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Richard Sykes and Simon Taylor clinched the 2012 NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge title after a spectacular double win in Northern Ireland this weekend.

“It’s fantastic” claimed an exuberant Sykes, “We were disappointed not to have won the Jim Clark, as we were feeling good on that event. But the season has pretty much gone to plan; the car’s reliability has been brilliant and I’ve had my fair share of mechanical issues in my time, so it’s nice to have a good clean season.” Wearing a huge grin, co-driver Simon Taylor concluded: “We’ve worked seven years for this.”

The Citroën C2R2 Max pair took to the Antrim stages this weekend determined to get themselves back into the title hunt and went for broke early on. Entering the double header event this weekend ten points behind James Watts, Sykes and Taylor needed two good results to take the race down to the final rally of the year in Yorkshire.

Having led after two stages, Simon Moore and Emma Morrison dramatically crashed out on the notorious Torr Head stage, leaving the door open for Sykes, but it would need a drive of total commitment in order to take advantage.

And take advantage they did, victory on round five on Friday before winning every stage on round six on Saturday. Without Moore to contend with, Sykes had to battle to keep tarmac ace Richard Archer in his ex-works S1600 Opel Corsa and young hotshot, Jon Armstrong, in a Ford Fiesta behind him.

James Watts in his near-standard 1400cc VW Polo could only watch on with no chance of fighting for the outright rally win. But any slip up from Sykes and Watts, who was on his way to more maximum class points, would force the championship into a final showdown in Yorkshire.

“I’m pleased to have been so close at this stage of the season.” he said, “If you had offered me that at the start of the year I’d had bitten your hand off. Of course I’m slightly disappointed but we could never fight it out with the Super 1600 cars at the front”, explained an ever so slightly dejected Watts. The twenty-four year old clearly showing the signs of somebody that fought with every last ounce of strength to wrestle his machine around the fast tarmac lanes of Ulster.

“If we had managed to push the title to the last round, I might have even invested in a new car to fight it out at the front. We couldn’t really afford to do this event, but with the title at stake we had to come and fight for it, it’s the right way to go out”. Watts showing the emotion of what this British Rally Championship support series means to its competitors and UK rallying alike.

With Sykes cleaning up the championship and the RC5 class honours, the podium places and important points were still up for grabs for the rest of the field.

The amazing Co Fermanagh youngster Jon Armstrong was superb all weekend picking up back to back second places, guided throughout by the experienced Martin Brady. The seventeen year old student from Kesh has placed himself firmly at the top of the ‘ones to watch in the future’ list, even winning the final stage on round five.

His pace has been excellent all season long but with mechanical issues serving up three retirements in a row, he clearly had the desire to finish his home event in style. Even with his undoubted talent, Armstrong remained rather humble and low key at the end, “It feels good just to get a finish; we pushed really hard and just managed to hold off Russ.”

He was referring to Russ Thompson who, alongside Andy Murphy picked up their second straight third place on the double header event. The Lancastrian finished just three seconds off Armstrong on what was one of the best battles of the weekend. This result leaves him in equal third place in the Championship alongside Tony Simpson, meaning it will be all to play for on the final round in Scarborough.

Fourth place on round six went to Gareth White and Mike Dickson in the second of the C2R2 Max Citroëns  The pair has had an up and down season, but the Scots have always been quick. Recovering from a big ‘off’ on the fast asphalt of the Jim Clark back in June, White and Dickson needed to find their groove again. “Every bump, crest and undulation that unsettled the car reminded us of that accident” said Mike. “We had the right tyres on today and they worked well.” added Gareth, and regarding the final round; “We’ll see you there.” smiled White.

Fifth place overall went to Adam Taylor and Joe Cruttenden in their Ford Fiesta ST. This was by far and away Taylor’s best result of the season, and not bad for an Irish tarmac virgin. The engineering student studying at Oxford remarked at the finish, “Loved it, scary stages though, we were better today and I’m happy with that, Joe’s done a fantastic job.”

Just behind Taylor in sixth was Watts and co-driver Sarah Whelan, Watts had already clinched the RC2 class for 2012 with his result on round five, but his sixth place on round six keeps him second in the overall Championship heading into the forests of North Yorkshire.

After a promising start to the day, Archer and navigator Connor had an off road excursion on the Slieve Gallion stage, which dropped them to the bottom of the field. With too much to do the pair finished in seventh place, continuing their season of horrible luck.

Eighth place overall went to Simpson in his Ford Fiesta ST, after struggling through the day with gearbox issues, Simpson dropped points to his rivals in the Fiesta SportChallenge for the first time this season. Alongside on the pacenotes was long term friend Jamie Edwards, but the change in co-driver signalled a change in luck too for the Liverpool man as he ran the second half of the rally with only two gears.

On the bright side though, he maintains his lead in the SportChallenge and barring disaster, looks odds on to clinch that title in Scarborough. Simpson has also maintained his third place in the overall Championship, albeit now level with Russ Thompson.

Congratulations to Richard Sykes and Simon Taylor for an astounding performance on the Irish roads. The battle for the runners-up places will unfold on the gravel roads of the Trackrod Challenge Rally in Scarborough on the 29th September.

For more information on the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge visit http://www.rallybrcchallenge.co.uk

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