22 Jan West takes second victory of the season at Brands
Chris West carried his superlative form into the new year and the Brands Hatch Stages by making it two overall wins on the spin in the 2018/19 Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship.
The reigning champion was made to fight for his second win of the season by the returning Ford Fiesta WRC of John Stone and last year’s Brands Hatch Stages winner, Mark Kelly, enjoying his first outing of the campaign.
West’s Peugeot 306 Maxi improved steadily throughout the day in Kent before grabbing an afternoon advantage that he would never surrender after a dramatic fifth stage of the eight.
Hindsight was a wonderful thing for John Stone on the other hand. The Fiesta had started brightest in the morning by opening up a nine-second lead over West with two stage wins, although the latter narrowed the cushion to just three before the break. Stage five would be the turning point.
West and Stone encountered traffic at one of the key merges of the circuit, Stone left waiting for almost 20 seconds as an errant Proton Satria Millington of Andy Robinson failed to make it round the tricky pit exit hairpin.
The lead was lost to West with Kelly still in pursuit, Stone falling 20s adrift in third. A rejuvenated West put the hammer down and scorched clear for an 18s triumph, extending his championship lead in the process thanks to victories on the final two special stages in the evening.
After his second win with Smith and Jones, West said: “John Stone showed good pace, but unfortunately he also got held up later in the day. That’s rallying though I guess. We were there or thereabouts, but if he hadn’t got held up he could have still done something wrong or the car could have broken down, because rallying is rallying. We were there all day and won again, so I’m over the moon! It took me a few stages to get going but we made a few tweaks and it’s bang on. It’s not quite at full capacity yet, but when it is it will be a monster. Thanks to my sponsors, including Smith and Jones, Ultimate Speed Racing, Michelin, Tilemaster Adhesives, Wosp and Sunoco.
A late surge from Stone – spurred on by adrenaline built up from earlier events – moved himself and co-driver Jack Morton back up into second, pipping Kelly’s Escort by a solitary second at the final time check.
“I feel a lot better now”, said Stone, who missed the visit to Knockhill with illness. “It’s a shame that we got held up. It’s not the first time we’ve lost out at a merge. What happened has happened and we’ll move on. I’m used to the settings of the car now and it feels really good.”
Last year’s winner Kelly could not repeat his heroics of the previous season, but was proud of his efforts against the ever-improving machinery of his main competitors.
“It’s good to be back and I feel relaxed”, he said. “We did as good as we could have. For us, just to be getting that close to a WRC car – I’m happy with that. You can see that the bar has been moved forward, and you have to look at what Steve Tilburn is doing against these guys too. It’s horrible for John [Stone] to have lost time in that way.”
Fourth place went to Tilburn’s Escort after a strong underdog display, fifth going the way of James Self’s Fiesta R5. Mark Straker kept the nose of his Darrian T90 clean to finish a solid sixth place ahead of the excelling BMW M3 of Paul Smith.
Nigel Mummery’s ex-Markko Martin Ford Focus WRC returned to the championship, but eighth place was not representative of his pace. A solid top-four contender, boost pipe dramas cost him on a sluggish opening stage. James Slaughter’s Escort and Robinson’s Proton rounded out the top 10.
An enthralling tussle for class C honours kept onlookers guessing until the final time check.
Roland Brown’s Ford Escort Mk1 was on course for victory after a string of fastest times in the morning, but James Slaughter chased hard in the afternoon to move his Escort RS1800 to within two seconds heading in the final stage.
A sterling effort was enough for Slaughter as he went six seconds quicker, sealing the class win with the sixth fastest stage time overall.
Mike English took MN spoils and lead initially, but suffered a snapped control arm that dropped him to fourth.
It was a Mazda MX5 one-two in class B, Paul Sheard adding another hard-fought triumph to his collection ahead of Ben Short.
“That’s the first one where we’ve not had any gremlins all day”, said Sheard after a trouble-free run.
Sheard was made to fight for victory by wildcard Abi Mahmood, and the Suzuki Swift 1600 – entered in the Junior World Rally Championship from 2006 – lead the way initially. Brake problems moved the battle back in Sheard’s favour.
Christopher Newton produced a star performance to win class A in a re-shelled Vauxhall Nova, finishing 18th overall and even beating a D2 class 1987 Audi Quattro for good measure.
Newton’s class-winning cushion was a startling 3m41s ahead of the returning Dale Lawson, who importantly grabbed maximum MN championship points for class A in the less powerful MG ZR ahead of their local round at Snetterton.
“We’re always going to struggle at the power circuits”, said Lawson. “We’re all trying so hard in this class.”
Alec Holding’s Austin Mini looked spectacular and was just as rapid, netting third in class and plenty of fan support.