MSN Rally Championship | Bird makes it 3 wins from 4
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Bird makes it 3 wins from 4

Frank Bird and Jack Morton started the new year in style with victory in the MGJ Engineering Stages at Brands Hatch, the pair’s third win of the 2021/22 Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship.

Round Four of the championship took a huge field of over 100 cars to Kent, as the rally made its return for the first time in two years following last season’s cancellation during to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That event was won by Bird and Morton under the lights, and they arrived at Brands Hatch looking to repeat the feat and back up scintillating performances at Oulton Park and Donington earlier in the current campaign in their eye-catching Rally2 Ford Fiesta.

The red rocket was quick out of the blocks with GT racer Bird bucking the trend by bolting on wet Michelin tyres to combat the morning fog and overnight rain that kept the circuit greasy in the early going. Several drivers were caught out at Graham Hill Bend as they travelled the opposite direction to what visitors would normally witness, but Bird eeked out an early lead over Brands debutant, Neil Roskell.

The latter was building in confidence as he tried to eek out a gap over his nearest title rival, Barry Morris, but that fear soon evaporated for the championship leader as Morris was hamstrung on stage one by a misfire that halted his chase. Try as the Irish crew might, Morris made it to the finish but an unlucky 77th overall, the car unable to recover from its reliabilty hitch.

Roskell fought against non-championship contenders within the top five and pursued Bird as much as possible, being brave enough to move to intermediate and then slick Michelin rubber at the halfway stage. The switch was golden and Roskell admitted to finding his groove in the Fiesta R5, losing just two seconds on SS6 as he almost matched the flying Bird.

There would be no stopping the leader however, Bird pumping in two stunning times in the final runs as darkness descended on the Indy circuit to confirm victory by over a minute for he and Morton’s third success of the season. Cadwell winner Roskell finished well in second place to ensure a 100 per cent podium record this season, and extend his well-earned championship lead in the process. He did have to look over his shoulder at times, and the final spot on the MSN podium was a welcome one.

John Griffiths – formerly a Subaru driver – christened his first campaign in a Fiesta R5 with a fine third place overall, a maiden visit to the top three for the series regular who was a top-five contender overall throughout the day.

Fourth place was a welcome result for the Davey pairing of Joshua and Tamsyn, who have finally seen a positive swing of fortune as they powered their Darrian T90 to a fantastic fourth place, winning their own class in the process after persisting with their previously troublesome machine. Fifth was another mighty effort by Alistair Ingliss meanwhile, ensuring he claimed a second consecutive top-five finish in his Fiesta R2.

Best of the Ford Escort Mk2 brigade was a hotly-contested affair. Martin Hodgson was looking beaten with one stage to go after a fighting comeback by returnee Steve Tilburn, but a final thrash on SS8 from Hodgson did the damage and earned him sixth spot from his fellow Mk2 rival. An excellent performance from Ciro Carannante showed his Porsche Cayman upgrades were paying off, sealing eighth place ahead of #23 seed Phillip House (Escort Mk2) and the local giant-killer, Christopher Newton, rounding out the top 10.

Frank Bird: “It’s a great way to start the year. In the morning I was blowing away to cobwebs a little bit but then we started to get back into the swing of things when it started to dry up. Very happy with the result and thanks to all the team and Jack again, we did a great job. It was super slippy in the morning but once we moved to slicks it felt much better in the afternoon.”

Neil Roskell: “Really happy with that result. As the rally went on it just started to feel right, and I was only two seconds off of Frank later on with confidence in the car. It’s not bad for our first time here. It’s a great result but also a shame for Barry [Morris] as it would have been nice to have the fight there again, but we’ll be ready for a big fight at Snetterton.”

John Griffiths: “I’m absolutely over the moon with that. We only just got the car two weeks ago; never driven it, and we were throwing ourselves in at the deep end. I thought if I got a top 10 I’d be happy, but to come third I’m over the moon and the car was awesome. In the early stages I was tip-toeing, but then I felt we could push it and I started to lean on it in the afternoon and the times started coming in.”

Class A

It appeared to be a case of keeping it in the family across the numerous classes.

Bucking the trend were local favourites Christopher and Anthony Newton, who picked up from where they left off by winning on their return to the championship in their class A Vauxhall Nova. The pair dominated this event two years ago, and lightning continued striking as they once again looked untouchable in their 1,400cc orange missile on the way to finishing an impressive 17th overall out of 78 finishers. They were also 13 spots clear of nearest rival overall, and 28 ahead of the closest MSN competition, after a great showing by the Vauxhall Corsa pairing of Sam and Bailey Cox beat James Hardy’s Nissan Micra to second place in class.

Class B

It was less brothers grim and more brothers galore at Brands Hatch. Ben and Andrew Wilkinson were the talk of the field in class B, but it wasn’t a straightforward success. With ground to gain in the class championship, the Peugeot 106 Maxi pair were barely separated from Alex Cannon’s Ford Fiesta during the rally. Wilkinson attacked initially, and survived a last-stage charge by Cannon to win by 12s at the final time check. Paul Sheard grabbed third, while ex-BTCC racer and team boss Shaun Hollamby shared another of Sheard’s Mazdas to brilliantly win the MX-5 class with Sion Cunniff alongside him.

Class C

The brother and sister team of Joshua and Tamsyn Davey showed further signs their bad luck is fading with a fine win in class C, as the Darrian T90 showed its pace could also couple with reliabilty for a confidence-boosting victory in Josh Payton’s absence. Phil House was next up, with another Escort in third with Gary Mason behind the wheel.

Class D

Class D was opened up somewhat by the mechanical malodies for Morris, leaving a Ford Escort Mk2 squabble to take centre stage between two MSNCRC stalwarts, Hodgson and Tilburn. It was the first rally back after almost two years for Steve and Jack Tilburn, who looked back to ther best instantly after working hard on the Mk2 to get it back on circuit after “trading lockdown roast dinners” for the tarmac once again. The fight swung back and forth throughout, Tilburn leading with a stage remaining; the final run was the decisive moment, as Hodgson took the time back he needed to win the class, Carannante third in his Porsche after battling through traffic all day.

Class E/H

Overall winners Bird and Morton were also rewarded with the E2 class victory, ahead of Roskell and Griffiths. It was a welcome podium for Griffiths in particular, as the Ford man adapts to his new whip. Ian Dalglish and Jack Didcock took the MSN class H win in their Ford Escort Mk1, fourth overall in their class behind non-championship entries.

Results (MSNCRC entries included only):

  1. Frank Bird/Jack Morton (Ford Fiesta R2) 42m50s
  2. Neil Roskell/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta R5) +1m22s
  3. John Griffiths/Tom Rogers (Fiesta R5) +1m46s
  4. Joshua Davey/Tamsyn Davey (Darrian T90) +2m26s
  5. Alistair Inglis/Will Atkins (Ford Fiesta R5) +3m02s
  6. Martin Hodgson/Tony Jones (Ford Escort Mk2) +3m11s
  7. Steve Tilburn/Jack Tilburn (Ford Escort Mk2) +3m12s
  8. Ciro Carannante/Simon Coates (Porsche Cayman) +4m05s
  9. Phillip House/Nick Beaumont (Ford Escort) +4m17s
  10. Christopher Newton/Anthony Newton (Vauxhall Nova) 4m57s
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