01 Jun Kelly takes victory in MN visit to Oulton Park
In a dramatic and thrilling Neil Howard Stages Rally, Mark Kelly and Neil Colman came out victorious in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship’s visit to Oulton Park.
Having been delayed from its usual spot in November due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Neil Howard Stages returned and welcomed the British Rally Championship for the first time alongside the MN Circuit Championship regulars in what was one of the strongest entries on a UK rally for some time.
But even with the BRC in attendance, the MSN Circuit Rally regulars proved they deserved in the same rally with top stage times and fights throughout the class structure of the championship.
Fresh off of winning the Compbrake Stages Rally recently, Kelly had the unusual honour of winning an MN event without topping a stage, but his consistency throughout the rally proved absolutely crucial. He took the second overall spot on the third stage and it proved decisive for the win and Class E2 honours.
To add to that, Kelly was fifth overall on the event, only 20 seconds behind the British Rally Championship-winning car of Sam Moffett.
Frank Bird and Jack Morton were fastest of MN entries on the opening two stages but had to be disqualified for a technical infringement, erasing what would have been an MN overall victory.
The trio of James Yates, Joe Cunningham and Kevin Procter have done this rally on a number of occasions and excelled, and all three won stages despite failing to match Kelly’s consistency over the eight tests.
In the end, Yates, the 2016 and 2018 runner-up partnered by Tom Woodburn, dropped seven seconds on the last stage and that proved crucial as Cunningham was able to swoop in and steal second.
Cunningham was a regular Class A winner in a Vauxhall Corsa in the early days of the MN Championship and took the opportunity to show his talent when given a chance with co-driver Joshua Beer in a Ford Fiesta R5 by his uncle, Kevin Proctor, who won this event on 2016-18.
Yates, competing on his first MSN round of the season, rounded off the top 3, taking a podium finish.
Proctor – partnered by Derek Fawcett – had been Kelly’s closest rival throughout the event until SS7 when he dropped 10 seconds, finished fourth.
Rounding out an all Ford Fiesta top six was Tom Preston and co-driver Carl Williamson, 18s behind Kevin Procter.
Proving the ever-present Ford Escort Mk2 could be competitive on this stunning entry list, David Henderson and Chris Williams impressed with sixth overall in the MN Championship – just over a minute behind the winners, Kelly/Colman – in a Spirited drive to take Class D MN Championship honours.
The class was less Escort dominated than in the past with Barry Morris/Tom Hutchings’ Darrian being Henderson and Williams’ closest rivals, but they were 1m24s adrift by the end as Ciro Carannante and Simon Coates rounded out the class podium in their Porsche Cayman.
Back in the overall top 10, Robert Hughes/Sion Cunniff rounded out a Ford top seven in their Ford Fiesta R5, with Paul Wedgbury/Neil Dashfield bringing their Fabia Proto car home as the first non-Ford in eighth.
Charlie Payne/Aled Edwards had a nightmare last two stages dropping from fifth to ninth, while Simon Bowen and John Cope rounded out the top 10 in another Fiesta.
Regular Class A dominators Christopher/Anthony Newton steered their Vauxhall Nova to victory by over four minutes from the Nissan Micra of James Hardy/Nick Wilkins. Kay Thompson and Charlotte Wainwright rounded out the top three.
Zak Hughes’s stunning SS5 time, 13 seconds quicker than the opposition, helped him and co-driver Ian Beamond take Class B victory, as Daniel Davies/Liam McCallion just beat Chris Ruck and Stev Harris to the runner-up spot.
Constantly in the fight any time they appear in this class, Josh Payton and Jamie Vaughan delivered the goods in their Escort Mk2 in Class C, rear-wheel drive proving the propulsion of choice as his nearest competitors were in front-wheel-drive entries.
Nathan Evans/Rhys Edwards and Alex Cannan/Alan Carfrae rounded out the podium.
Five Paul Sheard-built Mazda MX-5s took on the class of the same name, and it was ex-British GT driver Stephen Johansen/Lewis Griffiths who came out as the winners.
They had been ahead of Paul Gorge/Daniel Hurst by six seconds going into SS6 but Johansen pulled seven seconds which gave him a buffer going into the final stage.
Four Subaru Imprezas started the event in Class E1, but there was a clear winner as Adrian Spencer/Mark Hewitt won by almost four minutes from Greg Williams/Richard Edwards.
All three historic entries made the finish of the event with only 11s separating Escort Mk1 pairing Benjamin/Steven Smith and Escort Mk2 duo Terry Pankhurst and Alex Allingham.