05 Dec The wait is finally over… Round 1 2020-21 Preview
To quote the late great Freddie Mercury, “the show must go on”. Despite the ongoing Covid-19 situation, we are delighted to confirm the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship will begin at Donington Park on Sunday 6 December with a bumper entry list.
With a maximum capacity entry list in place for the opening round of the season, now held at the much-loved Leicestershire circuit, it promises to be a case of continuing from where the championship left off after a brilliant and ultra-competitive campaign concluded back in March, with Barry Morris netting a maiden crown in his Darrian GT-R at the same circuit he now begins his title defence.
Matching that feat will be tougher this season, no thanks to the improving household names that want more from their MNCRC experiences. Most determined of all will be Frank Bird, the factory Bentley GT racer back for more in his ex-Federico Villagra WRC Ford Focus which took him to five triumphs last season – some in more crushing fashion than others. Bird will want to add his second Donington Park victory of the calendar year, but he will have company from old rivals including several with newer machinery at their disposal.
The old returnee feared by most is former champion Chris West, but not in the venerable Peugeot 306 Maxi we have become so familiar (and in love) with in previous campaigns. Instead, West and Keith Hounslow roll out their entry to the new GT class in the shape of a Porsche 997 GT3 with which they finished third at Abingdon a few months ago.
Another changing equipment will be championship stalwart Mark Kelly, arriving with a new Ford Fiesta R5 to take the fight to his rivals after pushing them close with the aged friend of the series, a Ford Escort Mk2, in recent years. Kelly will be a contender this season in newer machinery, as will the ever-improving Richard Wells who is in his first full season with the Fiesta R5 introduced from Anglesey. Wells became a consistent frontrunner after trading Mitsubishi for Ford, and only a muddy trip at the hairpin here last season prevented a podium finish. That will surely be rectified this season, so we shall see if practice does indeed make perfect.
Scot John Marshall bolsters the Fiesta carnival at Donington with his own entry and is no stranger to winter rallies, James Self and Paul Smith also back to threaten the top 10. Joshua Davey brings his own Darrian T90 back to the fray looking for a new, much more positive chapter after gearbox gremlins made last year a real battle for the proven rally winner, while Rob Hughes and Sion Cunniff will make a welcome return to the series after coming oh-so close to a heart-warming victory in Wales earlier in the year.
Another welcome entry is that of Ollie Mellors. The British Rally Championship front-runner has registered for the 2020-21 season and intends to do as many rounds as possible, driving a Mellors Elliot Motorsport Proton iris R5 – the car the series champion will receive a test drive in.
The classes remain consistently well-accompanied across the board. Mike Taylor and Cathy Sewart continue to run Lotus Talbot Sunbeam machines which flourished with engine developments last year, while the Ford Escort Mk2 brigade is headed by series friend, Mike English, who will hope to take the crown from Sewart after a titanic scrap last season. Rivals include the experienced Martin Hodgson in his Mk2, as well as the flambouyant Paul Murro who was a consistent top-10 finisher last season and is now in a class more suited to his equipment.
Chris Ruck was last year’s class B star after a season-long dice with Ashleigh Morris, and he is back to defend the crown in his Opel Corsa. Class A meanwhile contains a real tough cookie in Christopher Newton, who has famously been a giant-killer upholding the banner for less powerful machinery in selected rallies in the past with a rapid Vauxhall Nova.
The event will provide competitors with up to 48 stage miles (80km) of stage action featuring the likes of classic sequences such as the Craner Curves, the event supported by MSVR in addition to two Regional Stage Rally Championships and the Dukeries Rally Championship.