Champion Conquers Kielder 2005 Evo challenge winner Ryan Champion put his prize of a full works drive in the 2006 Tesco 99 British Rally Championship to good effect by winning the opening round over the weekend. 7 previous British Champions ...
Champion Conquers Kielder
2005 Evo challenge winner Ryan Champion put his prize of a full works drive in the 2006 Tesco 99 British Rally Championship to good effect by winning the opening round over the weekend.
7 previous British Champions appeared on the entry list for the opening round, the Pirelli International Rally, based in Carlisle. Amongst the expected battles was the sibling rivalry between Mark and David Higgins. Both previous champions, this would be the first time the two brothers went head to head.
David Higgins set the benchmark over the first 8 and a half miles through Bower, but was a mere 0.4 seconds quicker than Ryan Champion, making his debut in the works Mitsubishi Evo 9. 3rd quickest was the defending champion, Mark Higgins, 1 second down on his brother.
An impressive 8th quickest was Guy Wilks in his S1600 Suzuki Ignis, proving that 2wd machinery was not too handicapped on the loose.
Early problems for some of the competitors included Alister McRae who punctured a front tyre 5 miles into the stage and lost time driving it out. Title hopeful Rory Galligan had his hopes dashed when a minor off road excursion damaged an oil pipe, which in turn damaged the engine, making him the first top runner to retire.
Not happy about being beaten by his brother Mark Higgins took up the challenge on Stage 2 and went 4.6 seconds quicker than his old title protagonist, Gwyndaf Evans. Minor gearbox problems hampered David slightly but he was still 3rd quickest and now 2nd overall.
Double British champion, Jonny Milner, was struggling with a minor fuel problem but was still in the top 5, whilst Ryan Champion had his intercom fail, resulting in an unscheduled excursion up a fire break!
Stage 3, Chirdonhead, saw the 3rd different stage winner in 3 stages when Ryan Champion, intercom now working again, beat Mark Higgins by 0.6 seconds over the 12 mile stage!
In the S1600 battle Wilks was way out front after Ford WRC test driver Roman Kresta had retired with diff problems and team mate Barry Clark was hampered with a puncture.
Stage 4 was the first run of the 'P zero' spectator stage in Carlisle. Once again there was a new stage winner, as Phil Morrow equalled Mark Higgins time around the short spectator stage.
As the cars headed to first service Mark Higgins held a slender 11 second lead over Ryan Champion, with Gwyndaf Evans now 3rd, a further 2.4 seconds further back..
David Higgins was in dire need of a new diff, whilst a couple of other drivers were complaining about gearbox problems.
Barry Clark changed the set up on his car during service and was confident that he would have more feeling through the afternoon stages.
Stage 5 was Shepherdshield, a typical Kielder stage. Unusual cambers, very fast straights and notorious bumps waiting to throw the unsuspecting off line. Despite incurring a penalty for leaving service late David Higgins went quickest through the 8 and a half miler. 0.6 seconds slower was Jonny Milner, the fuel feed problem now sorted.
Ryan Champion lost time as he suffered a puncture and the clutch failed on him. Further back young Stephen Petch Jnr endured a wild moment when an incorrect pace note meant he crested a brow flat out in 5th to discover that there was a 90 degree right hand corner right there. A quick yank on the handbrake saw Petchs' Mitsubishi sail off into the undergrowth backwards at 90 mph, doing substantial damage to the rear of the car! He eventually got going again but had lost a lot of time.
Stage 6 was a re-run of Bower, and the Higgins brothers were once again quickest through the stage, David going 7 seconds quicker than his first run through to win the stage. Despite having no clutch Champion was 4th quickest and only 2 seconds behind Gwyndaf Evans in the fight for 2nd overall.
Barry Clark was feeling a lot more comfortable with his car and was now setting times comparable to Guy Wilks, but was still a long way behind him in the overall standings.
Stage 8, Kershope 1, saw Guy Wilks go 6th quickest in his S1600, cementing his position inside the top 10 overall!
The strain of not having a clutch was beginning to tell on Champions car as he had now lost 5th gear as well! Despite this he was still setting top 3 times and was less than 10 seconds behind Evans.
Stage 9 was another Higgins family 1, 2, in favour of David once more! All that was left of Day 1 was a quick blast around the P zero stage before the cars headed back to final service and parc ferme.
With a 28 second lead over Gwyndaf Evans Mark Higgins was reasonably happy with the day, but admitted that the lead was not great enough to relax, whilst Champion, hoping for a new gearbox and clutch in final service, was only 10 seconds further back. 4th was Stuart Jones, followed by Martin Rowe and David Higgins.
Guy Wilks was still comfortably leading the S1600 class and was lying 9th overall at the end of day 1.
The opening stage of day 2, Ash Park 2, showed that no one was relaxing as the top 10 were separated by a mere 6 seconds! However the drama had begun before that when Gwyndaf Evans incurred penalties for leaving service late after a clutch change. This meant that Champion was now elevated to 2nd, and with a new gearbox and clutch he was hoping to mount a bit of a challenge.
Kershope 2 saw the rally turned on its head. Gwyndaf Evans managed his 2nd stage win of the day, eager to make up lost time. However Mark Higgins suffered a double heart break when he suffered TWO front punctures, costing him an enormous amount of time. 4th quickest through the stage was good enough to elevate Champion into the lead, now 8.4 seconds clear of Mark, whilst Evans was only a further 10 seconds further back!
The stage also saw the demise of Martin Rowe who crashed into a bridge, fortunately without harm to either driver or co-driver. Barry Clark was struggling without power steering and was therefore unable to compare times with Roman Kresta, who had returned under 'super rally' and was now trading times with Wilks.
Stage 13, a 7.8 mile run through Bewshaugh saw young Stuart Jones go 0.4 seconds quicker than a flying Mark Higgins, whilst Champion was only 4th quickest after his gearknob came loose!
Champion responded to the pressure by winning the last 'proper' stage of the Pirelli Rally. 4 seconds faster than Evans, but more importantly 7 seconds quicker than Mark Higgins meant he held a slender 14 second lead as the rally headed back to Carlisle for the final run through the 'P zero' stage.
Ryan Champion's comments after SS15 - I was absolutely flat out through there. I could not have gone any quicker at all, and was slightly concerned as I ran the stage without a sumpguard!
Young Stuart Jones, who had been lying in 4th, a mere 40 seconds off the lead, felt the full effect of Kielder when he ran wide out of a corner and was sucked into a ditch, rolling over and ending up back on his wheels.
However he then stalled the car and lost 2 minutes restarting it! Another car to suffer cruel luck was Guy Wilks, dominating the S1600 catergory and well inside the top 10 when his engine cried enough and he coasted to a halt.
Another stage win for David Higgins around the final P zero stage of the rally saw him finish 4th, ruing what could have been without his time penalty on Saturday, whilst Ryan Champion, with no sump guard, took it easy around the last stage, happy to sacrifice some time to those behind him as he headed towards his first outright victory in the British Rally Championship.
'I am absolutely extactic! I was confident we would be on the pace this weekend but to win here, and against such tough competition is incredible! Kielder is such a tricky place!'
Mark Higgins was rather frustrated by the events 'obviously I am gutted. I have never ever had TWO front punctures in my life! Apart from that the car performed faultlessly and I think the championship is still wide open.'
With Guy Wilks late misfortunes young Barry Clark took the S1600 honours with Justin Dale winning class R3 in his little giant killing Renault Clio. Regular JWRC contender Conrad Rautenbach took the honours of being the first foreigner home, despite being plagued by punctures. Tapio Laukkanen endured a host of problems and finished just ahead of Lorna Smith, who took the ladies honours.
Round 2 of the Tesco 99 Octane British Rally Championship is the Jim Clark Rally in early July. If the Pirelli Rally was anything to go by, it should be just as fiercely fought!