MSN Rally Championship | Morris dances to win at Cadwell, but Roskell takes Championship by 1 point
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Morris dances to win at Cadwell, but Roskell takes Championship by 1 point

Barry Morris won the final battle of the 2022 MN Circuit Rally Championship at Cadwell Park, but it was Neil Roskell who won the war for a maiden title in a tense season finale. 

The stage had been set after a nail-biting squabble between Roskell and previous champion Barry Morris, the former having claimed one more win than his rival and podium finishes in all but one round – that being his most recent after retiring at Donington Park.

Dropped scores would favour the Ford Fiesta driver by a slender margain, meaning that Roskell entered knowing he would still be crowned if he kept his rival within sight throughout the final day and maintained a top-three finish by the final time check.

Morris had his first wish, as the ‘mini Nurburgring’ would be greeted with dry tarmac and sunny skies, giving the Darrian more of an opportunity against the Fiesta.

After the opening stage of the day, that potential was backed up when the times came filtering through, as Morris inched two seconds clear in the lead of the rally ahead of his title rival, Roskell, who knew his game plan from the get go.

“We don’t think we’ll be necessarily beating Barry today”, said an otherwise calm Roskell. “We’getting up to speed now so I know if I can just keep matching him then it puts the pressure on him to maybe make a mistake.”

The pressure was on, and Roskell added a bit extra with a strong second run of the day to match the Darrian driver on stage two for times, although the leader was less akin to any mind games in the title fight.

“We didn’t expect to be as quick as that”, said the Irishman. “We’re in good shape so far, and it’s a risky game to be going easy if that’s what Neil does.”

A third element to the mind games was about to be introduced on the third stage. In-form John Griffiths had been, in his own words, “gingerly” working his way up to true pace on new medium rubber, and on the third run he made his presence felt with a fastest stage time on the following run to split the title contenders.

With just nine seconds between the top three, Roskell could also point to time loss accumulated from being baulked behind the Fiesta of rallycross racer Andy Scott on stage four. “I’ve had to have a little walk afterwards” said a more nervous Roskell, focused fully on the top-three finish required.

The top three had seemingly settled on their choice of tyres, with the Fiestas working mediums better and the Darrian enjoying a harder compound underneath it.  While Morris held the cards into the afternoon, it was soon Griffiths who had eyes set on pressuring the second title chaser for his first rally win.

Both were stunned by a rejuvenated Roskell initially however, who crept backed into second spot with a rapid run through the fifth stage to trim the lead cushion to eight seconds. It would be a short-lived moment of bragging rights for the Ford man, who slipped 16s away from Morris on the following stage to fall back into third.

Back up to second, Griffiths started believing. “Now I’m pushing”, he said after trimming the gap to eight seconds adrift of the Darrian. “I couldn’t quite keep with Barry’s pace but I’m hoping I can just keep this up and maybe force a mistake out of him. They’re both busy looking at each other.”

Morris appeared unfazed however. The Irishman added another two seconds to his lead to return the favour on Griffiths, Roskell still sitting in the box seat of third place with a buffer of 22 seconds in his favour over the nearest chaser, Scott.

Morris kept the pressure up by adding another stage win on the penultimate run, but it was starting to slip away for he and Tom Hutchings despite their sublime effort. Roskell and Andrew Roughead ticked off another stage safely, and only needed to navigate the final stage successfully to be crowned.

They did just that. A safe run confirmed third place, and the MNCRC title would be Roskell’s as he rounded out the podium, Morris finally breaking his win drought with a superlative performance that ended with him beating Griffiths by a slender seven seconds.

The fine margain between title success and runner-up was a solitary point in favour of Roskell, who had shifted his attentions to the progress of those behind him to secure the crown. 

“I’m absolutely made up”, said the new champion, Roskell. “We just took it steady on those last two stages. I wasn’t too nervous really but I just wanted to do what I needed to; I didn’t realise just how close it was on points but, at the end of the day, we’ve managed to wrap the championship up which feels amazing.”

Morris did everything he could by taking the victory, but was gallant in defeat after a season-long fight with his Ford rival.

“It’s a great way to finish the year for us”, said Morris. “Well done to Neil though because he deserved it, and it’s been a great battle between us. I’ve enjoyed it and he’s a good fella, with a good team and a good family, but definitely thanks also to Tom Hutchings for helping me this season.”

Behind the top three, Scott continued his mantle of more than often being the best of the rest in his Fiesta, beating another star performance from the spectacular Josh Payton who dragged his elderly Ford Escort Mk2 into the overall top five.

Sixth place was a best result of the season for Tony Robinson in his Skoba Fabia, ahead of Paul Murro who ended the first full season for his Fiesta strongly in seventh after a fast start set him on track for a good result. Martin Hodgson (Escort Mk2), Darrell Taylor (Fiesta R2) and Steve Tilburn (Escort Mk2) rounded out the top 10. 

CLASSES

The season-long class A battle between the Nissan Micra crews led by James Hardy and Kay Thompson was hit by drama late on at Cadwell Park.

Hardy – the favourite for the title – suffered a big blow when he hit a tyre stack on the seventh stage that put him out of the rally, allowing his main rival Thomspon to claim a first win of the season. The points accumulated would not be enough to usurp Hardy however, the blip being his one dropped score of the season after four victories.

Alex Cannon was absent having already put class B out of reach, leaving his most persistent rival Ben Wilkinson to dominate the class in his Peugeot 106 Maxi. Despite his own brush with the scenery late on, Wilkinson came home with a margain of over two minutes in hand over the 106 of Bryan Cherrett. 

Josh Payton’s impressive run to fifth overall was a highlight of the rally, also finishing over two minutes clear of his nearest class C rival Phil House, in a sister Ford Escort Mk2. The latter’s runner-up spot – by just 30s – was however enough on dropped score calculations to wrap up the class title. Only Ken Sturdy’s Talbot Avenger in fifth spot separated eight otherwise rampant Escorts at the head of the class.

Class D was in the hands of overall winner Barry Morris from the start, although second in class was enough for the flying Martin Hodgson to confirm third place in the overall combined championship standings in his Escort. Steve and Jack Tilburn chased hard in third place.

The usually unflappable Fiestas were defeated in the Cadwell forests by their Darrian competition, but second-placed John Griffiths could celebrate a first class E triumph ahead of the class champion, Neil Roskell. 

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