02 Mar Preview: Round 6 – Donington Park Stage Rally
Reigning champion Chris West heads a variety-filled ensemble of machinery into the sixth round of the 2018/19 Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship, the Donington Rally.
The annual visit to Donington Park is a firm favourite of many on the calendar, with over 80 entrants lined up to tackle eight stages and the infamous bends previously tested by the likes of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher.
Reigning champion Chris West comes into the rally looking for a fourth consecutive victory, his Snetterton triumph most recently extending his series lead in the ever-improving Peugeot 306 Maxi.
Competition is fierce on this occasion, however. The last men to defeat West were the winners of the 2018 Rainworth Skoda Dukeries Rally, Guy Smith and Patrick Walsh, returning in their Fiesta R5 to attempt a repeat of their last-gasp Cadwell Park success this weekend.
Former Le Mans 24 Hours winner Smith will be joined by father Peter Smith who enters a Fiesta WRC, Peter tasting victory himself in the Jack Frost Stages Rally most recently.
Another returnee who will be in contention throughout is stunt driver Paul Swift. The North East ace is a multiple MN Rally winner and brings a Ford Escort Mk2 to the fray, while ex-rival Martin Hodgson hopes to make it back to the stages in similar machinery.
Stephen Tilburn’s consistency was rewarded with a podium at Snetterton, but fellow Escort competitor Mark Kelly will miss the visit to Donington.
Keep an eye out also for Nathalie McGloin, sharing a modified Porsche Cayman with Andrew Bayliss. Nathalie is paralysed from the chest down and regularly competes with Porsche in club events using specially-adapted hand controls.
Mathematically, the overall title could even be wrapped up this weekend should West enjoy success and his main rivals all endure a shocker at Donington, but the reality makes it highly unlikely.
Maximum MN points went to Dale Lawson in their “weakest” round of the season most recently, so expect the MG pairing to be tough opposition this weekend as they hunt down points leader Craig Aston (Toyota Yaris).
Ford are represented well and the Fiesta of Robert Jones could challenge, while fans can expect to see sideways action courtesy of Alfa Romeo, Vauxhall and Nissan.
Paul Sheard has proved unstoppable in Class B so far this season. The Mazda MX-5 has battled teething troubles in several rallies, Sheard lucky to have reached the final time check at Snetterton.
A trouble-free run would make the experienced Mazda man tough to beat, although the likes of Ashleigh Morris (Ford Fiesta) will not make it an easy ride. A favourite also returns in the form of Sir Andrew McAlpine’s old Mini Cooper.
Ford’s dominance in Class C was dented by the return of Joshua Davey at Snetterton.
The Darrian T90 finally made a comeback and took a top-five and class win on a reliable afternoon, something that could be repeated here at Donington if dramas fail to rear their ugly head.
The Ford Escort is again well represented, Mike English looking to bounce back from engine problems after losing ground to class points leader Cathy Sewart (Talbot Sunbeam Lotus) and Ryan Connolly (Ford Puma), who himself has been victim to reliability struggles after a strong start to the season.
The old takes on the new generation of WRC cars, Peter and Guy Smith likely to be the two fighting for class honours alongside a tilt at overall spoils.
Subaru are also represented thanks to Craig Fleming, Peter Stephenson and John Griffths in their Imprezzas.