MSN Rally Championship | David Henderson & Sion Cunniff weather Storm Eunice to take a terrific first win at Snetterton
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David Henderson & Sion Cunniff weather Storm Eunice to take a terrific first win at Snetterton

David Henderson and Sion Cunniff weathered Storm Eunice to take a terrific first win in the fifth round of the 2021/22 Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship at Snetterton, while the title fight took yet another twist.

Henderson arrived in Norfolk armed with a new Ford Fiesta and the acolade of top seeding for the event, and it proved to be the perfect mix as he and series regular Cunniff were rapid throughout the day.

12 months on from a strong top-seven performance in an elderly Ford Escort Mk2, Henderson took his newer machine by the scruff of the neck with a brace of stage wins in the morning to leave behind him the brewing title fight between Neil Roskell and previous champion, Barry Morris.

Henderson’s lead after the morning loop would sit at 15s over the chasing Fiesta of Roskell, the latter looking over his shoulder for the Darrian T90 of Morris. By the end of SS3 however, he would have to look no more, as bad luck again struck Morris just like at Brands Hatch. Heading through the infield section, a piece of gravel flicked off the Darrian’s external master switch and Morris ground to a halt, eventually continuing over two minutes later – the damage already done.

The weather soon took a turn in the afternoon, Henderson still keeping Roskell at bay and extending his lead by 11s on two occassions. When the storm came, Henderson survived the weather’s poor timing as rain came when the Fiesta had slicks bolted onto it, still moving over a minute clear by the time the final two stages came to run.

He would make no mistakes despite the tricky and changeable conditions making it tough for all involved, and grabbed a maiden win by 1m36s along with an equally delighted Cunniff, as Fiestas locked out the top five positions in the event.

Roskell ensured he would go into Donington as the firm title favourite, grabbing second place to extend his run of podium finishes to five in as many rallies this season, while title rival Morris could only recover to eighth of the MSN runners and 10th overall.

Taking championship entries into account, the final spot on the podium would be inherited once again by another in-form Fiesta driver. John Griffiths recovered from time lost behind stationary cars at a hairpin on SS3 to match his Brands display with a podium, climbing ahead of an impressive Paul Murro who showed his speed in the wettest of the conditions in the afternoon to seal fourth ahead of the mightily impressive Martin Hodgson.

Hodgson headed a trio of Escort Mk2s, beating his consistent rival Steve Tilburn in their latest scrap after a fine charge late on by the latter. Josh Payton returned to his very best, chasing the pair down for seventh ahead of Morris, who salvaged crucial points having slipped to 26th overall at one stage. Tony Robinson (Skoda) and Phillip House (Escort) rounded out the top 10 finishers in the MSN championship.

David Henderson/Sion Cunniff: “We felt comfortable and the car was mega. All was fine apart from when we were caught out at the startline of SS4 when we were on hard slicks and it rained! That was a strugggle but we just had enough to get through it. The afternoon stages were a bit tricky with the standing water but it was the same for everyone.”

Neil Roskell/Andrew Roughead: “We had a really good day. We had a big moment on stage six aquaplaning but kept hold of it. Traffic cost us on stage seven after that so we just decided to look at the big picture and the championship. We felt at home, so second will do and we’ll now see if we can wrap up the championship at Donington. I’m looking foward to it.”

Class A

The Nissan Micra battle in class A was dominated by James Hardy, extending his championship lead over runner-up Kay Thompson with a measured and mature drive to dominate the class. It leaves the two finely posied for another big scrap at Donington Park for the individual title, Hardy having had the edge the last time they visited prior to Christmas.

Class B

Alex Cannon’s championship lead grew once again after a fine performance to make it through the worst of the weather. The Fiesta man profited from a surge in pace after a strong morning for Peugeot, before Ben Wilkinson retired having held the early lead in his 106 Maxi to ease the pressure on Cannon who escaped to another class victory. 

Class C

A familiar name topped the class, as Josh Payton and Jamie Vaughan returned to winning ways after their Donington disappointment and Brands Hatch absence. It would be a dominant win, with House maintaining his championship lead over Lucy Wigley with second in class ahead of the Renault Clio of Wigley and Emma Cooper.

Class D

The battle of the Ford Escorts continued from Brands Hatch, with Hodgson and Tilburn battling it out at the end of a tough rally. It would be one of Hodgson’s mightiest performances, challenging the modern machinery and taking a top-five finish overall, although TIlburn almost finished the event with a fastest time in his late hurry to catch his rival, who finished over 30s clear to win.

Class E1/E2/MX5/H

Class E was again split, with E1 honours going the way of the Mitsubishi Evo 5 of Nick and Crispin Williamson, while overall winner Henderson and Cunniff added further success in the E2 class. Paul Gorge took the MX-5 class, with Dick Mauger’s Ford Escort clinching class H.

The next round takes place at Donington Park on 13 March, with titles set to go right down to the wire!

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