Langwathby driver Paul Bird racked up his third victory on the Manx National Rally with a scintillating performance in difficult conditions to take the win by just 3.4 seconds after 20 dramatic stages around the Isle of Man lanes.
Driving the MinxFlix.com, Fuchs Titan, Rapid Solicitors and Kick Energy-backed, Pirelli-shod FBP Ford Focus WRC07, Bird followed up his victories in 2009 and 2010 on The Island and in doing so, took maximum points on the REIS Get Connected MSA Asphalt Rally Championship.
But the Cumbrian MotoGP and British Superbike team owner’s rally wasn’t without problems on the Manx Auto Club Ltd’s classic 120-stage mile two-day event which threatened to deny him victory right to the very finish.
After finishing runner-up to Melvyn Evans and Aled Davies on the event last year, Bird seconded Davies into the co-driver’s seat, as part of their bid for the 2013 Championship, and during Friday evening’s early stages in the mixed conditions, the pair held second place behind the Subaru of Evans before hitting the front on SS6 with quickest time on Glen Roy 2. Bird held on for the next couple of stages in darkness to hold a slender one second lead at the overnight halt at the TT Grandstand.
Into Saturday’s stages and despite the odd brush with the Manx wildlife and scenery, Bird increased his lead and after the first loop of four stages, held an 11 second advantage over Evans despite not setting fastest time on any of the tests. He put that right by going quickest on the next stage in Druidale and was on the pace in The Curraghs but it was on the very next stage that disaster struck.
Only a few hundred metres into the 6.24-mile Tholt-y-will stage, the left rear tyre punctured leaving the 2005 ANCRO National Rally Champion to struggle through, eventually dropping 50 seconds and shedding copious amounts of bodywork as the flailing remnants of the tyre destroyed the rear of the Dom Buckley Motorsport-prepared car.
Despite dropping to third place overall, Bird responded in typical fashion by setting fastest time on the next stage to move up to second place and courtesy of another fastest time on SS17, took the lead back which he wasn’t to relinquish over the remaining three stages.
A ten second advantage going into the penultimate test in Braaid 2 saw Bird and Welsh rival Jason Pritchard bear the bogey meaning all was to play for on the final test on the 11.8-mile test through The Baldwins and once again, there was high drama on the sting in the tail.
As Pritchard scorched through to set fastest time, Bird noticed that the engine temperature on the Focus was giving cause for concern so was faced with the dilemma of easing off sufficiently to ensure the car made it to the finish, it was an anxious wait but news filtered through that he had taken victory by a mere 3.4 seconds much to his relief!
Paul Bird: “That’s the hardest I’ve ever had to drive around the Isle of Man and don’t want to do that in a hurry again! We were unlucky to get the puncture which dropped us a shed load of time otherwise we would have had a lot more in hand but when the oil light came on coming down Injebreck, I thought we’d blown it. Jason did really well to push us so hard, fair play to him and I’m sad that Melvyn retired otherwise it would have been a great battle as he’s the undoubted master round here. It’s fair to say my heart was in my mouth a few times but I’m ecstatic to have taken my third Manx Rally victory and thanks to Aled and the team, great job boys!”
The result sees Bird provisionally move into the joint lead of the REIS Get Connected MSA Asphalt Rally Championship but will miss the next round which clashes with his annual sortie to SOL Rally Barbados later this month where he is looking to defend the title he won last year.
Results (after SS20)
1 Paul Bird/Aled Davies – Ford Focus WRC 07 – 1:44:26.6
2 Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke – Ford Focus WRC 05 – 1:44:30.0
3 Damian Cole/Darren Garrod, Ford Focus WRC 05, 1:47:50.7
4 Nigel Cannell/Michaela Cannell – Mitsubishi Evo 9 – 1:49:02.5
5 Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh – Subaru Impreza WRC – 1:49:39.3
6 Graham Coffey/David Gamblin – Subaru Impreza S12B WRC – 1:50:39.6
7 Andrew Leece/Graham Fargher – Mitsubishi Evo 6 – 1:51:23.9
8 John Indri/Pete Johnson – Darrian T90 GTR – 1:52:24.6
9 David Hardie/John McCulloch – Subaru Impreza – 1:52:42.2
10 John Stone Lee Carter – Skoda Fabia WRC – 1:52:49.1
Pictures courtesy of John Watterson