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richardsykes_jimclarkrally2014Stourbridge’s Richard Sykes won a tense battle in the British Rally Championship (BRC) Challenge category of the Jim Clark rally last weekend but the event ended in tragic circumstances with an accident involving some spectators.

Sykes endured a difficult run up to the rally. The Bathams Brewery and G I Sykes Ltd-supported Citroën C2 R200 had to be quickly converted into tarmac trim following work  on the engine and on the Wednesday before the event the car was sent to a rolling road facility to check that the engine work had improved the performance. Following the test, team member Simon Hawthorne was driving the car back to base when another vehicle pulled out and hit the car, completely smashing up the front and side of it.

“It was not the start to the rally preparations that we wanted” said Sykes. “Fortunately Simon wasn’t badly injured but the car was a mess. We ordered some parts to be delivered on Thursday and Simon and Martyn Billings started work on the repairs at 6am. They worked through until 2am Friday and then drove five hours to the rally at Kelso so I could test the car on the shakedown stage.”

With the shakedown stage successfully completed Sykes could finally concentrate on the event itself. The BRC Challenge rally started on Friday night with a stage around Duns town centre. Sykes was quickly into his stride, setting the fastest time by nearly three seconds from Ross Hunter. The fastest times continued on stages two and three which allowed Sykes to take a 9 second overnight lead.

The warm weather which greeted the crews on Saturday morning caused problems for Sykes. The pre-event accident destroyed the radiator and it was not possible to get a competition-spec replacement so a standard part had to be used. This wasn’t an issue on the cool Friday night stages but the car started overheating on Saturday.  The team had to remove the grill and lift the bonnet up slightly to try and get extra air to the engine and the car was run with the heater on full blast which made the interior very uncomfortable for Sykes and co-driver Emma Morrison.

Despite the overheating Sykes was able to maintain his lead up until stage 14 when Hunter overhauled him. Sykes was not going to give up though and he charged through the 11 miles of stage 16 over 13 seconds quicker than Hunter to lead by two seconds.

There should have been a further two stages but sadly an accident caused the event to be stopped.

“It had been an amazing rally and a great battle with Ross, who won the event last year.  We had a decent lead going into day two but Ross fought back and was 11 seconds up on us going into stage 16.”

“I was not going to settle for second though, after all the work the team put in getting the car to the event I wanted to give them a win and, having finished second three times, I wanted a win for myself too. I pushed as hard as I could on the long Swinton stage and then waited at the finish counting the seconds until Ross arrived. We had done enough to get back into the lead but only by two seconds. It was still all to play for on the final two stages of the event.”

“However, on the way to the next stage we passed many emergency vehicles and then we were told the event had been cancelled. Information was sketchy for a couple of hours and the mood in the service area was very subdued. Tragically some spectators had lost their lives after being hit by a car after we’d passed through the stage.”

“We left the event not caring what the results were as it all seemed a little unimportant after what had happened. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the people who lost their lives and with the crew involved who must be devastated.”

“We will take the win and dedicate it to my service crew who worked miracles but we will only remember the rally for the events which caused it to be cancelled.”

Image courtesy of Frank Love

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