KUMHO National Rally Championship Round ONE - Rallye Sunseeker. Duckworth shines late in the Sun-seeker. Saturday 28th February -- Roger Duckworth took victory on the very last stage of the Rallye Sunseeker, as he overturned a twelve second ...
KUMHO National Rally Championship Round ONE - Rallye Sunseeker.
Duckworth shines late in the Sun-seeker.
Saturday 28th February -- Roger Duckworth took victory on the very last stage of the Rallye Sunseeker, as he overturned a twelve second deficit to win the opening round of the 2004 Kumho National Rally Championship by just one second from highly impressive reigning Kumho Junior Champion, Craig Middleton.
Snow, ice and gravel greeted the crews on the South Coast near to Bournemouth for sixteen tarmac and gravel stages over two legs. Attrition was high as a bumper entry of 120 cars started the traditional seasonal opener.
Subaru ace Duckworth took the early lead on Saturday morning, as he edged ahead of new Ford Focus WRC driver Paul Bird and the flying Middleton, who was making his debut in an ex-works Hyundai Accent WRC. The 24 year old had only driven the car for an hour pre-event, making his fast start all the more creditable.
On the fourth stage, a new leader emerged. Using a hired Toyota Corolla WRC, last year's Sunseeker winner Marcus Dodd had found his stride and opened a slender lead. Middleton and Robin Hernaman kept the pressure on, fighting back to take the lead by SS6. At service however, Middleton hit problems, with the Hyundai's transfer gear dropping a tooth and leaving him in two wheel drive only.
Dodd, Duckworth and Middleton were holding station despite the drama for Craig. Roger recovering from a few stalls and overshoots in the morning as Middleton's mechanic managed to restore the Hyundai to a fragile state of 4wd. Middleton hampered in the slow corners as a result of the incurable transmission problem. The young Welshman was luckier than series regulars Andrew Burton and Martyn Harrison. Martyn hitting a chicane and retiring after the first stage on Saturday, and Burton putting his Peugeot onto its side and out of the rally on SS9.
Back at the front, Dodd was able to extend his lead to around thirty seconds after a string of fastest times. On the penultimate stage, a large hole at the side of the road claimed the unfortunate Poole man, who had driven faultlessly to that point. Front runner Barry Johnson hit overheating problems on the stage and also retired, as early pace setter Bird and the sister Focus WRC of Steve Perez moved into the Top 5 of the leaderboard.
In the quest for Production Cup honours, it was an intense battle between the two manufacturer backed entries - Mitsubishi's Brendan Crealey and the Prodrive Subaru of Geoff Jones. Crealey took the early lead before Jones hit back with a string of quick times. Little could separate the pair until Jones took a stage maximum on SS14 when he slipped off the road. As Crealey kept it on the island to finish 6th overall and take the Group N win, Irishman Rory Galligan finished a fine tenth overall as he claimed the Mitsubishi Evo Challenge honours on the day, just ahead of Paul Wedgebury, Richard Hill (who would have finished much higher but for a road time penalty), and rally returnee Martin Sansom. Subaru pilot Dorian Rees also turned in a fine performance to record his best ever result in the Kumho National Championship with second in Group N and an excellent seventh overall.
Back at the top end of the leaderboard, just 12.2 seconds separated leader Middleton and Duckworth going into the final 5.63 mile stage. Duckworth charged, and was stunned to take 13.2 seconds out of Middleton, who crucially suffered a recurrence of his transmission problem, when 3rd gear broke on the ailing Hyundai. As a result, Craig lost out on his first ever Kumho National Rally win by exactly one second after a terrific performance under the circumstances. Fellow Hyundai driver Steve Petch enjoyed an eventful day sliding his Accent WRC around in the snow as he finished just eight seconds behind Middleton by the end.
In the Peugeot TOTAL 206 Super Cup, Gareth McHale took a fine victory from Stuart Jones, with series debutant Ieuan Rowlands keeping the Irish-Welsh domination going in third, just ahead of Englishman Paul Jones, and another series newcomer, Alistair Moffatt, in fourth. Early leader Chris Moore suffered an agonising off in one stage, losing over a minute in the process and dropping down the order.
Full results available on the official Kumho National Rally Championship website at www.kumhorally.info