Three drivers are in contention for the 2018 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship title, as the close fight for overall honours and the prestigious BTRDA Gold Stars goes down to the final round – the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally (Sunday 28 October). But while Jason Pritchard and Daniel Harper go head-to-head on Otterburn, series leader Wayne Sisson will be watching the stages streamed live on-line at home, as he sits out the title decider.
The AMS Arnside Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10 driver has a strong 100% finishing record this year – consisting of two thirds, two fifths and a seventh place points finish. With his current lowest score of 24 points to drop in the mandatory one dropped score rule, Sisson feels that there is little point contesting the event, for he cannot realistically improve on his overall points tally and needs both Pritchard and Harper to retire (or at least finish way down the leaderboard) for him and co-driver Max Freeman to be crowned champions. Instead, Sisson will be waiting for his own Tommi Mäkinen moment – when the now Toyota WRC chief received a ‘phone call to say that Carlos Sainz had retired within sight of the finish of the 1998 RAC Rally and that he was champion!
“I’d have loved to have done the Cheviot Rally and to finish the Asphalt Championship with a clean sheet, but having looked at all the possibilities there isn’t really any benefit in me going,” said Sisson. “At the very least I’ll finish in the top three overall in the series, which I’d have happily taken at the start of the season. I’ll be watching the live coverage on the internet with Howard Davies and the Special Stage crew from the warmth and comfort of my front room, and hoping for a ‘phone call!”
Pritchard and Harper, who are tied in second place, both have a low score to drop – in Pritchard’s case it’s the one point he picked up on the Rally van Wervik, and for Harper it’s a zero after he was forced to miss the Tour of Epynt through illness. Taking dropped scores into account, the maximum number of points Pritchard can finish on is 141, while for Harper it’s 142. It just couldn’t be closer.
Having won the Bet On Aces Manx National and Old Forge Garage Mewla rallies in his North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05, Otterburn will be all-new for Pritchard as he competes there for the first time. It’s a very difficult and deceptive venue, even more so than Epynt, so it will be a great challenge for Pritchard and co-driver Phil Clarke, who have always excelled on unfamiliar territory.
Harper has a slight Otterburn advantage, having finished sixth there on last year’s Tyneside Stages. He and co-driver Chris Campbell are also on a brilliant run of form, with a win, a second and two thirds on the last four Asphalt rounds in their Minisport team run John Cooper Works Mini WRC.
Not in the battle for the title, but definitely in line for another Cheviot Rally win, is Damian Cole, who takes his Get Connected Ford Focus WRC05 out from under the dust sheet for the first time since 2015. The Abergavenny driver has won 24 rallies in the car, six of which on Otterburn – three Cheviot Rally wins (2011, ’13 and ’14) and three Tyneside Rally wins (2011, ’12 and ‘13) – not to mention five consecutive Asphalt Championship titles! Cole will be out to end an up and down season on a high and will be co-driven by Scottish Champion and Wales Rally GB National winner Jane Nicol, as regular co-driver Jamie Edwards is unavailable.
Peter Taylor/Andrew Roughead return to the Asphalt Championship in their ex-Robert Kubica Border Caravans-backed Fiesta WRC – they too are former Tyneside Stages winners, and will undoubtedly go well. Also back are Chris Ford/Neil Colman in their ex-Chris Atkinson Century Hose-backed Subaru Impreza WRC S11, David Hardie/John McCulloch in their smart TEG Sport Subaru Impreza and Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Fiesta WRC.
In the classes, Kevin Harbour has an unassailable lead in B10, but still needs a good result to secure David Tortoishell the co-drivers’ title. Having recently sold his Dovebank Motors Citroen C2 R2, Harbour will be aiming to complete his 100% finishing record in his old Peugeot 205. Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle have enjoyed a fantastic year and have got better as the season’s progressed, taking Class B10 honours on the last two rounds. They’ll be eager to finish on a high in their Citroen C1 Max, while series stalwart Graeme Sherry (this time co-driven by Sam Colman) will be looking for another giant-killing performance in his nifty Honda Civic.
Two class wins in a row has put brothers Paul and Julian Doroszczuk on the verge of clinching the Class B11 title in their normally-aspirated Cosworth-engined Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2. Finishing 20th on the Mewla, their highest place overall finish in the car, has boosted their confidence, as they take a seven point lead to Otterburn. Hot on their heels however is Geoff Glover/Keith Barker in their RWD Astra, who ensures the title fight goes right down to the wire.
Mike Pugsley is already Class B12 champion, after a tremendous season in his 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000. The Welshman will have Marc Clatworthy with him on the Cheviot, who is aiming to sow up the class co-drivers’ title.
There is a magnificent battle for Class B13 honours, with three drivers very much in contention. Ross Brusby and Steve Retchless are tied for the lead on 42 points. The former has used more and one co-driver in his Chesterfield Transporters-backed Ford Escort Mk2 this year and won twice (and will be co-driven this time by Sam Collis), while the latter has used more than one car (but mostly his Morris Lubricants/ralloy.com full stage rally-prepared Escort Mk2) with Sasha Heriot co-driving, and has finished second twice. If they hit problems, both could be pipped to the title by third placed Tim Waters who, co-driven by his son Jack, has had a wonderful season in his mid-engined Renault Clio V6.
1400C drivers’ champion Bill Paynter contests the event in his rapid Hilka-backed Peugeot 106 Rallye, co-driven by Andy Hall, while Adrian Drury/Cat Lund compete in their smart Peugeot 106 GTi.
Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to the Cheviot Rally, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders.
The Cheviot Rally will be streamed live on the Special Stage Facebook page, with commentary from Howard Davies and special guests. The live streamed footage will remain on-line for fans to view after the event, while edited highlights will be televised on the Sky/Freesat Front Runner channel, on the Motor Trend On Demand channel and on the Special Stage Facebook, YouTube and App platforms shortly afterwards.
Organised by Whickham & District Motor Club and Hadrian Motor Sports Club, and run in the memory of Keith Knox, this year’s Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally takes place over 60 stage miles on the Otterburn Military Ranges in Northumberland, which is one of the largest live firing MOD ranges in the UK. The event will be based at an area known locally as The Airstrips. On Saturday (27 October), this provides the recce assembly and start point and scrutineering location, whilst documentation will be held in the Rochester Village Hall, approximately five miles from The Airstrips. On Sunday (28 October) The Airstrips host the service area and rally start and finish, with the awards presentation held in the Village Hall on Sunday evening.
Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally – top 10 seeds
1. Damian Cole/Jane Nicol….(Ford Focus WRC05)
2. Peter Taylor/Andrew Roughead….(Ford Fiesta WRC)
3. Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell….(MINI JCW WRC)
4. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke….(Ford Focus WRC)
5. John Stone/Jack Morton….(Ford Fiesta S2500)
6. Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh….(Ford Fiesta)
7. Dave Turnbull/Chris Purvis….(Ford Fiesta WRC)
8. Paul MacKInnon/Rob Fagg….(Ford Fiesta)
9. Gordon Morrison/Calum MacPherson….(Subaru Impreza)
10. Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry….(Subaru Impreza)