DASS STARS ON ISLE OF MAN Nineteen year old Darren Gass from Markethill in county Armagh and Scottish co-driver Neil Shanks scored their second straight fifth place in the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship this weekend. In...
DASS STARS ON ISLE OF MAN
Nineteen year old Darren Gass from Markethill in county Armagh and Scottish co-driver Neil Shanks scored their second straight fifth place in the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship this weekend.
In doing so, the youngest driver in the 2007 Championship moved within seven points of triple champion Mark Higgins and was nominated as the third Pirelli Star Driver finalist. The award means he will go into a shoot out with five other nominees for the inaugural Pirelli Star Driver prize, a fully funded drive in the 2008 British Rally Championship.
However the result and subsequent selection was not without its dramas. They were bettered by fellow C2 driver Conrad Rautenbach on the first stage by just 1.4 seconds but pulled ahead by 0.6 of a second on the next stage. The opening spectator special through Castletown was rerun as stages three and four and by the overnight halt Darren lay sixth, still less than two seconds adrift of the Zimbabwean class leader.
With the prospect of rain all the drivers gambled on their tyre choice being correct and the youngster chose well for Friday's opening 7.38 mile stage. Darren extended the tiny third of a second advantage to two thirds by the next stage, but he lost the advantage when the handbrake failed to slow the car on the first run through Ballig. "We hadn't used the handbrake until that point," he explained, "so it was a bit of a surprise when it didn't work and we ended up hitting a bale. It was superficial damage but we dropped over eight seconds to Conrad."
Any threat from Stefan Davis faded on the same stage when he retired, only continuing on Saturday using Super Rally rules. This left the way clear for a straight fight with Rautenbach, but stage twelve was about to prove their worst. A front puncture on a very fast section caused them to stop to change the tyre. "It went down almost immediately," said Neil, "but we managed to change it really quickly and only lost two minutes twenty seconds. We got plenty of practice in Belgium last month so we both knew exactly what to do."
The puncture left them seventh BRC crew overnight, after the final test was cancelled due to the discovery of an unexploded WW2 bomb. More critically they dropped out of contention for the class win, or so they believed.
The opening stage of Saturday would throw up an opportunity as Rautenbach went off, losing almost nineteen minutes and promoting Darren and Neil a place to sixth. Unable to make any impression on the cars ahead in the remaining stages, Darren took the decision to consolidate the position, pushing to maintain concentration when the conditions allowed.
Their excellent result promotes them to fourth in the overall Championship, Darren leading both the Junior Driver and Rally 3 categories. "We could have been third overall if it wasn't for the puncture," he said at the finish, "but to get the Pirelli Star Driver award is fantastic, I'm made up. The car has run without a hitch and we worked really well together on what is a really tough event."
The series moved to Northern Ireland for the next round on the last day of August and first day of September for the Ulster International Rally, an event Darren is especially looking forward to. "I can stay in my own bed every night." he smiled, "The rally starts and finishes in Armagh about six miles from my house so we should have a lot of local support."