David Stokes has taken the lead in the Mintex MSA British Historic Rally Championship following a thrilling and eventful Pirelli Carlisle RB Foundation Rally.
Last year saw the Gloucestershire driver miss out on maximum points on the same event by just 0.3 seconds but this year he and co-driver Guy Weaver brought their Mark 1 Escort home 1.6 seconds ahead of their closest Category rivals.
With competitors tackling six stages in the Kershope and the daunting Kielder Forest, Stokes took an early lead in Category 2, for cars built between 1968 and 1974, and reached the mid-day service halt nearly eight seconds ahead of the Pinto engined Escort of Stanley Orr and Brian Cairns.
A quick time on the opening afternoon stage, however, saw the Northern Ireland duo grab the lead and they went into the final stage of the event just over two seconds ahead of the former champions. When the crews arrived at the Carlisle city centre finish, however, it was a relieved Stokes and Weaver who had just managed to snatch the category honours.
Third in the category was the Escort RS1600 of Simon Tysoe and Cliffy Simmonds who admitted they hadn’t really got into their stride until the afternoon stages, while in fourth place was the V8 engined Firenza of Jimmy McRae and Pauline Gullick. The multiple British Rally Champion commented after the event, “We did have a bit of a test yesterday and we had a couple of problems but the car has been faultless today. I think it can only get quicker.” He also suggested that the driver was suffering from a little ring rustiness, adding, “These boys are out every bloody week.” Behind them, Mark Holmes and Tony Lindsay finished fifth in Category in their Escort despite Tony admitting he was taking things a little easy after his big off last year.
Nick Danks and Martin Corbett were delighted with their sixth place finish on only their second outing in the car, while Wayne Bonsor and Rich Aston were forced to tackle the afternoon stages using hand signals to communicate after a rock ripped the exhaust off their car leaving the intercom system inaudible. Chris Nixon and Brynmor Pierce claimed eighth place despite losing the brakes on their Escort on both runs through the Claver Hill stage.
With Steve Bannister and Louise Sutherland, who are not registered for the championship, taking overall Historic honours, Matthew Robinson and Nigel Hutchinson looked destined to be highest placed Mintex contenders and Category 3 winners for cars built up to the end of
1981. However, they were excluded from the final results by the event organisers following post event eligibility checks.
With the rally ending in a ditch on stage 2 for Meirion Evans and Llion Williams, maximum championship points went to Paul Barrett and Dermot Colgan in their Mark 2 Escort despite it being only their second gravel event in seven years. Another crew to fall foul of stage 2 were Stephen Richards and Ken Bowman who left the road in their Escort and were unable to continue.
Shawn Rayner and Declan Dear survived going straight on at a junction on the opening stage, dropping 40 seconds in the process, to take second place points but conceded afterwards that even without that drama they would not have caught Barrett and Colgan.
Ian Jones and Iestyn Williams had dropped two minutes on that opening stage when they went into a ditch backwards and admitted to a few more heart stopping moments en route to taking third place points. Laurence Tysoe and Craig Dolman had retired their Escort with clutch failure at the mid-day service halt
In Category 1, for the oldest cars, there was a comfortable win, by nearly 10 minutes, for the Porsche 911 of Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride but there were plenty of dramas for their rivals. They began before the event for Nick Pinkett and Debby Myers as their two stroke Saab suffered mechanical problems and they were forced to substitute it with their four stroke version at the last minute. The drama continued for them all the way to the end of the rally as a water bottle fell off the car on the run in to the finish and they had to top up the cooling system with water from a nearby stream.
Mike Barratt and Mike George, meanwhile, picked up two punctures and twice had to replace the fan belt on their Sunbeam Stiletto which also suffered overheating problems on its way to third place in the category. They were delighted to register a finish, however, following a lengthy run of heart-breaking mechanical retirements.
The Championship contenders now have a break before the next round, the Scottish Rally based in Dumfries on June 28th.