17 Feb West clinches victory at Snetterton
Chris West marched another step closer to defending his Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship crown with a third consecutive victory in the Snetterton Stages.
West’s ever-improving Peugeot 306 Maxi reeled off eight stage wins to complete the perfect weekend in Norfolk, completing a hat-trick of Snetterton wins with a victory margin of 45 seconds.
His run was made easier by a troublesome opening stage for nearest rival, Mark Kelly, who twice lost control of his Ford Escort Mk2 in the morning’s greasy opening stage around the reversed 300 circuit.
Damage was cosmetic, but time lost was critical. West took an eight-second lead over fellow Smith and Jones engine customer, Nigel Mummery, but the latter’s early form ended prematurely when the Ford Focus suffered a locking power steering and retired on stage four.
West ended the morning loop with a healthy buffer of 37s as Kelly quickly recovered from fifth to second, only surrendering eight seconds in the final four stages in his pursuit of the Maxi man.
Mummery’s demise left a fierce battle for third between the in-form Steve Tilburn and Steve Finch’s newly-purchased Ford Fiesta R5. Finch held the early advantage but was distracted by the presence of the faster Kelly in his mirrors in the afternoon. Tilburn’s charge eventually paid off, snatching third place on stage six to finally join the top-three celebrations for the first time this season.
West said “I’m really pleased for all of us – it’s now a big team effort between us, my family and my sponsors. Keith keeps keep me going and knowing when I need to calm down, and that’s why we do so well. I think there’s even more in it still to come! I’m not going to stop until I’ve proved this is one of the best cars in the country.”
Runner-up Kelly added “I don’t think we could have beaten him today even without those problems on the first stage. We’ve had a great day still, but we had a poor stage and then caught the Proton later on, but the car has been spot on all day and I had a lot of fun. We’re getting better.”
Tilburn enjoyed his podium, adding “it’s been a long time coming, so I’m happy. I’m getting quicker and the car isn’t slow. I called Mark Kelly to ask him what he was doing with his car for some advice, they’re the same but it’s what he’s doing with it. I was behind West at one stage following him and he is so quick. Braking for chicanes, it looks like he’s about to have an accident, then it changes direction and he’s away. He’s just very good.”
Finch secured fourth ahead of the returning Josh Davey, Anthony Robinson’s Proton enjoying a strong run in sixth place ahead of Pete Rayner’s Ford Escort. Ciro Carannante moved up to second in the championship with eighth place in the Porsche Cayman, the top 10 rounded out by Robin Adams’ Escort and the BMW Compact of Mike Bayliss.
Snetterton has often been kind to Mark and Matt Blackmore, the pair sealing a fine victory in Class A. The Vauxhall Corsa duo held the lead from the start, and finished over two minutes clear of nearest rival Dale Lawson in 17th overall.
Second was enough for Lawson to seal maximum MN points and close the gap to Craig Aston – who finished fifth – in Class A to just six points, Lawson’s MG ZR benefitting from a new Metro engine previously used for Hillclimb events.
It was a rally of attrition in Class B, yet it was still Paul Sheard and Bruce Lindsay who came out on top for maximum MN points despite mechanical gremlins.
Sheard played second fiddle in the morning to Abi Mahmood’s ex-Junior WRC Suzuki Swift, which ran as high as 15th before retiring with engine mount issues on stage three.
Tony Michael’s Honda Civic took advantage of the mishaps of others to climb to second, ahead of Ashleigh Morris’ Ford Fiesta.
Joshua Davey returned in style to grab Class C honours for the repaired Darrian T90.
Relieved to finish the rally after engine and misfire problems kept him out of action for over a year, Davey beat the Escorts of Robin Adams and the returning Aaron Rix to also take maximum MN points in the class.
No longer racing in his mother’s Ford Ka, Rix enjoyed a maiden run in his father’s Ford Escort Mk1. “It’s a very different beast”, he said. “It flows much better, but at the start I was actually quite nervous. It’s a beast, but such a fun car.”
West and Hounslow’s dominant form continued in Class D, sealing a fifth win in as many outings and their third overall triumph in succession.
Modern machinery enjoyed bragging rights in Class E thanks to the Fiesta R5 of Finch and Sam Fordham, beating Robinson’s Proton Satria Millington.
The more nostalgic Audi Quattro of Ray Read was next up in class, sealing maximum MN points with 11th place overall.