Pirelli British Rally Champion Jonny Milner got his 2003 title challenge off to an excellent start with a thrilling drive to second overall on the Pirelli International Rally. The Team Dynamics Pro Rally Toyota driver from Huggate in Yorkshire ...
Pirelli British Rally Champion Jonny Milner got his 2003 title challenge off to an excellent start with a thrilling drive to second overall on the Pirelli International Rally. The Team Dynamics Pro Rally Toyota driver from Huggate in Yorkshire finished just nine seconds behind eventual winner Tapio Laukkanen after two exciting days in the Kielder Forests near Gateshead.
With Welshman Nicky Beech alongside as usual, Milner had not had any pre event testing in the Toyota Corolla WRC that the pair had used so successfully in 2002. After two spectator stages in Gateshead, Milner was just two seconds off the lead. However, a night of high drama was about to unfold as the crews made their way out of the city to "killer Kielder".
No sooner had Milner entered the first forest stage of the event, it was apparent that swirling fog was going to make conditions extremely difficult. Co-driver Beech commented that at times it was impossible to see if the car was on the road or not such was the thickness of the fog. Milner was also suffering from a long brake pedal in the Toyota as he dropped just under a minute on the stage.
Stage 4 was run in similar conditions, again Milner losing around a minute to the leading crews. The swirling fog was lifting for some crews as they entered the stage - giving some a vital clean run at the stage with the fog not as bad in places. As a result, it was the Super 1600 car of Guy Wilks that topped the leaderboard after five special stages.
Day Two dawned bright and early, with Milner nearly three minutes behind the lead. With conditions clear and sunny, fog was unlikely to be a problem as Milner headed to the Whether Lair 2 stage. Immediately Jonny took a 30 second chunk out of the leaders as he propelled the Pirelli shod Toyota up the leaderboard. Milner then sliced off another 40 seconds off the lead in the next stage as he and fellow fog sufferer Laukkanen reeled in Wilks.
After eight of the eleven special stages, Jonny was 59 seconds off the lead, but crucially thirty seconds behind Finn Tapio in his Impreza WRC. Jonny decided it was time to go for it, and go for it he did. Milner blitzed the Corolla WRC through Chirdonhead to take a whopping 20 seconds out of Tapio. With two stages to go, just nine seconds would separate the pair. Jonny took two more seconds out of Tapio on the penultimate stage, as the Finn raised his game to take two more back from Jonny on the final test, leaving him the winner but only just:
"Its a little bit disappointing to be second again like last year" said Milner. "Having said that, we've collected plenty of championship points, and we've shown that once again we are very much on the leading pace. Tapio has plenty of WRC car experience and he knows Kielder as well as I do, so it was a great battle to the end. I think I may have lost a bit of time getting past Wilks' accident on the final stage as we bounced in and out of the ditch getting past, but I'm satisfied with the result.
Friday night's conditions were incredible. I cannot remember the last time I drove in fog as thick as that. It was a lottery and a number of crews paid the price for being a bit too brave. At times it was difficult to see the end of the bonnet, so we were just glad to make it back to the overnight halt. On Saturday the Pirelli tyres worked very well allowing me to pull back the time to the leaders, and of course my own team worked superbly to make sure that everything went smoothly."
The next round of the 2003 Pirelli British Rally Championship is the Scottish International Rally. Milner took a superb victory on the event last year despite major transmission problems on the final day of the event, where the car was effectively two wheel drive for much of the last day. Milner and co. head to Dumfries on June 13-15 as they bid to retain both championship and event crowns.
Final Leaderboard - Pirelli International Rally after Stage 11:
1 Tapio Laukkanen / Miikka Antilla Subaru Impreza WRC 1:38:24.3
2 Jonny Milner / Nicky Beech Toyota Corolla WRC +9.3
3 Mark Higgins / Bryan Thomas Renault Clio S1600 +1:07.1
4 Gwyndaf Evans / Howard Davies MG ZR S1600 +3:09.7
5 Kris Meeke / Chris Patterson Opel Corsa S1600 +6:14.4