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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Success for Cumbrian drivers in Snowman rally

Local rally drivers dominated the first round of the MSA Scottish Rally Championship last weekend, filling three of the top four spots.

The Snowman Rally really lived up to its name but Cumbrian rally stars mastered the elements to take second, third and fourth positions overall.

The opening round of the Scottish series is always a daunting challenge. Based in Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, the event usually delivers its own unique mix of snow, ice and winter conditions.

Throw some tricky, fast stages into the pot and you can see why it’s always a difficult event to kick start the new rally season.

But experienced Aspatria driver Mike Faulkner was up for the challenge. He started well in his ageing Mitsubishi setting second fastest time on the opening 6.5 mile stage and reporting a cautious start because of snow lying just off the racing line. He stepped things up a gear and shared fastest time on stage two with eventual rally winner David Bogie and then went two seconds quicker on stage three.

Then the snow started to fall and Faulkner had to tackle the next two snowy stages on gravel tyres. He lost time to Bogie but slithered his way back to service after dropping 40 seconds and slipping to third.

However, in the final service of the day, he fitted snow tyres only to find the final two tests were pretty clear and gravel tyres would probably have worked better.

“The stage was clear of snow, that’s the first time I have driven a stage hoping to find snow round the next corner,” said a frustrated Faulkner. “We were on the wrong tyre but we have moved back up to second overall.”

Faulkner battled through and eventually arrived back to the finish in a fantastic second position – a great way to kick off the new championship.

“That’s a great start to the season and our highest Snowman Rally finish, the conditions were very variable and the snow, particularly on stages four and six, gave us a real challenge. We seemed to have the right tyres but had them on for the wrong stages!”

Another local driver took the final step on the podium. Carlisle rally ace Peter Taylor was out in a world rally car for the first time and his plan was to have a steady drive. It was also his first time using DMACK rally tyres and his first rally in over six months after a road accident forced him to the sidelines.

So, driving his newly-acquired Ford Focus WRC01 run by CA1 Sport, his goal really was to get to the finish and bag the valuable four-wheel-drive experience. Taylor upped his confidence and speed over the day and during the afternoon switched to snow tyres to get extra grip and traction in the winter arctic conditions.

His perseverance paid off and he climbed the leaderboard over the last few stages to clinch third place by just a handful of seconds.

“We came to this rally to learn how to drive the car really. Being a world rally car its totally different to anything I’ve driven before. This was my first rally back after the accident and one of the hardest things was just getting back into the way of listening to the pacenotes again,” said Taylor.

“The conditions were very tricky and the last few stages had snow falling on top of mud. But we used a snow tyre and I was really impressed with the grip. I didn’t want to take any risks as I was there really to get the experience and find out the best way to drive the car. I hope to be going a bit faster, and committing to the quicker sections, when we come to the next round of the series at the border Counties.”

Taylor switches to his Renault Clio R3 for this weekend’s Rallye Sunseeker in Bournemouth – the opening round of the MSA British Rally Championship. And with new rules introduced this year allowing only four-wheel-drive cars to compete for overall championship honours, he really has a strong chance of chasing the title.

“I just want to go there and drive flat out from the start and then see where we are. I don’t have any expectations but I’ve got good experience in the Clio now and we can realistically hope to push for overall wins now that the rules have changed.”

Rounding off the impressive Cumbrian result on last weekend’s Snowman Rally were Spadeadam Motor Club members Rory Young and Allan Cathers. The pair finished fourth overall. and took victory in Group N in a Mitsubishi Lancer – equalling their best ever finish on this event. Mastering the treacherous conditions better than some, they passed two cars on two different stages but dropped over 10 seconds on the last stage trying to squeeze past a slower car. That loss dropped them back to fourth, just three seconds behind Peter Taylor. But, as co-driver Cathers rightly pointed out, “It’s not bad for a rusty driver, an old co-driver and a 15-year-old car.”

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