TIGHT AT THE TOP BUT TOM TRIUMPHS
In a tight battle in which there was never more than a few seconds between the leading contenders, Tom Cave / Dale Bowen took victory on the Pirelli International Rally giving Cave back to back maximum British Championship points and what must have been a very sweet victory at his 9th attempt at the event. The Hyundai driver was pushed all way by Rhys Yates / James Morgan and there was a late charge from Finnish stars Jari Huttunen / Anti Linnaketo in the second Hyundai i20.
Huttunen / Linnaketo were quickest out of the blocks, narrowly shading Cave, Yates and David Bogie / John Rowan (Skoda Fabia) Alex Laffey lost some 5 minutes but his problems were slight compared to those of the Fiestas of Ruari Bell / Daren Garrod and Bart Lang / Sinclair Young both of whom made an early exit when they slid off the road. Cave leapt into the lead on the second stage while Matt Edwards / Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta) surged up to 2nd close behind him. This long 14-mile stage saw the demise of both Mat Smith/ Giles Dykes and Steve Petch/John Richardson (Fiesta S2000) when they both left the road, happily without injury.
After a brief service, the 7 miler in Roughside saw Yates shade Cave by a mere half second, it really was that tight! Edwards hopes of challenging for the lead evaporated when double punctures cost him some 2 minutes as he eased his pace, slightly baulking Bogie in the process. Cave was, however, quickest on the very fast Pundershaw stage easing out a precious few seconds over the pursuing pack.
Another service halt preceded the final two stages and Huttunen proved he was getting the hang of the Kielder gravel tacks by setting the quickest time on both of them, moving him up to an excellent 3rd overall on his first visit to the notoriously difficult stages. Cave stayed on a very similar pace however and kept the lead, ending up with a 17-second advantage at the finish, a close finish on a very tricky event where frequent heavy showers made judging the stage surfaces a bit of a lottery.
Away from the battle at the head of the field, Josh McErlan /Keaton Williams (Peugeot 208) took maximum British Rally Championship Junior points ending the day with a clear minutes advantage over William Creighton / Liam Regan (Peugeot 208) with Finlay Retson/ Richard Crozier (Ford Fiesta) a further 30 seconds in arrears.
On a day when the weather had a big say in the proceedings and Kielder Forest proved as challenging as ever, the Pirelli International Rally lived up to its reputation as a polished, well-run event which provided some great stages and a fascinating and tight struggle for victory.