15 Feb Preview: Round 5 – The Snetterton Stages
We’ve reached the halfway point in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship, and it remains Chris West in command as he leads the field to Norwich for the Snetterton Stages.
The reigning champion has worked his magic with fine victories at both Knockhill and Brands Hatch most recently, a good omen ahead of a rally which he could complete a hat-trick of triumphs in this weekend after wins in the previous two Snetterton Stages.
West’s tarmac-friendly Peugeot 306 Maxi enjoys the twisty sections through the traditional paddock, and continues to gain muscle as its new Smith and Jones power starts a fifth rally. He will aim to extend his 40-point championship lead over Mike Taylor, particularly with Brands Hatch rival John Stone absent.
Mark Kelly’s return last month was full of vigour, and fans can expect his rebuilt Ford Escort Mk2 to be competing at the top end of the times throughout the day. Another Mk2 to keep an eye on will be that of Martin Hodgson, who fought for a podium spot in this event two years ago.
Likewise, Nigel Mummery’s WRC Focus will be a contender after showing promising pace – albeit blighted by boost dramas – at the recent visit to Brands. Porsche is represented more prominently than ever thanks to a brace of 911 rally cars. Former Ginetta racer Seb Perez makes his return, while John Spiers takes the wheel of the second car.
Last year’s Class A champion makes a welcome return. Aaron Rix swaps his Puma for the nostalgia of a Class C Ford Escort Mk1 this weekend, adding fuel to the fire of an ultra-competitive Class.
Ryan Connolly’s consistent season suffered a rare blip when sensor problems put him out of Round 4, but the Puma pairing will come out fighting to chase down Cathy Sewart’s rapid Talbot Sunbeam-Lotus. Mike English is always a threat and one of 12 Ford Escort competitors in the class. Racing stalwart Nigel Greensall joins the party in more modern machinery, as he enters a Toyota GT86.
Class B has been all about Paul Sheard so far. The reigning class champion has taken maximum MN points this season, his most recent win a highlight as his Mazda MX-5 defeated the ex-Junior World Rally Championship Suzuki Swift of Abi Mahmood which is back for more. The rebuilt Fiesta of Ashleigh Morris meanwhile should feel more at home at the power-friendly Snetterton circuit, recovering from the monster shunt at Knockhill before Christmas.
Class A has proved a happy hunting ground for Vauxhall so far this season, a trend that would suit Mark and Matt Blackmore and David Smalley and Rob Kitchen in their respective Corsas.
Dale Lawson’s MG ZR may not have grunt on its side, but any slip-ups will be pounced on from main MN rivals Craig Aston – class points leader – and Ron Walker.
Class E features some eye-watering rally cars. Ray Read’s Audi Quattro appeared last month for the first time and will bring Group B flair once again, while the 1990s is well-represented by Subaru, Ford and Mitsubishi machinery.
Eight gripping stages around the 300 circuit await, with the flying West very much in the crosshairs of the competition.