CAN PETCH’S PACE PREVAIL?… Carlisle Stages Preview

Photo is Pat Naylor / Ian Lawrence (Mitsubishi Evo 9), also going for a hat-trick in the BTRDA Production Cup.  (Courtesy of ralliphotoswales)

The second half of the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series season kicks off with the DMACK Carlisle Stages (10th June) and, twelve months ago, the eventual Gold Star® Champions Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson narrowly edged out Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson to take maximum points on the day, their Fiestas finishing the event line astern after 44 stage miles in the western side of Kielder Forest. This time, Petch arrives in the Border city brimming with confidence on the back of outright victories on the last two rounds of the series and it goes without saying that the Bishop Auckland driver will be keen to keep the momentum going.  For his part, Payne’s intention was not to defend his title but, with the readjustment of the scoring following the loss of the Cambrian Rally at the start of the season and his appearance on the Plains Rally, there are still enough events left for him to make a significant impact on this year’s Gold Star battle, should he choose to do so.

For the past couple of RAVENOL BTRDA Series rounds, Petch/Wilkinson & Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson have been inseparable, their respective Fiestas being just 11s apart by the finish of both. Unlike the former who retired, though, Black/Edmondson also came home from the Malcolm Wilson with a respectable score such that they arrive in Carlisle as Gold Star leaders. Similarly, with three good results in the bank already, Ulstermen Connor McCloskey/John Rowan undertake one of their shortest journeys of the season to a rally start to consolidate, or even improve on, their current second place spot in the points.

Continuing the Fiesta monopoly, Hugh Hunter/Rob Fagg are only four points behind the overall leaders but, as none of the aforementioned will need reminding, with up to 30 points available on each occasion, the look of the leader board can significantly alter virtually in the blink of an eye!  Luke Francis/John H Roberts will be hoping that their ‘lean’ spell is at an end. Their Lancer EVO 9 finished a highly creditable 5th on the recent Plains Rally and they now find themselves in a similar situation to Charlie Payne – good results and no mistakes on the remaining four events could see them challenging for the title by the end of September.

Andrew Roughead has worked his way up to 4th in the Co-drivers’ table with Tom Preston but will be sitting in Carlisle-based Peter Taylor’s Fiesta on this occasion. Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000) could do with a good run to move their campaign forward while, having only contested two events so far (and finished both of them!), more of the same on the Carlisle Stages would set Wayne Sisson (Lancer EVOX) & Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth) up nicely for the remainder of the season.

Consistency sees Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Lancer EVO9) currently holding sway in the BTRDA Production Cup by a narrow margin from Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge (EVO X) and the Impreza of Andy Davies/Max Freeman. However, notwithstanding a twelve-month sabbatical from the sport, Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence have returned this year and planted their EVO 9 at the top of the timesheets on each of the two events they’ve contested so far. Then there’s Richard Hill who, despite retiring from the Plains Rally, is still in the Top Six and is comfortably placed to improve on that – provided of course, that Kielder doesn’t conspire to upset his plans!

The Carlisle Stages presents A N Other with the latest opportunity to bring to a close Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair’s monopoly of the top step of the Fiesta ST Trophy podium. Jon Ambler is Sam’s closest challenger while Alasdair Currie, who retired last time out, followed the leader home on the first two events. New to the series on the Plains, Martin Laverty/Phil Kenny finished an impressive 3rd, while Tony Simpson/Ian Bevan endured one of those days that, should they ever be moved to write them, would be omitted from their memoirs!….

This year’s RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship is a very open affair – different ‘winners’ on each round to date, with Rob Dennis/Andy Boswell (Escort) putting in three workmanlike performances to head the tables but they know they’ve got a job on if they’re going to stay there! Dave Bennett/Alistair McNeil lost top spot after their Corsa retired from the Plains and would, obviously, like to be back there ASAP while Ashley Davies/Lee Taylor, who were absent from Welshpool, could bring their Escort back into contention once again.

Barry Jordan/James Gratton-Smith are having an excellent season in their Hillman Avenger BRM – another crew to have finished every round so far with the corresponding benefits in the points table there for all to see!  Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor return in their Citroen DS3 R3 and they will certainly prove to be a threat and could put the cat amongst the pigeons on the day!

Ed Fossey/Chris Sharpe-Simkiss (Toyota Yaris) maintain their lead in the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship, in spite of being upstaged by the Talbot Sunbeam of Chris Powell/Jim Lewis and Dave Brick’s Nova on the Plains. All three will be present in Carlisle, as will Carl Davies/Rich Jones (Micra) who, although sitting in 4th place, are still less than a maximum score behind the leaders….  Re-joining the fray are Tommi Meadows/Ian Oakey whose Ka will have been the subject of a considerable amount of TLC since its much-publicised roll last time out. Such commitment will doubtless pay dividends at some point in the future – it’s just a case of ‘when?’….

Bart Lang (Micra) starts the Carlisle Stages as joint BTRDA Rally First Championship leader with Andrew Wheatley. However, the absence of the latter from the starting line-up gives Lang and Sinclair Young the opportunity to claim top spot for themselves. Well, that’s the theory but Jonathan Pickering/Simon Broom and David Perkins/Jordan Joines will have other ideas on the subject. Their own Micras are only a handful of points adrift while Sam Johnson’s Seat Arosa, which was 4th on its maiden outing on the Plains, is also back for more. Hence, everyone needs to be on their mettle on the day!

After setting out on the Somerset Stages Rally in mid-April, contenders for the revamped MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship reconvene in Carlisle for the second event in the eight-round calendar and it’s from here that the ties in the points table, always experienced after the first round of a class-based series, will begin to disappear.

Following the opening encounter Ed Fossey (Yaris), David Bennett (Corsa), Pat Naylor (Lancer EVO 9), Stephen Petch (Fiesta WRC), Rob Dennis (Escort Mk2) and Toni Carannante (Subaru Impreza) have been dining out on the strength of their joint leadership of the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship. Now, as Round 2 is upon them, they’ve got to do it all again to stand any chance of maintaining their positions at the top.  Behind them, those sharing 7th place are only two points behind, 12th three, 16th four and so on. Hence, either a calculator or considerable aptitude for mental arithmetic will be a prerequisite on the day!

The first car leaves the start of the Carlisle Stages at 8.00am on Saturday 10th June and cars are due to begin arriving back at the finish at H & H Auctions on the outskirts of the city from 3.00pm.   Further details from: