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Just a week after finishing on the podium at SOL Rally Barbados, Penrith rally driver Paul Bird swapped the dry Caribbean asphalt for the daunting gravel roads of Kielder Forest only to emerge victorious on the ATL Carlisle Stages Rally.

The event, based in his native Cumbria, formed round five of the Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series and along with Hexham co-driver Jack Morton in the Dom Buckley Motorsport/IRS-prepared Ford Focus WRC08, with backing from Frank Bird Poultry, Be Wiser Insurance, Hager, Fuchs Titan Race and Loco Energy Drink, the pair were back in action in more familiar surroundings.

Bird, who led the series going into his local event due to a string of consistent podium finishes, including taking victory on the opening round, was hoping for more of the same. But after three days of the fast closed roads of Barbados, the changeable weather in the UK made the infamous roads even more trickier and the former National champion found himself in sixth place after the opening stage.

However, the pair fought back to move up to third after the 14-mile Newcastleton stage which comprised SS2 before taking the lead after a 15-miler in Kershope which formed the penultimate test. By now, Bird was over 20 seconds to the good over his nearest rival and he maintained the gap to the finish to take his second maximum of the year.

With a number of title rivals retiring, the British Superbike team boss increased his lead as a result meaning he holds a healthy advantage going into the next round in Wales which comprises the Nicky Grist Stages Rally on July 14th.

Paul Bird: “I really struggled on the opening stage and dropped a shed-load of time and I can only put it down to me not being on gravel for a while, I think I was still in Barbados-mode! We also didn’t have the car set up quite right so once the boys sorted that, we found our pace and I felt good for the second half of the rally. It’s great to win again and our position at the top of the table was enhanced due to a number of main challengers not finishing but there’s still a long way to go yet.”

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Pictures courtesy of James Ward (Chicane Media)

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