Bonniwell Takes First Victory Gateshead's Baltic Centre played backdrop for the start of the opening round of the brand new Fiat Stilo Rally Cup on Friday evening. The one-make rally series comprises seven rounds of the Kwik Fit ...
Bonniwell Takes First Victory
Gateshead's Baltic Centre played backdrop for the start of the opening round of the brand new Fiat Stilo Rally Cup on Friday evening.
The one-make rally series comprises seven rounds of the Kwik Fit Pirelli British Rally Championship and the Pirelli International Rally was an excellent opener for the six identical specification Fiat Stilo rally cars.
120 miles of flat -out rallying awaited the hopefuls as they set off to sample the infamous Kielder forest complex, with the first three stages unusually taking place in the dark.
Early leader was Catalan driver Joan Roca, who used his last year's experience of dark Kielder stages to good effect. He took 2.3 seconds off Welshman Chris Davies, who pronounced himself happy with his efforts on the 7.03 mile Wether Lair stage. Seven seconds further back was Scot Willie Bonniwell who complained of poor visibility, and a scant 2.2 seconds behind was fellow countryman Tom Metcalfe who was settling in well. Shaun Woffinden was the first of the Stilo drivers to attack the darkness, but the stage was to prove tricky. The Gainsborough man caught the car in front, which slowed him until he managed to squeeze past. The subsequent time loss left him fifth, followed by Paul Tod who was not familiar with night time rallying and admitted that he just wanted to get the night stages over with.
On the second stage, Roca extended his lead to nearly twenty seconds, taking the rest of the Stilos by surprise and laying down the gauntlet to the chasing pack. Davies and Bonniwell held station while Woffinden had a push to take fourth, but lacked concentration after the frustration of stage one. Metcalfe had intercom problems on stage two, while Tod continued his baptism of fire in the darkness.
The crews had a short refuelling stop before the final stage of the evening, a 10.81 mile test south of the beautiful Kielder water. Bonniwell solved his visibility problems by adjusting the spotlights and the improvement was instantly evident, as he set fastest time, albeit a mere 3.8 seconds quicker than Roca. The Spanish crew had their excuse ready though; having caught a car in the stage, Roca reckoned the time lost was about 4 seconds.
Davies pressed on in third, finishing the leg just 4.4 seconds behind Bonniwell, but 32 seconds adrift of Roca. Metcalfe was 9.5 seconds quicker than Woffinden whose co-driver Howard Pridmore spotted an error on his timecard at the end of the stage. The problem was not easily resolved and a one minute time penalty dropped the pair to last Stilo overnight. Paul Tod benefited from this misfortune and ended the night a relieved fifth.
Positions after leg 1
1 Roca/Barrabes 33:00.2
2 Bonniwell/Fraser 33:28.0
3 Davies/Parry 33:32.4
4 Metcalfe/Herron 34:09.5
5 Tod/ap Dafydd 34:51.8
6 Woffinden/Pridmore 35:15.4
Saturday morning's re-start was bright and early at 7am, with a service at Hexham's Auction Mart before the cars headed into the same loop of stages, daylight promising higher speeds and a continuing battle.
Tom Metcalfe is obviously used to early morning starts as he blasted through the short stage 3.2 seconds quicker than nearest rival Bonniwell, closing the gap on third placed Davies. Just 0.6 seconds separated the second and third drivers through the re-run stage, and they were 5 seconds ahead of Roca with Woffinden a mere 0.6 seconds behind the Spaniard. The run-out to this loop of stages was to prove the downfall of Paul Tod, the Welshman suffering gearbox failure on the road section, a result of low gearbox oil which hadn't been spotted at service.
On stage five, Metcalfe's good fortune also ran out, as he rolled the car on a fast right hander and lost around 12 minutes. The pair ended up on their roof with just one spectator to help them right the car, which was nursed through the remainder of the stage. This left Roca back on top, stunning the rest of the field again with a time 23.3 seconds faster than his nearest rival. Davies took second from Bonniwell with Woffinden losing seven minutes in a ditch at the arrival control for stage four, the result of trying to squeeze past another competitor and regain his place in the queue.
Bonniwell was not to be disheartened, and beat Roca by 12.3 seconds on the final stage before service, Scot trailing Spaniard by 32.8 seconds at Hexham. Davies returned for repairs to his front suspension a further 12.1 seconds down, but with a comfortable 2½ minute gap to Woffinden in fourth. Metcalfe struggled through stage six , but made it back to Hexham with a broken windscreen and bent rear axle. It appeared that he would stay there with only twenty minutes to affect a repair. But his crew worked a miracle and he drove out of the control without dropping any time, and to a well deserved round of applause from a crowd of astonished spectators.
The temptation for a charge on the new loop of stages proved irresistible to Bonniwell, and he blasted through 24.7 seconds quicker than Davies. The Welshman continued to suffer from front suspension problems, while Roca finished the stage 1.6 seconds back but was spotted with the bonnet up after the stage finish. Woffinden was nearly twenty seconds back and suffering from an intermittent misfire that had been threatening all day, with Metcalfe tip-toeing through the stage listening for any untoward noises.
The teams waited for the cars to return to Hexham and although the rest of the order was the same , there was one Stilo missing in the queue for service. Reports from the other drivers told the story of the demise of Joan Roca. He had been delayed at the end of stage seven and drove the short distance to stage eight on forestry roads to find he had lost his place in the queue. His attempt to leap-frog the queue by driving in the ditch resulted in the same fate as Woffinden at the start of stage four. Unfortunately for the Spaniards and despite the best efforts of the other Stilo drivers, he burnt the clutch out while desperately trying to extract the car from the yawning ditch. He was not alone though; Metcalfe spent 26 minutes in another Kielder ditch. A lesser driver would have called it a day, but he persevered and finished the stage with a further 2 minutes time penalty.
The final pair of stages should have amounted to a Bonniwell cruise to victory, but a last stage drama saw the Scot stuck in gear and without power steering. He gamely hung on for ten agonising miles in third gear, but Davies' suspension problems also slowed him, leaving Woffinden to take a stage win despite his worsening misfire.
Four relieved Fiat Stilo Rally Cup crews crossed the ramp back in Gateshead, none more so than opening round winners Willie Bonniwell and Ian Fraser, who took £1000 prize money and the lead of the new championship They also won the Pirelli International rally Formula 2000 category and had their first ever experience of spraying champagne. Second were Chris Davies/Nathan Parry, taking not only £750 but the Junior category win, and with it a further £300. Shaun Woffinden/Howard Pridmore took third and £500, and Tom Metcalfe/Roger Herron took fourth.
The next event is the Rally of Wales in Dolgellau on May 15/16, where battle will be rejoined and Willie Bonniwell will have to beat the Welsh on home ground.
The Fiat Stilo Rally Cup acknowledges support from Fiat Auto (UK), Hi-Tec, Toora Competizione, PIAA, Bardahl, Pirelli and media partners, Motorsport News.
Final Positions/Provisional Championship Positions
1 Bonniwell/Fraser 1:49:17.3
2 Davies/Parry 1:49:46.7
3 Woffinden/Pridmore 1:52:26.5
4 Metcalfe/Herron 2:36:15.9