While several leading crews focussed on the battle for the overall title, Steven Smith and Phil Spurge had no such concerns and duly won round seven of the Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic Rally Championship, the Historic Tour of Flanders (11-13 September).
The Porsche 911RS won category two, while Darren Moon and Chris Parsons had an impressive run in their Escort Mk2 to win category three. In category one, another victory for Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride (Porsche 911) sets up a championship cliff-hanger with David Stokes and Guy Weaver (Escort Mk1) for the final event of the season.
With championship scores uppermost in their minds, Nutt and McBride knew they had to be quick and safe, and that was the story of their rally. The Tuthill-tended Porsche 911 never missed a beat as they swept clear during a long tough Saturday leg in the lanes around Roeselare.
In fact, the only real worry of the day was when one of Dessie’s contact lenses slipped out of position and left him struggling for vision. With that little issue fixed for Sunday’s shorter leg, it was back to business as usual for a resounding category victory.
However, they could never relax too much as Rikki Proffitt and Bob Duck – a late stand-in co-driver – had a fine run in their Porsche 911. “This is my first special stage event in Europe,” admitted Rikki, who loved every minute of driving the Porsche in Belgium.
Third in category one and victory in class B1 went to Gary and Jane Edgington in what was sometimes a challenging event in the Singer Chamois. Their biggest problem was a persistent misfire that hung around all day Saturday, but they came through smiling to give the little car another monster result. “Today’s been good,” said Gary at the finish on Sunday, relieved to finally have the car running cleanly.
They finished well clear of class B1 rivals Peter Horsburgh and Graham Carter who made a welcome appearance in their Mini Cooper. “I’m a bit rusty,” said Horsburgh on his first BHRC event for over a year. They nose-dived into a field on Saturday but some willing spectators got them going again.
Smith and Spurge bagged the lead of category two on the opening Beveren stage on Friday evening. Despite Spurge being new to Belgium, they stayed ahead throughout and their only scare came at the end of the third Izegem stage on Saturday with a high-speed spin. Somehow they avoided the ditches, but it was a big moment to end the day. Some rain on Sunday morning did no harm to their chances and they reeled off Sunday’s eight stages to take a resounding victory. “We loved it; fantastic fun,” said Smith.
Always leading the chase of Smith was the Escort of Stokes/Weaver and they bagged six stage wins on their way to second in category two and victory in class C5. Their biggest problem came late on Sunday when a clutch problem made going down the gearbox very difficult, and Stokes had to cut his pace accordingly.
Into an excellent third in category two came the Porsche 911 of Peter Smith/Russ Langthorne, who started the event battling with the similar cars of Peter Lythell/Gill Cotton and Derek Boyd/Maurice Beckett. However, a ditch claimed Lythell and a broken gearbox put Boyd out, so Smith was away and clear in second. “This is the second event that I’ve not damaged the car, so that’s progress,” said the Yorkshireman.
With Ernie Graham/Andy Greenland out with engine dramas and Rupert Lomax/David Alcock down the order after going off three times on Saturday, fourth in category two was fought over by the top C3 runners. After a mighty battle, Andrew Siddall and Captain Thompson scored a famous victory in their Escort Mk1 after overhauling Ken Forster/John Stanger-Leathes on Sunday.
“It’s great to win C3 at last,” said Siddall after a superb performance, which left them 20s ahead of Forster/Stanger-Leathes at the finish after being almost level overnight. Drew Wylie and Howard Pridmore were back in third as Wylie rallied in Flanders for the first time.
Ahead of Wylie in the final category two placings was the C2 winning Escort Mk1 of Vincent Bristow and Keith Fellowes. “No problems at all today,” said Bristow, who had lost all his brakes on the opening loop on Saturday. “I wanted to be top six overall in the category,” he said after achieving his target.
Right from the start of the rally, Moon and Parsons stamped their authority on category three and built their lead to 2m40s by the conclusion of a tremendous run, on only Moon’s second visit to Flanders. Their major concern was a clutch problem that developed late on Saturday, but the service crew sorted that over two visits to service and Moon was able to continue his excellent pace through Sunday, when he finished the rally with four stage wins on the trot. “Fantastic,” was how he summed up the weekend, before adding his thanks to his service crew.
Second in the category was a good result for Will Onions and Tim Hobbs in their Escort Mk2. They lost first gear on Saturday, but a spare gearbox on loan from Mark Solloway had them running strongly once more to finish nearly two minutes up on team mates Guy Woodcock and Iwan Jones. Woodcock again bagged D3 spoils, but was kept on his toes by a strong run from Richard Lane and Frank Richer (Escort Mk2). “That’s the first finish in four attempts at this rally,” said a delighted Lane, who closed in on Woodcock towards the finish as the leader’s clutch wilted.
Phil and Mick Squires had a good run and steadily upped their pace to take third in D5, while the battle for D4 was an all-Porsche affair as Richard Tuthill and Calvin Cooledge got their thundering 928 to a debut finish ahead of the 911 of Mike Anderson/Alan Brown.
Finally, a great performance on their first asphalt event netted D2 victory for the Escort Mk2 of Jacob Scannell/Nina Thompson. “We’ve done it! Absolutely brilliant,” said Scannell at the finish.
The BHRC action concludes with round eight, the Trackrod Historic Cup, on 26 September.