16 Mar Bird Takes Donington. Morris Takes The Title
Frank Bird dominated the Donington Rally, but it was Barry Morris who celebrated a maiden Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship title with third place in the season finale.
The championship battle somewhat diverted the attention away from runaway winner Bird, who matched his Snetterton performance by taking a clean sweep of scratch stage times to confirm win number five of his impressive first full season.
The task for Morris on the other hand was simple on paper. The Darrian T90 GTR man entered the final rally in the hot seat off the back of a first victory in Anglesey, and despite a sluggish start when caught in traffic, Morris fought back from as low as 13th to seal the title with a last-gasp podium.
His nearest contenders Paul Murro and Richard Wells needed problems to halt the Darrian’s route to the title, but their biggest problem was catching the runaway Bird who shone in wet conditions similar to those of his debut rally here last year.
Leading the chase was a charging Subaru Impreza, John Griffiths enjoying his best showing of the season as he moved ahead of previous champion Ian Woodhouse, who returned in his Ford Escort Mk2 looking to add to his Cadwell victory in November.
While Bird romped to a 2m54s victory up front, his fifth of the campaign, the Ford Focus WRC07 left behind an intriguing battle for the remaining podium positions. Griffiths looked set to seal it after extending a narrowing cushion over Woodhouse to 13s in the closing stages, but the final run of the afternoon shuffled the order dramatically.
Griffiths accidentally completed another lap of the stage and lost three minutes, dropping 10 spots to 12th and gifting Woodhouse second spot. Third place looked set to head the way of Wells in his new Ford Fiesta R5, but he too hit trouble with a sideways trip through the wet grass at the Melbourne Loop. 10 seconds were lost, meaning Morris climbed three spots to beat Peter Smith’s Fiesta to the final podium spot, clinching a maiden overall title.
Bird said: “Another good day for us. I pushed hard at the start and we took some good time out of everyone, then started taking it a bit easier later on in the end not taking any risks. It’s crazy to think this time last year was my first rally. I’ve learned a heck of a lot since then, and it’s got better and better so it’s been a great few months with everyone.”
Woodhouse said: “This morning conditions have been a lot better for me because I like it to be proper wet. Not greasy or awkward like we’ve had a few times like at Snetterton. As it dried out we lost a bit but it was spot on otherwise. No mistakes to talk about, and a lot of fun. It’s down to money now, but hopefully we’ll be back out later in the year.”
Morris said: “I’m over the moon. We got a wee push on near the end, and then eased it back a little bit on the last stage to get it home. It’s been a great season, and we’ll be coming back next year. I’ve just got to thank everybody at the championship for letting me have the chance and it’s been a lot of fun. I got held up at the start by another Darrian, but after that we got into it, and I think we were strong towards the end.”
Wells also fell behind the Escort of Martin Hodgson, which finished just four seconds from the final podium spot. Just 17s covered third to seventh, Josh Davey’s Darrian T90 surviving a day-long misfire to beat Steve Tilburn’s Escort. The Ford Fiesta of Steve Finch and previous MINI Challenge racer Ben Dimmack (Mitsubishi Evo) rounded out the top 10.
Ron Walker could celebrate class A title honours by just four crucial points thanks to second place in the class at Donington. Jonathan Hudson claimed the overall class win on the day in his Suzuki Swift, inheriting the lead on SS3 after Matt Wood’s first Donington event in four years ended prematurely due to “a rather large hole in the engine block” of his Vauxhall Corsa.
Maximum MN points went to Walker despite finishing just eight seconds adrift, on a day where class A title rival Adam Ripper could only manage fourth overall in his Nissan Micra.
Class B went down to the wire in a four-way duel. Chris Ruck set the early-season benchmark, and finished strongly at Donington by bringing the Opel Corsa home first on his birthday to seal the class championship.
“It’s just so nice to know that after 25 years I still feel like I can do it”, said Ruck. “We’ve had a great season.”
Ruck swept all seven stages to finish 1m15s clear of Ashleigh Morris’ chasing Ford Fiesta, while third place was not enough for Mark Peterson’s Citroen C2 to snatch it from Ruck, having headed the class prior to Donington.
While Barry Morris’ title triumph may have stole the headlines, he also played a big part in helping another Darrian to a class victory at Donington. Luck had not been on the side of Josh Davey in recent years; having lost potential rally wins through gearbox problems over the season, lightning looked set to strike again when a misfire returned for the T90 after the second stage.
Class C overall and MNCRC success would however go his way on this occasion, with help from spares provided by Morris, who said “we gave Josh wires to get it going again – anything to help out. He deserves it because he should have had a few wins this year.”
Second place went to Mike English, but that was not enough to deny third place finisher Cathy Sewart the class C title in her Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.
Overall winner Bird added the class D2 win to his tally, but Wells wrapped up the class title with his top 10 result.
D1 spoils went the way of second-placed Woodhouse, Barry Morris adding the class title to his overall championship.