Middleton Takes Second -- by sixth tenths! Llandrindod Wells rally driver Craig Middleton narrowly missed out on his first ever overall rally victory on the opening round of the Kumho National Rally Championship this weekend. The reigning ...
Middleton Takes Second -- by sixth tenths!
Llandrindod Wells rally driver Craig Middleton narrowly missed out on his first ever overall rally victory on the opening round of the Kumho National Rally Championship this weekend.
The reigning National Junior Champion was driving a latest specification Hyundai Accent World Rally Car for the very first time on the Rallye Sunseeker, based in Bournemouth. The 24 year old had driven the car briefly before the event and was hoping to put in a sensible performance in arguably the strongest ever entry for the South Coast round of the Kumho series.
With Robin Hernaman on the notes, Middleton took it steadily on the opening Friday night Super Special stages, as the striking Hyundai moved into a solid overall position. The bitterly cold conditions not deterring over 5,000 spectators who lined the road on the Bournemouth Winter Gardens and Seafront to see the action.
Saturday morning brought a fresh challenge for the Welshman, as he made short work of the snow and ice on the gravel stages in his MATADOR Tyres shod Hyundai. The Valvoline backed machine was performing well and it was with some surprise that Craig found himself battling for the lead of the rally with championship regulars Marcus Dodd, Steve Petch, and Roger Duckworth.
Middleton charged on the long Mount Ararat stage, and stunned his rivals as he took a whole 20 seconds from Dodd and co. Middleton enjoying a clean run through the tricky stage, keeping a neat and tidy line in the process and seeing the benefit as he took an expected rally lead. Dodd countered immediately, and proceeded to take the lead back on the next stage and pulled away from Craig slightly by the next service. The Hyundai however, was not sounding too well.
A broken tooth in the gear transfer box had left the Hyundai in two wheel drive mode for one stage, giving Craig cause for concern at service. Fortunately the mechanics were able to change the offending item in just 11 minutes, and the Matador man was heading back out to the stages determined to take the fight to Dodd.
Little could separate the pair as Craig continued to put in an immaculate performance in the all new machine. Dodd had built a comfortable 30 second lead with two stages to go -- before throwing the Corolla WRC off the road and leaving Craig the leader once again, just a handful of seconds ahead of Roger Duckworth, a former event winner.
It was fingers crossed for Craig and Robin as they went into the final 5.63 mile stage with a 12 second lead over the Subaru driver. Unfortunately, a recurrence of the earlier gearbox problem gave Craig a problem selecting 3rd gear during the final stage, and he lost out on winning his first ever rally by the devastating margin of just 0.6 of a second. Despite losing out on the glory of winning, Middleton would later be voted the Star Of the Rally by the Championship sponsors:
"Its been a day for learning, and a day of surprises" said Craig at the finish. "If you had offered me a Top 5 finish on this event, I would have gladly taken it before the event started. To have been in contention for the win right the way through the rally was a major achievement as this was our first time in the car together today. Robin and the whole team did a terriffic job, and the MATADOR Tyres have shown that they work in the most difficult of conditions. Quite a few people thought we were running a special snow tyre in the morning, but we were running our own SM-3 gravel tyre, just like everyone else. There is still a lot to learn about the car, and a lot more to come in terms of speed and performance. Hopefully we can continue to take the fight to the more established drivers as the season progresses."
Craig's father Graham Middleton continues his assault on the BTRDA National Rally Championship next weekend, as he tackles the Malcolm Wilson Rally in the Lake District. Using an older version of the Hyundai Accent WRC, Middleton currently leads the series after the opening round of the Championship, the Wyedean Rally, where Graham and John Morgan finished 3rd overall.