20 Jan Bird has lift-off at Brands Hatch
12 months prior, Frank Bird was preparing for an attack on rallying. Fast forward to 2020, and he added a second consecutive Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship win in the Brands Hatch Stages.
Bird battled icy conditions to back up his Knockhill success with victory at the Kent circuit, beating Barry Morris by 2m21s after grabbing seven stage wins from eight contested with a dominant display.
Many opted for a wet or intermediate tyre choice to tackle the icy conditions in what proved a mistake-riddled opening stage. Bird went for used rubber from a successful December outing at Croft and, as top seed, became the Guinea Pig for the conditions.
The Ford Focus WRC07 picked up bumper damage in a wide moment early on, but survived the tricky run that mixed the field initially.
Joshua Davey headed the returning Peugeot 205 of Ashley Davies as the rising sun returned conditions to normality, but it would be brief. For the third time in as many rallies, gearbox problems struck the lead Darrian T90 and put it out of action by SS3.
Back on a drier compound, Bird’s instant recovery from seventh then set the tone for the day. From 14 seconds adrift, he was soon leading by that same cushion after a run that was 54s quicker than stage one. That gap extended consistently, before Bird sealed the deal with final two runs into the night that proved a combined 51s quicker than his opposition.
Frank Bird: “A faultless day really – barring the first stage. We’ve got two in a row in this championship for the first time. Jack was really good on the notes, team were great and the car was mega all day, so I can’t wait for Cadwell in a couple of weeks time. I’m just having fun really and enjoying myself rallying right now. You always get a buzz when you come to Brands Hatch. It’s a great track with a lot of history, and even better to get a win.”
Tony Robinson retired his Proton Satria Millington on the final stage while chasing a podium finish all afternoon, leaving the door open for Barry Morris in his Darrian T90 GTR to uphold the car’s honours and grab a maiden MNCRC podium for the Irishman and navigator Tom Hutchings.
Barry Morris: “After the first stage which was tricky, stages two, three and four were a lot drier so that felt fine. Later on the cars started getting closer to us but we were able to make to the end. We had an off in stage one but that was about it, the car was good, and we’ll continue with the rest of the championship and keep hard at it. The car ran good today.”
Third place provided the comeback of the afternoon. After Robinson’s last-stage heartbreak, Paul Smith grabbed the final podium spot on the historic racer’s first run out in a new beautifully-liveried Ford Fiesta R5. Despite several moments in the icy morning loop, Smith climbed the leaderboard and came closest to Bird’s times in the afternoon stages to confirm third place with Dale Bowen.
Paul Smith: “It’s almost a game of two halves really. The morning was dreadful; I hit just about everything on the ice, but in the afternoon we got it together. I got a bit more familiar with the new vehicle and we started putting in some good times towards the end there. I’m really pleased. We changed a few settings to make it more into a race car, and it was good. This morning I didn’t know what I was doing having driven historic F3 and an ex-Hans Stuck Audi A4 Supertouring Audi – it’s a lot different!”
Gary Mason enjoyed his best result of the season in fourth ahead of fellow Escort driver Steve Tilburn. Sixth spot went to the recovering Fiesta of Tim Self who deputised for flu-hit James Self, while Richard Wells pipped Mike Taylor in the battle for seventh.
The latter maintained his overall title lead despite contact with Wells at Clearways, now 15 points clear of Paul Murro and Michael Walton’s Escorts rounding out the top 10.
Christopher Newton returned for his local event in a two-wheeling Vauxhall Nova, dominating class A with another giant-killing showing. 13th overall, the Nova briefly sat ahead of overall winner Bird after an electric performance on the opening stage, Newton adding “it’s just a shame it’d drying out!”
Over three minutes further back, Adam Ripper’s Nissan Micra clinched second in class and maximum MN points with the in-form Ron Walker only fifth.
Class B proved a rally of attrition, as both regular big-hitters hit trouble. Ashleigh Morris had her rally brought to a halt by a broken wheel after hitting a kerb on SS7, while double winner Chris Ruck retired before the event got underway due to a clutch issue with his Opel Corsa.
Circuit racer Ben Short had no such issues and used his experience to clinch a comfortable class B victory in his Mazda MX5 from Ben Dawson, the latter toasting his late father – who passed away recently – with fellow competitors. Third in class for Paul Gorge meant the Mazda man took maximum MN points.
While Mason flew to fourth overall, it was clear it was a rally to be in a Ford Escort if you wanted to win class C. The top six in class all had the Blue Oval’s popular machine at their disposal, Roland Brown the closest to MN class winner Mason.
The top two had the overall and MN class honours to celebrate in class D also. Barry Morris earned D1 spoils with second overall, while winner Frank Bird could celebrate D2 success, father Paul Bird adding “he’s really getting into it now. He’s fired up!”