01.03.2012: Rallye Sunseeker Challenge 24/25 February 2012
James Ford & Neil Colman power their Escort to a BRCC debut victory
Rallye Sunseeker Challenge 24/25 February 2012
James Ford & Neil Colman power their Escort to a BRCC debut victory
NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge debutant James Ford/Neil Colman took their maiden victory in the series and with it the opening round of the British Rally Championship's support series on last weekend's Rallye Sunseeker Challenge. The fans were denied a final two car battle on the last stage when Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy’s leading Renault Clio expired on SS9, but nevertheless nobody could argue Ford didn’t deserve the Rally win.
It was a battle that had lasted throughout day after Thompson took control of the rally following the opening loop of stages. Simon Moore/Emma Morrison and Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor pressured Thompson and Ford but were unable to overhaul the top two. But disaster struck Thompson on the penultimate stage when a driveshaft brokehanding the rally lead to Ford.
The season kicked off in spectacular style as the crews lined up for the ceremonial start on the quay front in Poole. Rallye Sunseeker which has been running for twenty plus years now operates as the opening event of the BRC calendar, and has already become a firm favourite with competitors. The gravel event uses stages set around the forests of Dorset and these stages have become to be recognised by their unique nature.
Not that Ford had much experience at all on gravel, this being the tarmac specialists first forest outing in over two years, and the first in his RC5 class running 2.0 MK II Ford Escort. But with problems mounting for his rivals and setting fastest times on at least six of the ten stages, Ford was unstoppable. “We’ve done alright, I’m quite happy with that result” remarked a shocked but elated Ford.
Second place went to another RC5 competitor in the form of Richard Sykes in the Citroën C2R2, who pushed hard throughout to keep the pressure on the crews in front. Sykes was out of the traps early and started the day with the quickest time on the opening stage of Gore Heath, a full four seconds quicker than anybody else and six quicker than Ford.
Blighted with problems last year, the businessman from the Midlands made sure he brought the car home and was happy to collect championship points. “I’m very pleased, in fact chuffed with second place, so much effort has gone into getting the car ready in time, we couldn’t ask for anything more, it’s been a great rally”.
Third place overall and third in class went to another C2R2 Citroën this time driven by another NGK BRC Challenge debutant in Scotland’s Gareth White/Mike Dickson. Consistently fast throughout the day, the Scots kept their head in unfamiliar territory to secure the final rostrum placing. “Getting on the podium has been a real bonus, it wasn’t at all expected, I really liked the event, it was well run and a great format.” he said.
Just missing out on the podium places were Mark McCulloch/Mike Curry who finished fourth overall but leading RC3 car. “I’d definitely come back, I really enjoyed the stages they were better than I thought they would be, Somerley was just great” commented Mark.
James Watts/Steve Hartley in their Volkswagen Polo put in a fantastic performance taking fifth place overall and entertaining spectators in the process. “We had a couple of big spins and hit a bale in Somerley, but the crowd gave us a big cheer, we probably got more photographs taken of that than anything else we did” remarked a happy Watts.
Another happy crew was that of Tony Simpson/Stefan Arndt who won the battle for RC4 class honours and became the first Ford Fiesta home ahead of Adam Taylor. “To be honest my only goal this year is the Fiesta SportChallenge, that’s what I have to concentrate on. I’m happy with what we’ve achieved today, it means a lot more than just a rally” added an emotional Simpson.
The event itself was tough on cars and crews from the off, delivering great entertainment for the huge amount of spectators that lined the stages, but punishing to the mechanicals. First to suffer was pre-event favourite and potential overall champions, Richard Archer/John Connor.
Their Super 1600 ex-works Opel Corsa cuts a fine sight on the stages, but a fuel pump problem on SS1 put an early end to their rally. Both Simon Moore and Graham Roberts/Ryan Dooley, blew head gaskets on SS5 in their Renault Clio and MGZR respectively.
Moore, who finished runner up last year thought the gremlins of 2010 had been banished, but sadly it wasn’t to be. Steven Smith/Daniel Johnstone in the Peugeot 206 also failed to finish, their car stopping on the Ringwood North 1 stage that made up SS8.
But the first round spoils go to James Ford and Neil Colman who have shown just how quick this asphalt ace is on the loose, and proving that they could be the one to watch in 2012.
Round two takes the teams to North Wales and the punishing forestry tracks that help make up the Bulldog Challenge Rally. Follow the progress of the competitors through the official website at www.rallybrcchallenge.co.uk and Twitter feed @britishrally throughout the season; you can now also download our British Rally Championship app for free via iTunes or the Android Market.
Catch up with action from the Rallye Sunseeker Challenge on the Sky Sports Rallyzone programme in the week before Bulldog Rally North Wales.
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