This report should have typed in Red as the temperatures reached a staggering 32 deg C on the Sunday and 40+ degrees in the rally cars. Although a maximum entry of 65 was well exceeded we only started 60 cars after the usual late surge in withdrawals. The stages were set up on the Friday and Saturday by a small team of helpers who worked in the hot weather to put everything in place for a great days competition.
Leading the field away was last year’s winning crew Dave Welch and Stuart Proctor in a later spec. Subaru Impreza. However, although they were vying for the lead during the morning stages, it was a struggle as the car was suffering from a split exhaust manifold and losing boost, so they called it a day after 4 stages.
Quickest out of the blocks and taking the whole field by surprise were Steven and Catherine Booth, who’s pace put them in to the lead for the first 7 stages! This even included flattening the radiator on stage 1! All this in a 2 litre Mk1 Escort seeded at number 25. The speed has always been there but issues have cropped up in the past to take away good results. The other competitors were stunned to say the least. Sadly, a mysterious misfire on the final stage saw them splutter to the finish loosing more than 2 mins which robbed them of a spectacular and well-deserved victory.
They fell to 4th overall after dropping over two minutes to the nearest chaser and subsequent victor in a beautiful Mk2 Escort – Rob Lowe partnered by debutant Co-Driver Graham Phillpott, apparently he is to retire from co-driving with a 100% success rate and return to driving his own Mk2 Escort. Rob was delighted to become a two-time winner of the Flying Fortress Stages Rally – he won the inaugural event in 2012 in a Metro 6R4.
Mick Pickles / Beverley Warren (Subaru Impreza) finished second and claiming maximum EMAMC points whilst Gary Mason / John Matthew were 3rd in the spectacular Escort Mexico.
Simon Belcher and Pete Butler finished in 5th place overall, just 2 seconds behind the luckless Booths. No issues other the odd excursion off the road, trying too hard in their Subaru Impreza. Tipped by some for a victory were Tom Walster / Jamie Vaughan in the rapid Suzuki Swift but they were on the back foot after stage 1 when they broke a drive shaft. They fought back to 8th overall and were fasted on 6 of the 8 stages!
Another team hoping for a strong result after finishing 8th overall in 2016 were Paul Rees and Paul Briggs in their 1600cc Vauxhall Astra. However a broken driveshaft scuppered a repeat result and the car eventually succumbed to a blown head gasket.
Usual event Clerk of the Course Andy Smith was co driven by Dukeries and Donington Rally Clerk of the Course Bob Draper in the Team Cruddle Subaru; so plenty of knowledge of the venue and experience in that car. They had a relatively trouble-free day apart from scattering the cones at the Triangle junction, (ambition over adhesion issue) and clouting a rock pulled out from the undergrowth on the last stage, fortunately with no consequence. Bob was struggling with the heat after stage 4 and felt really unwell but a cold wet towel and plenty of water restored him to form. They hovered around the top 10 all day, finally claiming 9th place overall.
In a very similar looking Subaru John and Ryan Godbehere tried 4WD for the first time and got quicker in the newly acquired car as the event progressed finishing 13th overall.
In another Black car, not the best colour considering the temperatures, were Antony Cowpe partnered by Don Bramfoot in the 2.9 V6 RWD Sierra. They suffered with brake issues throughout the day but they battled on, attacking a chicane and having a serious overshoot on the gravel section. They finished 25th overall just ahead of Connor Tolson and Sam Bailey who were in something a little smaller and better suited to the narrow sections of the venue. Their Fiat 500 had handbrake issues and they suffered a puncture which cost them a stage maximum, but they finished the event.
Retirements included Ian and John Dove whose Vauxhall Nova battled with them all day. A misfire, brake and clutch issues and finally a kaput gearbox meant the day was curtailed. Another Vauxhall that didn’t make the finish was the Astra of Dave Baines and Matt Wood they set a great 10th fastest time on stage 1 but they clipped something lurking in the undergrowth on stage 2 which bent the rear beam and squashed the fuel filler neck.
Nick and Tom Barrington retired the gorgeous Audi Quattro with electrical issues after stage 1, Lee Ashberry and Daniel Palmer also got no further than stage 1 when a broken axle ended their day.
Grateful thanks to the event organisers, officials and marshals especially the stage set up crews and the Time Control crews who were working in the full heat of the day. The efforts were greatly appreciated by the competitors. It was not pleasant either for the competitors in their full race suits etc, and many crews were on the point of exhaustion at the end of the stages. The heat and the challenging stages meant we only had 28 finishes after the 8 hot stages.
Despite the extreme weather conditions, the REX PET HOTEL Flying Fortress Stages provided a very exciting and competitive day.
Report courtesy of Andy Smith