd bale. Winning the rally’s 1600cc class was a bonus too. Five seconds adrift of the yellow Nova was the red Nova of non registered Andy Fawcett along with Chris Purvis who was happy to relive their 2 wheeled moment as they copied one of Paul Swift’s stunts.
Des Campbell made the trip over the border into Englandshire for the rally and made a disastrous start but admitted it was a poor choice of tyres by the driver. He completed SS1 in 64th place so was chasing the opposition thereafter. With the right rubber, he made it up to 23rd at lunchtime and 12th place at the finish to head back north again a happier man. And 9 seconds further back were Mark and Andrew Constantine in their red class 2 Vauxhall Corsa. Breaking a drive shaft on stage 4 just when they’d made it into the top ten spoilt their good day. The 30 seconds lost dropped them a handful of places but they made it back up to 13th overall by the end of the day.
Mark Burton and Zoe Wright made a return to the championship with their unusual Ford XR2. From a start number of 48 they showed their pace to end the first pair of stages in 21st overall. A driveshaft problem on stage 4 dropped them sometime but this was sorted out in service. They kept their chief mechanic busy in the afternoon too with a brake calliper change and ended up in 15th place.
And 7 seconds behind came our championship winning Renault Clio, CUB. Alistair Hutchinson was relegated to the role of team manager for the day as his nephew Andrew took on the task of pushing the pedals and turning the wheel with Alistair’s son Joe sitting alongside him. He quickly adapted to the car and the lads enjoyed a blast with Andrew’s only comment at the final control being “What an awesome car!” Well done to Uncle Alistair for loaning Andrew the car for his first competitive drive …
A mere 3 seconds further back were newcomers to our championship, Ben and Kev Wilson. Driving something a bit different, a Citroen AX, these guys pushed the little 1400cc powered car to a fine 17th overall and 3rd in class. Their only worry was around the clutch and cable with very little adjustment but it held out to the finish line and helped them record a great result. Hopefully they’ll provide some good opposition in the forthcoming rallies to our current class titleholder.
Next up were Tony and Aston Blake in a Porsche 911. The boys from Ripon are more used to racing this car but with a few changes can quickly make it rally ready. They enjoyed a good day despite clouting a straw bale on the opening test and finding themselves down in 57th position. After some confidence building on the next stage they found a good rhythm to move up the order to end the day just inside the top twenty.
The gorgeous orange mark two Ford Escort of Rob Snowden and Tommy Rogers had a challenging event that records them finishing in 27th overall. The day opened with a sensible 15th fastest but on the rerun over the same stage the throttle cable snapped and they plummeted down the order to 77th position. Once rectified in service, they Malton crew recorded top ten times in all the remaining 6 stages to regain some pride and respectability as they gained 50 places.
Bruce Lindsay was alongside his non-registered driver, Dave Johnstone, in a Peugeot 205 this time. Low fuel pressure and clutch problems slowed them a bit on their way to 29th overall. John Nicholson was next with the non-registered Bill Lymburn sitting in the left hand seat for a change. John couldn’t seem to get into a good driving mood in the morning but then the times improved in the afternoon, perhaps he’s prefers to go anticlockwise around the circuit ? The unregistered John Hepworth enlisted the services of Dave Boyes to guide him to 36th place.
Next up was the Tango Clio crew by Colin Butler and St John Dykes. The local crew had a clean run to 40th just ahead of Geoffrey Harkness / Caroline Lodge. The Spadeadam pairing were making steady progress up the timesheets from 31st to 24thafter stage 5 when a little incident just after the start of SS6 slowed them up. They, or Geoff to be precise, clobbered something coming out of a tightened right and shot across the grass. Geoff felt he had no steering or drive and announced that they had a wheel off. When the car stopped, they jumped out to look at the car and both confirmed they still had 2 wheels their side of the car so carried on to the finish. It’s sometimes a good thing to stop mid stage to count the wheels on your wagon before continuing.
The husband and wife team of Nigel and Helen Harkness were glad to see the final control as they felt the head gasket had finally gone on their little Vauxhall Corsa. They, or perhaps just Nigel, have some midnight oil to burn in the days ahead as they are planning to return to Croft for the Jack Frost Stages in just over 2 weeks. Mark Casey was next sitting in the silly seat of Gordon Watson’s Peugeot 205 and they had a steady run to 46th overall. Next were a couple of youngsters from Whickham MC, Karl Knox and Ewan Tindall. This was only Karl’s second rally in his Vauxhall Nova so he continues to learn about the car and driving. Completing the rally and gaining more seat time was his priorities so he was a happy man at the end of the day despite hitting a few tyres and bales on the way. Ewan has just completed another successful season in both the Scottish and English Junior championships so was having a fun day out in ‘the other seat’.
Our final classified finishers were Berwick’s Jeff and Owen Malthouse in the Peugeot 205 and Ann Forster guiding Neil Raven in his 1400 Peugeot 106. No problems reported by either crew just a few spins.
There were very few retirements and the first to head home early were Michael Thomas and Ken Bills after they picked up a puncture on stage 2; Andrew Roughead was called in to look after multiple event winner Kevin Proctor but they retired due to a misfire on stage 3 whilst the leading the rally; Ed Todd / Andy Brown retired the little GTM Coupe when the wee red beastie dumped out all it’s gearbox oil while waiting to start stage 5; our champion co-driver Richard Wardle called it a day after breaking a shaft on stage 2 and then again on stage 6 and our final Dad and Daughter pairing of Bill and Kari Bates retired after taking a stage maximum on SS6 caused by low fuel pressure.
Once again we must offer our thanks to Ian Jackson and all his team at Northallerton Motor Club for another well run rally and fitting in some cracking weather too.
There’s only a couple of weeks break before we’re back at Croft again for the Jack Frost Stages Rally in association with Cartersport. This year’s event will take place on Sunday 15th January and the entry list has been open for sometime now. The organisers will take 90 starters and are currently about one dozen shy from being full. Anyone considering contesting the rally have until the 5th January to enter and there’s more on the event at http://www.darlington-motor-club.org.uk/series_home.php?seriesid=61
And finally for now a quick mention about round 3 of this year’s championship, the North West Stages. Taking place three weeks later this year on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th February will be the 20th running of the Legend Fires sponsored North West Stages. Similar to the Jack Frost Stages, Motor Sport (North West) Limited are already taking entries and have already passed their target of 110 plus reserves. The link for full details of this event is http://www.nwstages.co.uk/