12 Dec 2020 Gets A Bit Brighter as MSNCRC Gets Underway
Bird keeps Kelly at bay to clinch Donington opener
Frank Bird and Jack Morton picked up from where they left off last season by claiming victory in the opening Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship event of 2020-21 at Donington Park.
A victor at the same circuit back in March – a year on from his maiden MNCRC outing – sportscar and F3 racer Bird finished with a flourish to start the season in style with a big win, having fought off the attentions of a rejuvenated Mark Kelly and his new Ford Fiesta R5.
The pair traded identical splits in the opening stage of the day in very wet conditions, both then going sgnificantly faster in the second loop as Bird took a mere one-second lead into the afternoon. Formerly a winner in older Escort Mk2 machinery, Kelly had his sights on the top spot but was dealt a blow on stage three after losing over 10s behind the similar car of Richard Wells, which briefly left the road ahead of him.
A 13s lead soon became 15 as Bird found his groove in drying conditions, and the Focus WRC driver proceeded to deal a crushing blow to his rivals with two rapid runs into the evening to extend his fnal cushion out to 35 seconds over his nearest charger, Kelly, the latter utilising knowledge gained from working with rallying star Matt Edwards for a strong Fiesta debut alongside Neil Colman.
Third place looked a long shot for Ollie Mellors after stage one, when an altercation with a tyre stack cost him vital time and left the Proton Iriz nursing dramatic-looking, but ultimately cosmetic damage. The Proton driver shone and kept closest to the top two, beginning his full-season assault with a podium ahead of Paul Smith.
Frank Bird: “Once I got used to the conditions I could just attack more, and then learn more about where the grip was. It’s been a mega day, no issues with the car or anything and Jack was really good alongside me, making sure I knew where to split off and point the car. It’s a good way to start the championship. We’ve not had a bad year at all, and had a good run since my debut here last year. It was fairly consistent really and we have a good set-up now on the car, so thank you to the championship and the team.”
Mark Kelly: “The new toy is awesome. The Fiesta R5 is a fantastic car and it’s so much fun to drive. I’m kind of priviledged to be in this position and to do it in a car like this. We’ve enjoyed it and the battle; coming here, with the entry list we had we genuinely thought that seed number four was very respectful to us. Had we have been 12 or 14 we’d have taken it, but to be there and finish up second with this calibre of field is mega for us really. We tried, but on the last two stages Frank was mega.”
Ollie Mellors: “It’s been a great day, and a very difficult event with the changing conditions. Obviously in stage one we had a little indescretion with the tyre stacks, but the car ran faultlessley all day and that incident was the first real time we went out at speed – yet we still had pace and finished the stage. The team did a great job, made it look pretty again, and we’ve really enjoyed it. The championship have done a great job and kept everything on time, so it’s been fantastic to be back out.”
A mistake by Kevin Procter in the morning gave Smith the chance to break clear of a fierce battle for fifth, won late on by John Griffiths in his new Peugeot 208 R5 as he demoted Procter. A quartet of Fiestas behind also included those of Charles Payne, a rapidly recovering Wells and the returning Rob Hughes, with Barry Groundwater’s Subaru Impreza rounding out the top 10.
Tyre choice was key across several classes, and the changing conditions meant some went right down to the wire. Last year’s class B champion Chris Ruck started his defence with victory, relishing new rubber on his Opel Corsa to pull clear ahead of the Peugeot of Ed Fossey who came closest to spoiling the party. Mark Peterson’s Citroen C2 grabbed a competitive third as he jumped up to challenge faster cars in class.
Another story of tyres, as a change from super softs to cut tyres vastly improved Josh Payton’s fortunes in Class Three, moving ahead at stage four’s conclusion having recovered from two tricky opening stages. Elliot Payne and Antony Allery chased hard, but could not recover after the winner found his form.
Another Mk2 Escort took spoils in Class Four thanks to Dane Walker, who narrowly pipped the similar machine of the experienced Martin Hodgson after moving ahead on stage four, finishing a sole second clear in a mightily tight finish that almost reversed the spots. Paul Murro chased hard but lost out on third to Nick Whale, both also benifitting from Mike Taylor’s Lotus unfortunately retiring.
Christopher Newton’s rapid Vauxhall Nova dominated Class One, while Scott Renshaw (Subaru Impreza) swept the board in Class Five. Chris West returned in Nigel Mummery’s Porsche 997 GT3, and would have been involved in the top 10 battles had a gearbox problem not curtailed his rally on stage one.
The series intends to return in the new year for the second rally of the season on January 16, held at Brands Hatch circuit in Kent.
- Ford Fiesta R5 +35s
- Proton Iriz+1m03s
- Fiesta R5 +1m25s
- Peugeot 208 R5+1m46s
- Fiesta R5 Peugeot 208 +1m47s
- Fiesta R5 +2m03s
- Fiesta R5 +2m17s
- Fiesta R5 +2m38s
- Subaru Impreza +3m37s
Class Winners: Bird/Morton; Dane Walker/Dave Boyes (Ford Escort Mk2); Josh Payton/Jamie Vaughan (Escort Mk2); Chris Ruck/Steve Harris (Opel Corsa S1600); Scott Renshaw/ Chris Bullock (Subaru Impreza); Christopher Newton/Anthony Newton (Vauxhall Nova).