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WWRS14 Red Kite BRichard Hill and Pat Cooper took a dramatic final stage victory on the Red Kite Historic Stages (Sunday 2 February), the opening round of the West Wales Rally Spares R.A.C. Rally Championship. In what proved to be a perfect start for the championship season, Ray Cunningham and Chris Browne won Category 1 and 2 respectively but only after two tie-breaks!

With a fine 60-car line-up of championship contenders, the Red Kite lived up to all expectations as crews tackled superb stages in the Caio and Crychan complexes. Despite all the pre-event rain, the stages were in excellent condition though heavy rain that returned as the leading crews tackled the deciding 15-mile stage in Crychan made conditions very challenging.

After leading from the start, Nick Elliott and Dave Price took a lead of 28s into the final stage in their Ford Escort Mk2. However, with two miles to go they were caught out by a bump and crashed out of the rally, leaving Hill and Cooper to win by 45s from the flying Terry Brown/Den Golding and Tomas Davis/Eurig Davies.

“It’s not the way I want to win a rally,” said Hill, but for a first run in a car finished three days earlier it was still an impressive start to his title bid. However, that final Crychan stage was not easy for them as the wipers packed up for the last five miles.

Pensioners Brown and Golding were two stars of the rally on their way to second overall after a mighty run on some of their favourite stages. Brown went into the final stage less than 10s up on the Sunbeam Lotus of Owen Murphy/James O’Brien, but a detached oil pipe put the Irish crew out at the start of the stage.

Instead, Davies fended off Darren Moon/Elgan Davies for what became third after a day-long tussle. Davies was another in a car finished only just before the rally. Tim Freeman/Paul Wakely moved up well after a slow start to fend off Gareth Lloyd/Ryland James for sixth. Meanwhile, Meirion Evans and Iwan Jones showed strong pace despite a couple of problems, including a puncture in SS1, and were fastest of all on the final stage.

Retirements included James Potter and Bob Duck with a blown engine in the last mile of the opening stage. They coasted over the finish line and still set a strong stage time, while a good run for Jerry Bailey and Graham Lacey ended with a roll in Caio 2. Vince Bristow and Tim Sayer ran in D5 in the Rally Xtreme Escort Mk2 and were unlucky to retire near the end of the final stage with a non-damaging off after running at a very good pace.

Local ace Gareth Lewis and Dan Holley took first blood in class D3 within the Rob Smith Rallying Category 3 in their Ford Escort Mk2, but there was frustration for Shawn Rayner/Declan Dear who lost the class spoils after sliding into a ditch at the finish line of Caio 2. They recovered to claim second while James Stait/Mike Harris took class D4 in their Sunbeam Lotus despite stopping to change a puncture on Crychan 2. In class D2, championship newcomers Dave Hopkins and Tony Vart took the spoils in their Sunbeam Talbot despite a jammed throttle cable on Caio 2.

There was an absolute cliff-hanger in the Capital Construction Category 2 as Chris Browne/Ali Cornwell-Browne beat fellow Escort Mk1 crew Roger Matthews/Paul Morris on another tie-break after pulling back a 1s deficit on the final stage. Browne got the nod after being a single second faster than Matthews over the opening stage. “That 15-miler is why we go rallying,” said Browne after a great performance.

Class C3 netted a fine debut victory for the Opel Ascona A of Peter Smith/Patrick Walsh after an excellent day, though Peter Egerton and Alun Cook chased hard in their Ford Escort Mk1. Class C2 went to father and son Paul and Daniel May, who made the trip from Newcastle worthwhile with a good day in their Escort Mk1.

There was a fabulous start in the Walker Diecastings Category 1 for the Paddy Hopkirk Trophy as Ray Cunningham/Gary McElhinney (Mini Cooper) ended the rally tied with Simon Wallis/Graham Wride (Lotus Cortina). The Mini crew took the Category on a tie-break by dint of the faster time on the opening stage and also claimed first blood in the Aldon Automotive Mini and Imp Cup.

“The stages were fantastic,” said Cunningham after a tremendous performance. Wallis was quick to give credit to his rival: “I couldn’t have gone any faster on that last stage and Ray pulled back three seconds to leave it level,” said Wallis who had earlier borrowed an intercom battery from the Irish crew. With 15 Category 1 cars in action, it marked the best field of pre ’68 cars for several seasons and it could have been a three-way lead battle had the Lotus Cortina of Gwilym Roberts/Don James not suffered brake failure at the start of SS4. Roberts was fastest of all over the first three stages and only finished 16s adrift, while father and son Bob and Dale Gibbons claimed Class B3 in their Ford Cortina GT. Steven Higgins and Don Bramfoot took Class B1 in their Saab 96, but the Porsches of Paul Mankin/Desmond Bell and Edmund Peel/Dessie Nutt both retired, with electrical and clutch problems respectively.

Other category winners included Tom Coughtrie/Calvin Cooledge (Ford Escort Mk2) in the Holton Homes Category K and Layton Waters/Kevin Bowcott (Toyota Starlet) in Category O. Coughtrie’s strong run was interrupted by a puncture and then a problem with the jack. Waters was second among the two-wheel drives in the modern rally and had a decent gap over the second R.A.C. contenders, Barry Stevenson-Wheeler and Jon Pickavance (Ford Escort Mk2).

The West Wales Rally Spares R.A.C. Rally Championship is the only championship that runs historics first on the road on all events. Round 2 is the Mid Wales Stages on Sunday 2 March.

The Red Kite Stages was organised by Amman and District Motor Club.

More details about the WWRS R.A.C. Rally Championship can be found at http://www.racrallychamp.org Follow the championship on Facebook at
http://www.facebook.com/RACrallychamp and on Twitter: @RACRallyChamp.

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