March 5th, 2011
RALLY REPORT – 2011 Legend Fires North West Stages Rally
The wettest ever North West Stages Rally produced the closest of finishes with Kevin Procter and Dave Bellerby guiding their Subaru Imprea WRC home one second ahead of the Nissan Sunny GTi-R of Tony Bardy and Reg Smith.
With gale force winds and a high tide hitting Blackpool hours before the start, Friday’s pair of Promenade stages were thrown into doubt with set-up crews given a near impossible mission. Fortunately calm followed the storm and the Council’s Health and Safety Officer gave the green light allowing the rally to run as scheduled.
Proceedings started with a pair of stages at Weeton where standing water of lake size proportions added another hazard to the venues infamous kerbs. Procter was quickest from the start as the Northallerton Rallycross star was quickest on three of Friday night’s four stages with Radcliffe’s Steve Simpson and Simon Hunter Hyundai Accent WRC his nearest challenger. Bardy was third at the night halt just four seconds ahead of the MG Metro 6R4 of Fleetwood Auto Engineer Mark Holmes and his co-driver Tony Lindsay. Ross Butterworth and Kevin Clark’s BMW Compact’s clutch went with a bang on the start line of the opening Weeton stage, so it was a short rally for the Pendle & DMC crew.
Saturday’s incessant rain turned the stages at Hillhouse, where heavy construction traffic had been operating in the days before the rally, into a quagmire. Procter extended his lead through Hillhouse and Fleetwood Promenade to 35 seconds over Simpson on reaching service. Bardy retained third place with Bowen now up to fourth and the top five completed by Craig Pennington and George Healey in their Lancer Evo9.
The rain played havoc with the cars electrical systems and Dave and Steve Benson, returning to the sport after a two-year absence were amongst the first to suffer. Their Honda Civic retired on Saturday’s opening Hillhouse stage before a similar fate befell the Toyota Starlet of Wesham’s Garry Houghton and Stephen Davies on Fleetwood Promenade. Holmes was having water problems of a different kind and attempts to make a temporary fix to his radiator with a can of Radweld failed. Ironically he too retired on Fleetwood Promenade, the stage sponsored by his local garage business. David Wallbank and Mike Scrimgour retired early at Hillhouse when their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo5 developed fuel problems. Adam Taylor and Loic Ditchburn put their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo4 through a Hillhouse fence but continued minus the cars front bumper.
Following a loop of Blackpool Promenade, Hillhouse and Fleetwood Promenade Procter was still in front despite drowning out in Hillhouse, but he now had Bardy, 31 seconds in arrears, as his closest challenger. The rally then moved south to Weeton and Bardy reeled in Procter through the waterlogged roads of the Army Barracks. Andrew Varley and Graham Wild retired their Escort Cosworth here whilst lying fourth. Russell Morgan and Martin Kenyon had been on target for both a class win and a top ten finish until the alternator belt snapped forcing their Ford Escort Mk1 into retirement. Graham Butler and Darren Lakeland also retired here with a broken driveshaft on their Peugeot 106 Maxi.
Procter and Bardy then shared fastest times at Clifton before Procter outpaced his rival on the final pair of Blackpool Promenade tests leaving Bardy with an 11 second advantage with four stages remaining. Thomas Preston and Jamie Forrest ended their rally at this point when their BMW M3 Coupe’s propshaft snapped.
By the end of the first pair at Weeton the pendulum had swung in Procter’s favour as he headed to Clifton for the final two stages with a one second lead. When Bardy suffered a snapped alternator belt on the first of these it looked to be over but a quick fix and a storming final stage time saw him almost wipe out his 17 second deficit.
Simpson was relieved to finish third after three spins at Weeton had come close to putting him out but Pennington wasn’t so happy after learning he’d lost fourth place because of a five minute time penalty. With James and Chris Ford also collecting a penalty, one minute for the Impreza crew who, Bowen then took fourth spot and with it the Class D Award at their expense.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 of husband and wife crew Tony and Emma Hewitt finished sixth with the tracking all awry after hitting a fence in Hillhouse. Connor Corkill and Howard Allison survived an off in Weeton to take Class C honours in their Ford Escort Mk2 after finishing seventh overall. Nigel and Tim Hobson took eighth by a second in their Lancer Evo6 after withstanding a late attack from Alan and Lawrence Kirby who completed all of Saturday’s stages with just two-wheel drive in their Impreza.
Alistair Hutchinson and St. John Dykes lost a wheel off their Renault Clio LPG at Fleetwood when the studs sheared but luckily it was close to the finish and they fixed it to finish tenth overall.
Clifton stage sponsor Duncan Taylor and his co-driver Stephen Graveson finished 13th overall and third in Class C in an Escort Mk2 having had a lucky escape in Weeton after hitting a kerb and collecting a puncture. Not so fortunate though was Taylor’s son Adam who retired on the penultimate stage of the event after breaking a driveshaft in his already battle scarred Mitsubishi Lancer.
Adrian Atkinson and Dave Riley were another South Shore crew to record a top twenty finish with their Ford Sapphire Cosworth ending the rally in 18th place. Wrea Green’s Ean Lewin and Laura Taylor made it home 29th overall in the Dtec Fiesta thanks to marshals pulling them back onto the track in Weeton on Friday night. One South Shore crew who weren’t so lucky were Marcus Feeley and Marc Eaton who made the finish only to discover their Subaru Impreza had exceeded their allowed lateness.
Class A honours went to Stephen Bethwaite and Ann Forster in their Vauxhall Nova SR for the third successive year despite the starter motor packing up and being forced to keep the engine running all day Saturday. They finished with a comfortable seven minute margin over Peter Buckley and Rob Jones who survived a last stage off in Clifton in their Nova. Corsa crew John Hislop and Peter Leary finished third.
Brother and Sister pairing Chris Phillips and Sarah Hughes recorded their fourth Class B win on this event, all achieved in the same Peugeot 106. They finished eleventh overall despite suffering electrical problems and an intermittent misfire. Father and son Michael and Josh Davison finished second minus the co-drivers window in their Proton Satria Compact. Mike Axford reckoned he’d had more offs on this rally than the whole of his career but he and David Thomason finished third in their Ford Fiesta RS.
Despite having an unfamiliar lack of power John Stone and Kevin Hodkinson took top honours in the Class F battle of the Nissan Micras ahead of Paul Stringer and Richard Robinson the only other class finishers. Darren Doherty and Chris Thirling’s version went out after it’s engine ingested water whilst a gear linkage fault accounted for Peter Jackson and Paula Swinscoe’s version.
Only 44 of the 98 starters finished the event proving once again that rallies don’t come much tougher than the Legend Fires North West Stages.
Top Ten Results
1 Kevin Procter/Dave Bellerby (Subaru Impreza WRC) 1hr40m48s;
2 Tony Bird/Reg Smith (Nissan Sunny GTi-R) 1hr40m49s;
3 Stephen Simpson/Simon Hunter (Hyundai Accent WRC) 1hr45m36s;
4 Simon Bowen/Richard Robinson (Subaru Impreza) 1hr45m50s;
5 James Ford/Chris Ford (Subaru Impreza) 1hr46m17s;
6 Tony Hewitt/Emma Hewitt (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo5) 1hr47m36s;
7 Connor Corkill/Howard Allison (Ford Escort Mk2) 1hr49m19s;
8 Nigel Hobson/Tim Hobson (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 1hr50m29s;
9 Alan Kirby/Lawrence Kirby (Subaru Impreza) 1hr50m30s;
10 Alistair Hutchinson/StJohn Dykes (Renault Clio LPG) 1hr51m10s.
Class Award Winners
A: Stephen Bethwaite/Ann Forster (Vauxhall Nova SR);
B: Chris Phillips/Sarah Hughes (Peugeot 106);
F: John Stone/Kevin Hodkinson (Nissan Micra).