David Longfellow and Daniel Ward’s Subaru Impreza came out on top of a shortened 2018 REX PET HOTEL Flying Fortress Stages, after the rally was halted when Vince Sillett and Samm Keeley’s Ford Escort crashed heavily on the sixth stage.
Only a second split the Impreza’s of Martin Pavier/Peter Kettle and Longfellow on the opening stage, as they pulled out a 12sec lead over Dave Hornbrook/Matty Sample’s Mitsubishi E4. The Impreza’s of Martin Farrar/Andy Ward, Scott Renshaw/Dean Wilson and Simon Belcher/Pete Butler completed the initial top six.
Longfellow upped his pace on stage 2 to turn his one second deficit into a two second lead. They both increased their margins over Hornbrook, who in turn consolidated third over Renshaw, who had moved up when Farrar broke his steering. Belcher had also lost ground with a puncture and broken wheel which moved Steve & Cathy Booths’ Mk1 Escort into fifth, a second off Renshaw and a further second clear of Sean & Max Bailey’s Impreza.
Longfellow was quickest again on the next two stages, ending SS4 14secs clear of Pavier but it was all closing up behind. Booth had reeled in Hornbrook and was only two seconds off a podium place but is was game over for Renshaw after he went out with brake problems. Bailey was up to fifth, followed by class 3 leaders Dean Baker/Andy Falconer’s Escort and class 1 leaders David McMullan/Marc Melhuish’s Vauxhall Nova, with Vince Sillett/Samm Keeley’s Escort eighth.
Pavier managed to peg back Longfellow’s growing lead on stage 5 to only nine seconds, but Booth’s hopes of a podium had gone when his throttle cable broke. “He held it together while I changed the gears. We made it to the stage finish but lost more than 5 mins” said co-driver Cathy. Bailey therefore moved up to fourth with Dean Baker and McMullan holding station to complete the top six. Having started SS5 in 14th place, David Wood / Tracy Wood’s Mitsubishi had a remarkable run, to move into seventh ahead of Sillett, with Adrian Baker and Connor Tolson/Sam Bailey’s Impreza rounding off the top 10.
The sixth stage had to be stopped when Sillett crashed out. With both of the crew needing urgent medical attention, the rally was stopped whilst the air ambulance evacuated the casualties. The subsequent delays meant that results had to be declared at the end of stage five.
In the up to one litre class Ian Bass/Cameron Young’s Toyota Yaris was never headed, taking the class 0 win by over six minutes from Taylor Parkins/Alex Mill’s Nissan Micra.
David McMullan and Marc Melhuish (see photo) were never outside the top 10 overall and they dominated class 1, winning by 40 seconds from Mick Pickles/Bev Warren’s Proton Satria, with Paddy & Tom Homan’s Ford Puma third.
Paul Rees / Paul Briggs’ Astra set the pace in class 2, before gearbox maladies dropped them to third behind Chris Keys / James Riley’s Peugeot 205 GTi and Phil Kenny / Gary Laverick’s Ford Puma. But both Rees and Kenny demoted Keys on SS3, with Rees back in front on stage four by just one second from Kenny. However there were more gearbox problems for Rees on SS5, dropping them back to third in the final standings, behind Kenny and Keys again!
Dean Baker led class 3 all day, but it was much closer behind. Gary Mason / John Matthews’ Escort and Stuart Popplewell / Nigel Barber’s Seat Ibiza held station in second and third, but by the end of stage 3 Adrian Baker was level with Popplewell and Sillett was closing too. Mason went out on SS4 and Sillett shot up to second, from Adrian Baker and Popplewell. But Popplewell’s rally ended too on the next stage with a transmission breakage, moving John Stevens / Stephen Moyses’ Escort into fourth.
Philip Rowland / Philip Woodcock’s BMW spent most of the day in fourth place in class 4, even starting the final stage in the same place and 1min 13 secs off the lead. However with Booth struggling to the finish, Rowland also ousted Anthony Windle / John Hendley (TR7 V8) and Chris Hitchman / Jeremy Griffiths (BMW Coupe), who went into the final stage tied for second, taking class victory by three second from Windle, with Hitchman third, just ahead of fellow BMW crew Roger Titley/Heather Phelps.
Other Dukeries crews included Ian and John Dove (Nova) who had a short but ‘eventful’ day which included putting the car on its side on the first stage before retiring on SS3. Similarly, Cliff Richards / Tom Murphy (Escort Mk2) also had a character-building day, taking a stage maximum on SS1 and suffering further issues on SS3. They set better times on the other stages and finished the event, but it was not possible to make up the time lost. By contrast Blake Morris and Simon Ashton seemed to have a relatively trouble-free run in the 1300cc Ka.
Team Cruddle were having their usual fierce battle, and on this occasion it was John Stevens / Steven Moyses (Escort Mk2) who came out just 9 secs and one place ahead of Craig Stevens / Anthony Coupe, also in an Escort Mk2. Dave Baines / Matt Wood (Vauxhall Astra) set some quick times in Class 3 but were travelling just a bit too fast for one of the chicanes on SS3.
The Bailey family were obviously having a family ‘away day’ at Grafton. Sean Bailey and younger son Max lived up to their event seeding and took the Subaru Impreza to 4th overall whilst Sam Bailey, who was co-driving with Connor Tolson in another Impreza, improved on their seeding by 30 places to come 10th overall.
Following the rally stopping incident on stage six, both Vince Sillett and Samm Keeley were taken to hospital. “I am back home now, extremely bruised on most of my limbs and very sore, but I was the lucky one,” said Samm. “Vince is in hospital, he’s broken his leg and had major surgery on the other one yesterday. He has shattered his elbow, broken his collarbone and injured his back, so it’s a long road to recovery for him,” she added.
Original report courtesy of Peter Scherer with some additions. Photos courtesy of Kevin Money.