Penrith-born Frank Bird got his season off to a winning start last weekend – taking a commanding victory at the MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages.

The event also marked the fourth round of the Motorsport News with MSVR Circuit Rally Championship in which the Cumbrian continues to dominate. And following victories at Croft and Knock Hill, the 20-year-old has thrust himself firmly into contention for the title.

Despite making a cautious start on the icy opening stage, Bird and co-driver Jack Morton soon found their feet and from the second speed test onwards their Ford Focus RS WRC was never beaten – setting the fastest time through all seven of the remaining speed tests.

Taking an impressive 42 second lead into the mid-day halt, the pairing weren’t keen to ease off and played home their advantage through the afternoon stages – increasing their lead to over a minute by the sixth speed test before winning the final two stages by nearly half a minute to cross the finish ramp with a massive two minutes and 21 seconds in hand.

The result moves Bird up the championship leader board ahead of the following round at Cadwell Park next month – where the youngsters will be looking to make it four wins in succession.

“What a mega day today at Brands Hatch which is such an iconic circuit,” said Bird following the finish ramp.

“Once we got the first stage out of the way in the icy conditions, it was fantastic to win every stage after that and winning by over two minutes was even better.

“The car felt really good all day and it suited the stage layouts well so thanks to the team for that. Jack was great on the maps once again, and of course a massive thanks to my dad for his support.

“That’s three wins in a row now.

“So I’m looking forward to Cadwell which has a strong entry in a few weeks’ time – and hopefully we can keep our run going.”

Elsewhere on the world stage, a number of Cumbrians are gearing up for the first round of the FIA World Rally Championship at the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Amongst the front-runners are Cockermouth’s M-Sport Ford World Rally Team and their new lead crew – proven winner Esapekka Lappi.

“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started,” said the young Finn.

“Straight away M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta WRC felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence.

“I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence next week, but Monte is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.

“We had wet roads on the test and the car felt good in those changing conditions. But in Monte you can have wet roads, dry roads, icy roads, full snow, and sometimes all of that in the same stage!

“You have to give this rally a lot of respect, but that’s what we plan to do and we want to get this new partnership off to a strong start next week.”

Team Principal Richard Millener is certainly keen to see what his new squad can achieve this weekend and beyong – Lappi heading the youngest team in the field alongside the returning Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith.

“I’m really looking forward to this season and excited to see what we can do over the next 12 months,” said the boss.

“We’ve got a young team, but it’s also a very experienced and ambitious one and I think we have every chance of bringing home some victories this year.

“There’s no tougher start than Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we’re definitely up for the fight. And looking at some of the videos from our pre-event test, Esapekka, Teemu and Gus are fairly rapid behind the wheel of the Fiesta – so I’d say we have as good a chance as anyone when it comes to securing a strong result this weekend.”

Also in competition is Carlisle co-driver Scott Martin. Calling the notes for Welshman Elfyn Evans, the pairing have switched allegiances this year and are expected to challenge for the top results alongside the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team.