18 Nov Woodhouse feeling back at home with Cadwell Stages win
It was almost as if Ian Woodhouse had never been away, as the 2016/17 Motorsport News Circuit Rally champion clinched a commanding victory in a rain-affected NHMC Cadwell Stages Rally.
Matching the feat of Mark Kelly two seasons ago, Woodhouse gave the Ford Escort a long-overdue rally win at the forest circuit, battling the elements in a rebuilt Mk2 to beat Mike Taylor’s excelling Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.
A comfortable triumph did not seem as likely initially, however. Joshua Davey stepped up in the nimble Darrian T90 and went five seconds quicker than Woodhouse on SS1 to grab the early advantage.
Rain duly returned much to the latter’s delight, and – after stage two was red flagged – his stage three effort was enough to topple Davey and snatch the lead of the rally. Davey’s luck soon took a downward turn, as gearbox gremlins and further throttle issues eventually caused the Darrian’s retirement after stopping before the afternoon stages.
Woodhouse had opened up a lead of almost 30s, and proceeded to reel off a string of four fastest stage times as night descended to confirm his first win since 2017 by a cushion of 1m04s over Taylor. It was not without one flash of late drama, as Woodhouse and co-driver Paul Rowland were forced to use cable ties in the cockpit to keep their headlights functioning in the final two stages.
Woodhouse said: “I couldn’t have asked for any more really. I’ve really enjoyed it. The car’s been fantastic, and we’ve not really had any problems except for the lights at the end and a little bit of contact in traffic earlier on – that’s just giving the fans a bit of excitement! I tested the car at Donington and actually scared myself a little bit. We’ll see how we are for pennies and hopefully do a few more rallies this year.”
Second was a personal best result equalled for Taylor and Martin Haggett in their Sunbeam Lotus. Caging a brand new engine, the car maintained top-three pace for much of the rally and came home for a first overall podium finish in the series for the pair.
Taylor said: “I’ve finished second a couple of times, but yes, this is the first [overall podium] we’ve had in this series. The new engine is working very well, and it shows that our in-house developments are working. I’m excited for customers that may want to use it in the future, and it’s reward for these guys that work flat out on the cars.”
On a day for the classic machinery, another star performance came from Dan Corner in his Peugeot 205. Third overall was the reward for his efforts, helped by double champion Chris West and an engine formerly run by the latter in the series.
Corner added: “We weren’t expecting a result like that! A really good day for us, the car was spot on all day and it’s fantastic to come away with a result like this. We’ve had four years of bad luck, so this is a good day. Chris [West] has been such a big help, and we’ve got a lot to thank him for.”
Michael Walton’s Escort fell just short of the top three after a strong performance in tricky conditions, the top five rounded out by the ever-sideways Opel Kadett of Alan McDowall. A trio of Mk2 Escorts followed, headed by class C winner Mike English ahead of Rob Cox and Paul Murro. Cathy Sewart made it two Lotus’ in the top 10, concluded by Stuart Popplewell’s SEAT Ibiza.
A brace of Escorts stole the show in class C, and it was a familiar story for Mike English as he won the class and snatched full MN points for the second year in succession at Cadwell.
Coming through a self-proclaimed “rally of attrition”, English batted off the returning Rob Cox, who returned without any reoccurring gearbox issues which had kept him away from the circuits for a year.
Keeping the Mk2 duo honest was another Talbot Sunbeam Lotus of Cathy Sewart, the top five covered by less than a minute as Popplewell and the Peugeot 205 of Ashley Davies followed the trio home.
“I’ve still not driven the car in a dry rally!” were the words of class B winner Chris Ruck, who made it two from two with navigator Steve Harris in his left-hand-drive Vauxhall Corsa.
Ruck battled a straight-line deficit to clinch maximum MN Championship points in the process, beating a charging Ken Sturdy who overpowered the Ford Fiesta of Ashleigh Morris in the afternoon, Morris returning to the top three after a consistent drive.
Class A was split into two groups at Cadwell Park, A2 winners Dale and Andrew Lawson stealing the limelight on their return to a circuit they love.
The MG ZR pairing, victorious in class A last season, added another win and sealed an impressive 21st place finish overall, keeping a chasing Matt Wood just over 15s adrift in a punch and counter punch slog.
MN points went the way of the third place finisher, Ron Walker. Again in contention, Walker carried his Ford Puma through the conditions for maximum class points. A1 only recorded two finishers, Ian Bass coming out on top in his Toyota Yaris over Ian Houston.
D1 spoils went the way of Woodhouse overall, but the best MN Championship runner was the man closest to him, Taylor. Despite crankshaft issues at one stage, the Lotusbits man could celebrate his best overall result in the series.
D2 went the way of Lee Allen in his trusty Mitsubishi Evo 3, also grabbing maximum MN Championship points in class after holding off the attentions of Philip Megginson.
The MN Circuit Rally Championship heads North to Scotland and the annual visit to Knockhill circuit in Fife next, Round Three taking place on Sunday 8 December.