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Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy are the 2013 NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge champions, after a top class drive in the forests around Poole, secured the title they have led all season.

A second place finish was enough for the pair to be crowned, as their title rivals were unable to match their pace on the season finale Rallye Sunseeker Challenge.

Winning the event, Irish crew Dean Raftery and Aileen Kelly delivered another eye catching drive on their way to the top step of the podium.

After taking part in Friday evening’s ceremonial start proceedings in front of a healthy crowd, the competitive action got away from service on Saturday morning. Under broken cloud, the field headed to the first stage of the day, Uddens Water.

First through, championship leaders Thompson and Murphy rattled through in a steady time of 3mins 11secs, looking to take no risks on roads that were slippery following heavy overnight rain.

For the other championship contenders, the stage produced mixed results. In second place, and looking poised to launch an attack on the lead, Richard Sykes and Emma Morrison were a mere 1.3secs off the lead. Sitting in fourth, Gareth White and new co driver Keegan Rees found themselves seven seconds from the top spot.

Back in 11th, Ross Hunter’s title hopes were over after he and co-driver Josh Davidson suffered a broken brake pipe, leaving the young Scot with very little in the way of braking power.

As the action moved on to day’s second test, Ringwood West, Thompson was again the pace setter, his time of 7mins 31.9secs enough to extend the lead to nearly three seconds.

In one stage their nearest challenger had changed from title rivals Sykes/Morrison to Raftery/Kelly, who were once again showing a good turn of pace, as they had doneon every round they contested.

With the day’s first service stop just around the corner, the ‘Challenge crews made their first assault on the Somerley Park stage; After the five and three quarter miles were completed, it was Raftery and Kelly who sat atop the timing screens as the pair took 3.1 seconds out of Thompson and Murphy.

The championship leaders were unperturbed by this however, with their eyes being firmly locked on the overall crown, the increasing gap to the nearest championship rival was providing sufficient solace. Further down the order, stage three saw two crews retire with mechanical troubles.

Firstly young Welsh ace Meirion Evans, who had shown an impressive turn of speed on his return to action in Yorkshire, fell victim to a throttle problem. It was particularly disappointing for the man from Llanwrda, as he sat fifth overall as the leading Fiesta and poised for a season best finish.

Mechanical misfortune then also befall Clio 172 Cup champion Mike Threlfall. From the start of the day, he and co-driver Rob Harrison had been struggling with a malfunctioning steering assembly. Manfully trying to nurse the car back to service, their efforts fell short when, after crossing a cattle grill towards the end of stage three, the defective mounting cried enough and failed completely.

Heading out of service, the crews then settled into the second loop of three stages. With final championship placings now occupying everybody’s thoughts and continuing tricky stage conditions, positions remained static. Although, at the front of the field the skirmish for the lead continued.

Through stage four, Thompson limited the advantage Raftery/Kelly were able to build to just a 1.9 second lead, before stealing a near seven second advantage of their own through stage five.

On the final stage of the loop, the Honda Civic crew were able to overturn the advantage as the blue Renault Clio was nursed through a rough Somerley Park, Thompson/Murphy only too aware similar road conditions forced them into retirement on the 2012 Rallye Sunseeker.

Someone who had succumbed to the conditions, one stage earlier, was Steven Smith with co-driver Josh Davidson. The Scots pairing not only tore off their exhaust, but also ripped the gearstick out of the ‘box, as a result, they dropped from fifth to eighth.

With only three stages to complete after the afternoon service halt, Thompson/Murphy had one hand outstretched towards the champions champagne, knowing a trouble free run would see them crowned NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge kings.

On the relatively short Uddens White Sheet however, disaster nearly struck a knockout blow to these aspirations.

Approaching the first turn of the stage, a 90 degree right hander, Thompson clipped a bump on the apex of the corner which spat the car across the road. With momentum now in charge of the car, the crew were thankful for two huge strokes of luck that allowed them to continue.

The first, that the opposite side of the road was merely a soft bank rather than a ditch and the second that they missed a tree a matter of inches from where the car went off. After such an extraordinarily near miss, discretion became the better part of valour for the likeable crew and they undertook a cruise to the finish.

This was no potter to the end though, with both stage times being fast enough to rank in the top three. A worthy performance from a worthy champion.

With no pressure coming from behind, Raftery was en route to the win. It was not an opportunity the Irish crew were going to be denied, particularly after a puncture robbed them of an impressive win at the start of the season in Carlisle.

Victory by 19 seconds with six fastest stage times in the bag provided a stylish sign off for the driver who has shown real potential in 2013.

Elsewhere in the 2013 ‘Challenge finale, outgoing champion and 2013 runner up Richard Sykes, took the honours in class RC5, beating Melrose’s Gareth White to the crown with his class win and third overall. White added 4th place in the overall table to his RC5 runners-up spot.

Both men had endured campaigns where speed was demonstrated in abundance, only for individual errors or technical failures to cost them strong results.

While the pair declared themselves generally happy with their season finales and seasons in general, as the dust settles, they will surely resolve to come back harder and stronger in 2014.

Final championship contender, Ross Hunter, never really recovered from his braking woes on stage one and as they day went on, he was unable to find a rhythm on stages he was finding slippery and rough.
His final positions of sixth NGK BRCC and third in class, on what was his first season contesting gravel events in five years, means Hunter should be pleased with his third place finish in the overall championship.

Taking fifth on Rallye Sunseeker, Fiesta SportChallenge champion Aaron McClure went out for an extend test session, throwing and skidding his Fiesta through the forests putting on a show for the spectators. Keeping it all together to the finish, the points picked up secured his co-driver Tom Woodburn second in the RC4 co drivers standing.

Finally, Chris Wheeler’s ninth place finish, ensured the BRC Star of the Future winner’s co driver Yan Griffiths, walked away with RC2&3 co-drivers honours.

In what always promised to be a close season, the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge delivered a quality season, unearthed new exciting talent and ended up with deserving champions across the classes and championships up for grabs. The 2014 season has a lot to emulate.

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

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