Graeme Bell and Russ Radford were surprised last stage winners at Donington Park in their Proton Satria Millington, after the long time event leaders Graham Coffey/Jon Atherton had a driveshaft break on their Ford Fiesta WRC.

MSVR Circuit Rally Champion Ian Woodhouse headed the capacity 80 car entry, with former navigator Jason Leaf back in the left-hand seat, as Paul Rowland was busy racing in the 2CV 24hr race. Woodhouse was also testing new Michelin tyres and took an immediate three seconds lead over Coffey and Martin Hodgson/Tony Jones’ Escort on the opening stage, with another three second gap to Stephen Tilburn/Jody Wilson’s Escort.

Any hopes that the spectacular Chris Ransley/Chris Sharpe-Simkiss had of a top finish were dashed though, when their BMW M3 had a massive spin at the Redgate chicane, going around and around before stalling. It was several minutes before the crew were able to restart as the battery had gone flat.

Coffey was quickest on stage two to take a clear overall lead but Woodhouse was penalised one minute for missing a chicane, dropping him down the order.  Hodgson was in trouble too, “we spun and stalled at the Old Hairpin,” he explained. Tilburn became the new second place, but it was a three-way tie behind him, with only a two second cushion for the Kings Lynn driver. Josh Payton/Marcus Mizen’s Escort, Bell and Peter Smith/John Millington’s ex Tanak/Evans/Solberg Fiesta WRC couldn’t be separated, while one further second back came the Escort of Mark Kelly/Andy Baker and another second to Mark Jasper/Don Whyatt’s Escort.

Tilburn’s hold on second place was short-lived, “I don’t think it was me going slower, more like the others getting quicker,” he said after slipping to joint fifth with Kelly.  Smith was up into second after three stages, but only single seconds were between Payton in third and Bell in fourth.

Stage three was halted in the latter stages after Clive Hilton/Samantha Bartlett-Shaw flipped their Fiesta ST at the Goddards Hairpin.  Both were unhurt and were able to resume later in the day, but with goggles and more fresh air!

Coffey added a few more seconds to his lead on stage four, reaching halfway with 28 secs in hand over Smith, who had gradually started to consolidate second place. “We have only had the car three weeks and it’s my first time driving it,” he said.  Bell had ousted Payton from third whilst Kelly had also eased clear of Tilburn in fifth.  Jasper was still seventh and Tom Walster/Chris Toovey’s Suzuki Swift eighth. “I always seem to merge at the wrong time, so it’s losing me time,” said Walster.

Although John Indri/Ian Jones’ Escort ended the stage in ninth, they decided to pull out. “The engine was breathing a bit heavy and it’s a bit too softly sprung for here. But for the first time out it was OK otherwise,” said Indri.  His retirement put Hodgson back up to ninth, but he had Woodhouse closing in too. “We are getting a problem on every stage, brakes, radiator leak, alternator not charging,” said Hodgson.

While Coffey cruised through stage six, Payton was back tied for second with Smith. But the Fiesta WRC was in trouble and had slowed, before pulling out at the end of stage.

Although Coffey had a slight overshoot at one of the hairpin’s on stage 7 which left him facing the perimeter wall, but he went into the final stage 21 seconds clear of Payton with Bell a further 2 seconds in arrears.  Kelly was into fourth and despite gaining his earlier penalty, Woodhouse had clawed his way back to fifth after demoting Tilburn.

However, last stage dramas changed it all again. “We were going up the Craner Curves on our first lap and a driveshaft broke, and after that it was just staying on,” said Coffey. He lost 20 seconds to Payton, but importantly Bell had flown through the stage, topped the times and snatched the victory by just two seconds, with Payton behind Coffey by a solitary second.

Kelly was also flying and was only three seconds off Payton in fourth at the end. Woodhouse and Tilburn retained fifth and sixth, with Jasper seventh and Hodgson, John Griffiths/Nigel Wetton (Impreza) and Mike Taylor/Martin Haggett (Talbot Sunbeam Lotus) completing the top 10.

In class 1 Jonathan Hudson/Adi Collins’ Suzuki Swift had built a good early lead until a trigger wheel failure put them out after four stages and handed the class lead to Ian/Sarah Hambleton’s Peugeot 106. But two stages later Aaron Rix/Rob Cook’s Ford Ka went clear, with a slowing Hambleton retaining second, well clear of Charlie Barlow/Emma Morrison’s Nissan Micra.

Abi Mahmood/Dean Ross’s Renault Clio S1600 was unbeatable in Class 2 and 15th overall. His already growing lead was increased when Andrew Turner/Richard Winstanley’s Honda Civic “lost drive” on stage five. Graham/Toby Marshall’s Fiesta finally settled second in class, having demoted Andy Pecover/Kevin Blackford’s Ford Focus in the final stages.

Class 3 was led throughout by Payton’s speedy Escort, with Walster second throughout and Andy Corner/Ade Camp’s Peugeot 205 Gti third.  After Woodhouse’s penalty, Tilburn led the way in Class 4 until Kelly took charge from stage four. Woodhouse reclaimed second after a string of fastest times, with Tilburn and Jasper completing the top four in the class.

Report courtesy of Peter Scherer.

Photo is Graeme Bell and Russ Radford  (Proton Satria Millington) on Stage 5 of the Rainworth SKODA Dukeries Rally.  Image courtesy of Kevin Money