09 Dec Bird Adds Feather In Cap With Knockhill Triumph
12 months ago Frank Bird was a rookie to rallying, but last weekend he looked the finished article as he battled gruesome conditions to win the third Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship event of 2019-20 at Knockhill.
Mother Nature was not kind to those making the trip North to Fife in Scotland, but competitors soldiered on through sleet and heavy winds, with Bird quickly getting into his stride as he looked to add to his Anglesey win at the end of last season.
The local contingent was headed by John Marshall, driving a Ford Fiesta R5 as he aimed to go one better than his runner-up performance a year ago. The Scot took the fight to Bird initially, the latter edging out an early lead of 15 seconds after two brave stages in the Ford Focus WRC 07.
His performance on SS3 was an eye-opener, however. Having trailed by 10s after the opening splits following two big lock-ups in challenging conditions, Marshall looked to have grabbed his chance to avenge a grass-cutting mistake of his own on the previous stage. Instead, Bird recovered lost time and went five seconds quicker on the stage to extend his cushion, which became 30s after the break with a strong run through SS5 just as the field performance looked to have levelled.
Four stage wins in succession for Bird sealed the victory for the single-seater racer and navigator Jack Morton, who ended the day 1m15s clear of Marshall to bring him back into title contention with a visit to Brands Hatch planned next month.
Frank Bird: “It wasn’t the easiest rally that’s for sure. There were a few mistakes, a couple of stalls at hairpins but other than that it felt pretty good. I have to thank the guys in the team for all their hard work in this horrible weather, putting the car together and Jack did a great job with the notes again. I love it now; I think I’ve got my Dad’s [rallying] bug!”
Marshall rued his early stage times, but magnanimously could not take anything away from the winner of the event.
John Marshall: “Frank Bird’s a fantastic driver”, he said. “I’m longer in the tooth at 57, but the car was great and I’ve enjoyed myself. I can’t complain, he’s a good driver in a great car. We managed to dial out a few of our problems as the day had gone on. The weather wasn’t great but it was actually quite grippy out there this morning. We went off a few times and had a bad third stage, but I’m delighted to be back out there and we tried hard.”
Through the storm came a delighted Richard Wells in a six-car duel for the remaining podium position. Third place was the Mitsubishi driver’s reward after a strong showing, making amends for missing Cadwell Park after sensor problems.
Richard Wells: “We definitely wanted that, especially after we didn’t even start at Cadwell when the car had a sensor problem in testing the day before. There was a couple of lock-ups on that final stage to keep us on edge, but other that the car was spot on all day.”
He finished seven seconds clear of Neil Roskell’s Subaru Impreza, while just five seconds covered the tight battle between Kyle Adam (Ford Escort), Barry Morris (Darrian T90 GTR), Mike Taylor (Talbot Sunbeam Lotus) and Stephen Tilburn (Ford Escort). Barry Groundwater’s Impreza and Paul Murro’s Escort rounded out the top 10.
Joshua Davey’s Darrian was robbed of a win here two years ago, and similar gearbox problems cropped up once again to ruin his charge on SS5 after taking a brace of stage wins just before the break.
There was no stopping the nimble Vauxhall Nova of Jonathon Hogg at Knockhill, as he and Greg Halfpenny romped to victory in class A by almost three minutes ahead of Eamonn Kilmurray’s Citroen C2.
In the championship, maximum points went to the Ford Puma of Ron Walker on a day where he knew points could be vital with rivals absent. Despite testing the extreme elements with minor excursions, fourth in class was enough to take the MN points and add to Walker’s strong start to the season.
The locals had their feel-good moment in class B. Ashleigh Morris put to bed memories of her spectacular roll at Knockhill 12 months ago by taking the fight to this season’s double winner Chris Ruck, and coming out on top with a superbly consistent showing.
13th overall was enough to beat Ruck’s Opel Corsa which lost time through a moment when the car slipped into neutral, but Morris was rejuvenated in winning for the first time this season. “The wet actually suits our cars over the theoretically quicker cars”, said the Ford Fiesta driver. “We’re feeling good at the moment.”
“These are the worst conditions I’ve ever been in during a rally, so I just want to get it to the finish this time”, were the words of Mike English after he languished down the field early in the day.
He staged a remarkable fightback, however. The Cadwell winner kept it neat and tidy, and grabbed the class lead and victory from Johnnie Mackay with his final two stage performances to maintain a class title push by adding MN spoils also.
The D1 class went the way of Kyle Adam in the best of the Escort Mk2 bunch, while maximum championship points went to the Darrian of Barry Morris, which lost time on the final stage when in contention for an overall podium. D2 honours and maximum points went to overall winner, Frank Bird.
The series returns to action in the New Year with the MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages on 18 January 2020. We wish you all a very Happy Christmas until then!