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Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy opened their 2013 NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge campaign in fine style today (Saturday May 4th) by winning the Pirelli Richard Burns Foundation Challenge and taking home a maximum 30 point haul on a sunny but breezy spring afternoon in Carlisle.

Reigning champion Richard Sykes produced a storming recovery drive to secure second place, after a difficult start to the event, the final podium spot secured by 18 year old Cumbrian flyer Aaron McClure on his first event through the legendary Kielder stages.

After losing one of the favourites before the event even began, when Richard Archer and John Connor in the Opel Corsa suffered a crank sensor failure on their way to the ceremonial start, the remainder of the field got their season under way from Carlisle city centre under sunny skies and in front of a strong crowd of spectators.

After formalities were completed, the drivers then headed for the forests to meet their first challenge of the 9.27 miles of Pundershaw, over which Thompson recorded the fastest run of nine minutes and nine seconds, 4.1 seconds ahead of nearest challenger, Luke Pinder.

Over the next two stages, Archy’s Rigg & The Shanks, the 25 year old Lancastrian continued to set competitive times which allowed him to take an 11.4 second lead into the afternoon service break, despite being beaten to the stage wins by the leading CRC3 runner Dean Raftery.  The 21 year old from County Galway turned in an impressive pace in his Honda Civic, co driven by Aileen Kelly, to take second position.

As 15 cars headed back to Carlisle Racecourse for service, George Morrison and Richard Hortin were the second retirement of the day having succumbed to mechanical issues on SS2. Luke Pinder was a comfortable third, logging a consistent pace across the three forest tests, the leading CRC5 car of Sykes and co-driver Simon Taylor were 5.8 seconds further back and 25 seconds off the overall lead after the crew had to nurse a misfire and their own early season “rustiness”.

Back in sixth place, Aaron McClure was showing a respectable turn of speed as the leading Fiesta SportChallenge runner on his first visit to the Kielder stages.  Registering the sixth fastest time on all three stages, the Flookburgh flyer was taking a cautious approach to his rally with a car that was offering inconsistent braking performance.

After completing a disjointed service, which saw crews severely delayed by a traffic incident on the public roads and the Clio crew of Matt Griffin & Chris Spilsted retire through a broken gear linkage, the drivers and co drivers headed back to Pundershaw to begin the afternoon loop with a number of battles, including that of the overall ‘Challenge win, finely poised.

Stage four however, effectively robbed the event of its lead battle that had looked so compelling.

After setting the fastest times on stages two and three, SS2 by a mere 0.7 seconds and SS3 by a more convincing 5.5 seconds, Galway native Raftery looked like a serious threat to Russ Thompson’s victory hopes, however a puncture on the second running of Pundershaw saw him retire with a mechanical failure.

Stepping into the breach to provide the entertainment in the wake of Raftery’s retirement, Richard Sykes set about a storming recovery drive.  After failing to identify the cause of his troublesome misfire in service, he set about tinkering with the car out in the forests.  Firstly replacing his Citroën’s crank sensor, he then changed the throttle body, the effect of which was so dramatic, Sykes said “It was like driving a different car.”

The West Midlander used this to set the fastest times on all three of the afternoon’s stages, all of which were significantly quicker than his morning’s efforts.  This included a monumental 20 seconds faster through stage five, coupled with a timer-sapping puncture for Pinder, Sykes moved up to second place in the overall standings.

Any thoughts Sykes may have harboured about taking the win however, hadn’t counted on a continuing fast and clean drive by Thompson who effectively matched the 2012 champions times being only 0.3 seconds behind after the 9.27miles of Pundershaw and 0.1 seconds behind after the 8.75 miles of Archy’s Rigg.  With the win effectively secured, Thompson cruised through SS6 with the third fastest time, leaving Sykes to secure a CRC5 class win by virtue of his runners-up spot.

The final podium position was taken by Aaron McClure who, at service stated he would have been happy to finish his first rally through Kielder in the sixth position he occupied. Nevertheless, he managed to find the confidence he was lacking in the braking performance of his Fiesta to register a very impressive result.

The remaining class winners were Gary Wright in CRC2 (11th overall) and John Byrnes in CRC3 who signed off his 1st British rally in 5th place.

The NGK BRCC now heads for the Scottish Borders when the competing crews will face the closed public roads of the Jim Clark Rally over the weekend of May 31 / June 1.

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

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