18 Jan Preview: Round 4 – The MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages
It’s time to go again in 2019. As we see in a new year, the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship heads to Brands Hatch in Kent for Round Four of the season.
While it may be a new year, it is the return of old faces that makes the headlines. Last year’s winner Mark Kelly brings his Ford Escort Mk2 back for the first time this season, having ended the previous campaign as runner-up to Chris West.
Heading to the Brands Hatch Stages 12 months later, and it is West in control. It took the Peugeot 306 Maxi man until the recent Knockhill visit to finally grab his first overall win of the season, and the new partnership with engine suppliers Smith and Jones is now paying off handsomely for himself and co-driver, Keith Hounslow.
Kelly came out on top in the fight last year, but both will not have it their own way in Kent.
West holds a 26-point cushion ahead of the consistent Mike Taylor (Talbot Lotus Sunbeam) and both are among almost 90 entries estimated for the fourth event of the season.
Among those include John Stone in his Fiesta WRC, who will want to redeem himself after a first-stage mishap at Cadwell Park in November. Nigel Mummery enjoys a welcome comeback in the ex-Markko Märtin Ford Focus WRC, while the venomous Darrian T90 GT R5 will make an appearance with Mark Straker at the helm.
Stephen Tilburn will be back with a vengence after missing the visit to Scotland before Christmas. The Ford Escort RS2500 ace had racked up a generous haul of points prior to the break, and will want to pull himself back into contention with a strong result here.
The entry list makes tantalising reading for neutrals following the progress of Class C.
A replenished gaggle of Mk2 Escorts will take centre stage in what may prove a day-long battle to the last time check, Mike English back in the mix after his Cadwell heroics.
Luck has not been on the side of Rob Cox who will be hungrier than ever to make amends after gearbox dramas have tainted his obvious front-running pace. Both chase the rapid Ford Puma of Ryan Connolly, which sits third in the overall championship after a strong trio of rallies.
Amazingly, the Ford Fiesta of Ashleigh Morris and Jamie Mactavish will feature this weekend after a monster accident suffered at Knockhill.
A sterling repair job over the festive period ensures Morris can recommence her fight with Class B leader, Paul Sheard, who has battled mechanical problems to grind out solid results that put him in a strong championship position.
The class is much more populated on this occasion. Abi Mahmood and Samantha Bartlett introduce a Suzuki Swift formerly raced in the Junior World Rally Championship over 11 years ago, while a plethora of Ford, Citroen and Peugeot machinery take up the fight.
Craig Aston was victorious at Knockhill and moved ahead in the Class A title race, but the return of Dale Lawson’s MG ZR puts heat back into the battle.
Ron Walker has kept Aston honest all season in his Ford Ka, and will again be a threat in a 13-strong class that is enjoying a welcome rise in numbers.
The Brands Hatch Stages will be contested over eight stages and approximately 45 miles of rally action, which will be available to watch via Front Runner TV and Amazon Prime.
Words: Dan Mason