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After a fierce battle across 13 stages in the Exmoor forests, Rhuddlan’s Luke Francis and John H Roberts took a start to finish victory at the Somerset Stages Rally on Saturday (16th April). The Mitsubishi E9 pilot headed to the Minehead based event after a recent Rally North Wales victory and stamped his mark firmly on the top step of the podium to take the win by eight seconds from pre event favourites Charlie Payne and Carl Williamson.Somerset16 Francis

Over 130 crews from across the UK headed to the North Somerset coast for Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club and Minehead Motor Club organised event which formed the third round of the Ravenol BTRDA Rally Series and Maxxis Tyres MSA English Rally Championship. Picking a winner from the strong entry list would always be a challenge but Francis and Payne were all set to resume their battle which started on the Cambrian Rally back in February.

Despite the treacherous conditions on the opening loop, the pace at the head of the field saw no sign of slowing and Francis would take first blood over the short 1.5 mile opening Timberscombe stage. From here, he would never be headed and it would take until stage 3 for Payne to begin to claw some time back on the Mitsubishi pilot. However it would never quite be enough and despite reducing the gap to four seconds after the two run over the asphalt Porlock Hill Toll Road, Payne would play second fiddle for the rest of the day.

Somerset16 PayneFrancis was pleased with his performance which now sees him edge towards the front of the BTRDA series standings. “It’s been a really great battle with Charlie (Payne) all event and especially satisfying thanks to the tricky conditions today” said Francis at the finish.  “John (Roberts) has been pushing me on all day which has undoubtedly helped our place today and on top of that the new car is feeling fantastic. I have lots of confidence in it now and the new engine is working well. It’s been a good day all round”.

The battle for the final podium spot was a little simpler. Peter Stephenson and Giles Dykes set an impressive early pace in their Ford Focus WRC to take third on the opening two stages. However, the Subaru Impreza crew of Karl and Guy Simmons woke up on stage three to take over the spot and there they stayed for the remainder of the day; an impressive performance on their first outing since October last year.

Fourth spot went to Taunton crew Martyn and Dawn England who debuted their brand new Ford Fiesta R5+ on gravel at the event. Trying hard to acclimatise to the new steed, the husband and wife team increased their pace throughout the day and showed how at home they were on asphalt by setting fastest overall stage time on the first Porlock Hill test. This would vault them up the leader board to their best ever finish on the event. This left Stephenson to slip down the order to fifth but was nevertheless happy with the day’s performance at the finish ramp on the Minehead seafront.

Welsh crew Luke Francis and John H Roberts take a start to finish victory at the Somerset Stages Rally

Gavin Edwards and Caron Tomlinson continued their fine form in the BTRDA series to take the two-wheel drive and Silver Star honours in their Ford Escort MK2.  They lead from the off but were chased hard by Boyd Kershaw and Bryan Hull in their similar machine who finished the event just 10 seconds in arrears.

Somerset16 WilkesAnother rapid local, Julian Wilkes from Taunton was the leading 1400cc contender in his Vauxhall Nova with Will Rutherford Child alongside.  Dave Brick and Keaton Williams in their similar Nova took the battle to Wilkes throughout the mornings stages and emerged with a seven second advantage at first service, but retired early in the afternoon to hand victory to Wilkes who finished in a creditable 16th overall.

This year’s event has been particularly tough on crews and only 84 competitors completed the route which wound its way across forests in Croydon, Chargot and Knowle, just south of the Minehead rally base. The event was faced with a major re-route thanks to the inclement weather of the past few months but the small and dedicated team pulled out all the stops to ensure the rally took place, one of only a handful left in England.

“It’s been a really challenging event to organise this year and it’s thanks to all the hard work, dedication and many late nights from everyone in the organising committee and supporting motor clubs, that we could run a successful event once again” said Clerk of the Course Jason Hayes.  “After winning the BTRDA Rally of the Year in 2015, we knew we have all the ingredients for a good event and I have to say thank you to The Beach Hotel, Minehead Town Council, West Somerset Council, Exmoor National Park, Avon and Somerset Police, The Forestry Commission, The Crown Estate and Somerset County Council for all their help once again. We look forward to seeing you all again next year”

Somerset16 EnglandFull results are available at http://www.somersetstagesrally.com and you can keep up to date with all the latest news on the event Facebook and Twitter feeds.

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Images courtesy of EDP Photo News

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