Higgins masters Isle of Man Round 3 of the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane Rally Isle of Man will be remembered not so much for Mark Higgins controlling the rally from the front but more for the carnage that the island and its...
Higgins masters Isle of Man
Round 3 of the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane Rally Isle of Man will be remembered not so much for Mark Higgins controlling the rally from the front but more for the carnage that the island and its unique changeable weather and tricky roads created.
Before the event local man Mark Higgins had stated that the pace of the championship would mean everyone would be pushing very hard from the word go. and he was right!
Roman Kresta took the dubious honour of being the rally's first casualty when the rear of his Ford Fiesta S1600 stepped out of line over a crest just over a mile into the very first stage. With the section being extremely narrow the car clipped the bank, ripped a wheel off and ended up on its side hanging over the edge of a small ravine! Both crew were ok but those competitors following behind lost a bit of time as they slowed to ensure all was ok.
As on the Pirelli International in July Guy Wilks went quickest in his Suzuki Ignis S1600, 2 seconds faster than Mark Higgins Group N Subaru Impreza N12. Ryan Champion and Rory Galligan were next up but pre event favourite Gwyndaf Evans dropped loads of time with an electrical problem whilst double British Rally Champion Jonnie Milner dropped down the order with a blown turbo.
Higgins reclaimed the lead by going 10 seconds quicker than Wilks in the very fast 2nd stage, Baldhoon 1. However most of the field would receive nominal times after Stuart Jones crashed his Hankook liveried Mitsubishi Evo IX heavily half way through the stage causing it to be halted. Fortunately the crew, though shaken, were both ok.
After 2 short runs around the Castletown Spectator stage Higgins had extended his lead slightly and Ryan Champion was now closing on Wilks with only 1 stage left on Thursday. A big push by both Wilks and Higgins through the final 8 mile stage on Thursday saw Mark Higgins end the day 9 seconds ahead of Guy Wilks whilst the 2 works Mitsubishi drivers, Ryan Champion and Rory Galligan, were next up, a further 6 seconds further back, but both unhappy with the set ups on their cars.
Day 2 was typical Isle of Man weather, dry and cloudy in service, but foggy and wet on the opening stage. Mark Higgins made the right call on tyres and not only went 10 seconds quicker than Gwyndaf Evans, the closest BRC competitors, but also went an incredible 2nd fastest overall against the Irish World Rally Cars!!! 3rd fastest amongst the BRC contenders was Jonny Milner, eager to make up for the time lost on Thursday.
Higgins continued with his rapid performance by going 17 seconds quicker than Evans over the next stage, whilst Champion, Galligan and Wilks all chose the wrong tyres, costing them time.
This stage also saw the demise of Stephen Petch Junior who lost control of his SG Petch Motorsport Mitsubishi Evo IX on a tight and twisty section and crashed heavily into a wall. Although very sore both crew were ok. With tyres that were not perfect for the stage Higgins backed off slightly and Champion went quickest, from Milner. This meant that at first service Higgins still led from Wilks but Galligan had past Champion and was only 2 seconds behind the Suzuki driver, who was struggling for traction in his 2 wheel drive S1600.
Stages 9 and 10 both went to Higgins but the chasing pack were not far off and no one could afford to back off at all. Stage 10 saw Justin Dale in the giant killing Renault Clio retire with mechanical problems, elevating Matt Beebe into the lead of the 2 wheel drive production category.
With the weather still a mixture of light drizzle and brief dry spells the roads were now very greasy and numerous drivers were commenting on 'big moments' or half spins but Stage 12, Ryehill 1, would prove to be the undoing of Rory Galligan. Despite having limited experience of the islands roads Rory had been going well but an especially slippery section caught him out and the works Mitsubishi driver rolled his Evo IX into retirement. After 2 short spectator stages the cars returned to service to prepare for the final 2 stages on Friday, both repeats of the morning loop.
By now Ryan Champion was past Wilks and happy with the set up on his car, now had Higgins in his sights. Despite loosing time to Higgins on Union Mills Champion was confident he could make some back on the final stage of the day, Cringle 2. However a deceptively slippery section caught the Mitsubishi driver out, he clipped the bank and ripped a wheel off, sustaining a lot of damage to the side of the car. He was able to limp around the corner before parking up. The crew both jumped out to slow the next car, Irish contender Seamus Leonard, down but he had also been caught out by the conditions and crashed out in the same place, rolling over the bank and into a field! As a result the stage was stopped and the rest of the competitors given nominal times.
Ryan Champion reflected on his accident: It is so frustrating. We were going so well and were not taking any big risks. If you had to give me another shot at that section I'd take the same line at the same speed. It's so annoying but that's part of what the Isle of Man is all about.
By the end of day 2 Mark Higgins now led Guy Wilks by over 2 minutes, with Jonny Milner up to 3rd after some spirited driving. Creeping into the top 6 was young Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach who, despite a few spins, was quickly adjusting to the tricky conditions on his first attempt at this event!
Day 3 saw Gwyndaf Evans go fastest on the opening stage and followed that up with 2nd quickest to Higgins on the Slieu Dhoo stage before retiring in service with a blown diff. Wilks had lost time after hitting a rock and damaging 2 wheels and was now nearly 3 and a half minutes off Higgins, but had Milner rapidly closing in on him.
Both stage 20 and 21 went to Higgins with his team mate Julian Reynolds, having sorted out damper problems that had plagued him all weekend, going 2nd quickest over Kella 2.
Milner then went a full 10 seconds faster than Wilks on the penultimate stage, But with only the final 14 mile 'Classic' left it would be a tall order for him to overhaul the Suzuki, especially as the roads were now bone dry. As it was, despite Milner going quicker Wilks only dropped 5 seconds. Higgins ended the event with his 15th fastest stage time to take a well driven victory of almost 4 minutes over Guy Wilks, with Jonny Milner doing well to recover from his first day problems to take the final podium spot and top Mitsubishi Evo Challenge honours. Conrad Rautenbach brought his Geoff Jones Motorsport run Subaru Impreza in a brilliant 4th place with Julian Reynolds next.
Mark Higgins commented at the end of the event: All credit to the team, they gave me a fantastic car, it hasn't missed a beat all rally. Tyres were crucial, although it was a case of trying to be least wrong on choice as the weather changed so much,"
This result means Mark Higgins extends his lead at the top of the Tesco 99 Octane 2006 MSA British Rally championship standings, with Conrad Rautenbach and Ryan Champion tied for 2nd spot.
Next up is the Phillip White Tyres Ulster Rally, which runs from 1st to 3rd September 2006.
-credit: Geoff Mayes