16 Feb Brilliant Bird Weathers Snetterton Storm
Frank Bird made it four Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship wins in succession as he broke Chris West’s stranglehold on the Snetterton Stages.
On a weekend where Storm Dennis was set to be the talking point, Bentley racer Bird stormed to victory by a comfortable 2m29s in the rapid ex-Munchi’s Ford Focus WRC07 after winning all eight of the day’s stages in Norfolk.
It was primed to be the toughest battle of the season yet for Bird and navigator Jack Morton, as two previous champions lined up alongside him in Ian Woodhouse and current two-time champion, Chris West.
The latter looked to continue his dominant form at Snetterton on his first MNCRC event since the Cadwell finale last year, but the FWD Peugeot 306 Maxi was up against it compared to the improving 4WD WRC machinery in greasy, windy conditions. 20s adrift after SS1, West’s charge unfortunately ended after driveshaft and fuel starvation issues on the third run of the day, despite a sterling effort from the team to fix the former.
Despite a brief mistake on the opening stage at a hairpin while chasing top-seeded West, Bird grew in confidence and closed the gap to 64 points from the championship lead – dropped scores not taken into account.
Winner Bird said: “Another really good day for us. It’s a bit of a shame that Chris West dropped out because I felt he could have a good battle with us today. The car was mega again, the team were awesome and Jack was great on the notes next to me, so overall it was a really fun day. We got lucky with the weather; the last stage was a bit trickier, but it wasn’t too bad. I love the gravel section here – it adds something a bit different. I need some people to help me out to fight for the championship, but I’ll give it a go!”
Bird’s main rival became title contender Barry Morris. The Darrian T90 GTR driver added his second podium of the season to close in on Mike Taylor, on a weekend where the latter’s Talbot Sunbeam Lotus dropped points fighting a misfire.
Runner-up Morris added: “Another good day, but of course it was my first time here so I spent some of it just trying to learn certain bits of the track. The weather didn’t really help, but it could have been worse. The car was perfect all day, and we made some good tyre changes as the conditions changed over the day. I’m very happy with the car, and it was a bonus having Tom Hutchings’ experience here alongside me.”
Morris held off the attentions of Paul Smith who continued to find pace in the improving Ford Fiesta R5, matching the podium finishers from Brands Hatch in January. 37s behind Morris, Smith’s Snetterton visit was made trickier by a driveshaft failure of his own after the gravel section on SS4, also picking up a 10s penalty for hitting a corner marker.
Smith said: “The car looks a bit different after I use it! We had a driveshaft go on the gravel section but we managed to get that fixed, and I picked up a ‘gift voucher’ for hitting a marker. I’ve been making some set-up changes to it and it really feels like a race car now, which is the sort of thing you want at places like this. It’s great through the fast bits. I’m really enjoying it.”
Knockhill podium finisher Richard Wells finished a strong – and sideways – fourth in the Mitsubishi Evo, beating former champion Woodhouse who returned for a ‘play’ in his Ford Escort Mk2. Woodhouse hoped for rain which never came until the final stage, drivers starting on wet tyres before quickly switching to the drier compound as the anticipated showers held off for much of the rally.
Steve Finch returned with a top-six finish after a solid run in his own Fiesta R5, while Martin Hodgson won his own personal battle with fellow Escort stalwart Steve Tilburn by a mere six seconds to seal seventh. Taylor dragged the Lotus to ninth after slipping to 18th at one stage to maintain his points lead, Paul Murro’s top-10 performances showing no sign of stopping as he rounded out the 10 in his Escort.
11th overall went to the Peugeot 205 of Ashley Davies, but his real reward was a long-overdue class C victory. Davies pushed the 205 to the limit at times, even clipping his mirror out attempting to take a chicane on the front straight flat out.
Nearest rival Mike English finished a distant 1m30s adrift of Davies who also took MN points in class, English bettering fellow Escort driver Gary Mason for second.
MN runner Chris Ruck recovered from an early mistake when he “followed” Andrew Egger’s Vauxhall Nova wide at a hairpin on SS1 to dominate class B in his Corsa, keeping himself in the title hunt.
Over a minute further back, Paul Gorge finished second in his Mazda MX5, third going the way of the flying Citroen C2 R2 of Mark Peterson and Jim Bowie.
Once put into class A, Egger pushed his Nova to the limit as he won the class in style. A scare on SS4 came when the gravel section also cost him a driveshaft, “limping over the finish” before repairs were completed successfully in the interval.
A distant second was Adam Ripper, but that was enough to continue the Nissasn Micra man’s winning streak in the MN championship as rival Ron Walker could only net fourth overall. “We opted for a harder tyre to get us through the worst of the conditions later in the day”, he said, consolidating crucial points.
While Bird’s domination was enough for D2 spoils, Morris was rewarded for his recent rise in performance with the D1 honours in second overall.
The Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship next heads to Anglesey in Wales on Sunday 1 March for the penultimate round of the season.