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Cumbrian rally driver Paul Bird scored a hard fought victory in the 2014 Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages Rally on Saturday in his Ford Focus WRC. Co-driven by Aled Davies, Bird took the lead from the very first stage of the day and after 44 miles of treacherous conditions in the Shropshire and Powys forests, crossed the finish ramp with a 27 second advantage over the second placed Steve Perez in a similar Focus WRC.WOODPECKERPaulBird_RallysportMedia

Bird didn’t have it all his own way however. With Perez managing to claw some time back on the frontrunner when he stalled at a tight hairpin in Radnor during the morning, just 10 seconds separated them as they returned to the service halt at midday. But Bird kept a level head and continued to open up a lead that was never threatened and returned to Ludlow Racecourse to spray the champagne after a hard day in the office. The final podium spot went to Welshman Luke Francis and John Roberts in their Mitsubishi Lancer, putting in some favourable stage times throughout the day but would predictably be playing catch-up to the more powerful World Rally Cars.

WOODPECKERJoe_Price_LucyomIn the two wheel drive section of the event, Yorkshire’s Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis secured a now familiar victory in their Ford Escort MK2, adding to their almost never ending BTRDA championship winning streak in 2014.  Never outside of the top ten overall all day long, the duo kept popular Ludlow driver and Ford Escort MK2 pilot Joe Price at bay who finished just over a minute behind Robinson.  Runner up position for Price is certainly a worthy result and maybe even better than expected having only had sporadic outings over the last few years, although local knowledge would have been an advantage in the slippery conditions. Ludlow favourite’s Henri Grehan and Chris Ridge were all set to challenge the leaders and spent the first few stages of the day settling back into the car after 4 years away from the sport. Sadly a chronic misfire in their Escort forced them into retirement during the third test.

The up to 1400cc category victor was always going to be a hard one to predict with some rapid youngsters at the head of the field. Ford KA pilot Mat Smith was the most likely choice as favourite with Giles Dykes alongside him, although discounting Dave Bennett and Alistair McNeil in the Vauxhall Corsa would be foolish. But it was Wolverhampton’s Mark Gamble and Steve Link in the Suzuki Swift S1400 who took the overall category win after heading off a late charge from Smith to win by just 11 seconds. Sadly Bennett suffered engine problems early on and retired in the morning loop. The hard charging smaller engine cars were a spectacular sight throughout the rally, showing their worth against the front runners with Gamble and Smith securing a top 30 overall position against much more powerful machinery.

WOODPECKERMark_Gamble_LucyomOrganised by Sixty and Worcestershire Motor Club, the Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages Rally is often regarded as one of the most popular events in the UK rallying calendar and this year was no exception with a record breaking 160 cars taking the start of the Ludlow Racecourse based event. The 30th August event, which forms part of the BTRDA National Gravel Rally Series and MSA Welsh Rally Championship, took competitors into the forests surrounding Ludlow and Presteigne in Wales where they battled against the clock over some of the toughest forests tracks in the country.

The lure of watching the best rally drivers in the UK tackle the Shropshire forest stages also proved to be a hit with local fans as the Haye Park stage of the event was full to its capacity for spectators. They were provided with an action packed day and a wide variety of cars to keep them entertained.  “It’s great to see so many people coming out to watch the rally and cheer on their favourite drivers at the event” says Pete Wood, Clerk of the Course.  “The rally has some amazing local support and I`d like to thank everyone for attending this year’s rally. The drivers commented how big the crowds were which provided a great atmosphere as they tackled the main spectator stage of the day”.

The organising committee have heralded the event a success with over 125 competitors reaching the finish. “Everyone we have spoken to have really enjoyed the stages and the welcome they have received in Ludlow” said Wood. “I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone that made the event possible including the officials and marshals who lined the route. Thanks must also go to event sponsor Eventsigns and to supporters Hills Ford. We have a big challenge ahead of us to better this event next year, but we will certainly try”.

More event information can be found at http://www.woodpecker-rally.co.uk

Photos cortesy of RallySport Media and JucyRally

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