For the second successive year, Ashley Field took the victory spoils at Donington Park but, unlike 2015 where he snatched victory on the last stage, on this occasion he was quickest on every stage with a winning margin of over two minutes.
With Steve McNulty on the notes for the first time since Field upgraded to the new Darrian T90 last year, they thrived. Despite finding the opening stage excessively slippery they had 12 seconds in hand over Graeme Bell/ Russ Radford’s Proton Millington.
Roger and Sam Cox were third best in their Ford Escort, from Dave Wood/ Pete Kettle’s Mitsubishi Lancer, Lee Edwards/Mike Roberts’ BMW M3 and Craig & Alex Fleming’s Escort, despite the Flemings at one point hitting a straw bale chicane.
As the track began to dry, Field’s lead continued to grow and by the end of stage three he was 57 seconds up, while Bell was already looking over his shoulder as Martin Hodgson/Tony Jones (2.5 Ford Escort) closed in. Hodgson was second quickest on stage four behind Field and reduced Bell’s second place cushion to only 10 seconds. Despite finding his tyres too soft on stage three, a quick change for Edwards kept him in fourth place, while Fleming was up to fifth, having usurped class rival Cox. But out had gone Wood’s Mitsubishi with a rear differential problem, having been fourth on stage one.
While the lead continued to grow, the duel for second intensified. After five stages Bell’s advantage was down to four seconds, but after a tie on stage six he consolidated his place on the final run. “We had to up the pace a bit though,” he admitted. Hodgson had to settle for third. “We tried hard and went sideways a lot, but it wasn’t enough,” he replied.
Edwards also increased his hold on fourth on the closing stages, while Fleming successfully held off Tom Walster/Chris Ridge’s flying Suzuki Swift for fifth and victory in Class 3, after Cox had retired on stage five with differential failure. “We had a fuel surge problem on stage five but It cleared. This was only my third rally,” said circuit racer Fleming.
Walster was debuting his Suzuki, which seemed well-suited to the Donington stages. “It was great fun but we did hit a chicane on the final stage,” he said.
Dave Welch/Stuart Proctor had come back from an off on stage one and were up to seventh by stage five, before they went out with gearbox problems in their Impreza. John Griffiths/Paul Gould therefore claimed the place and were second to Bell in Class 5, despite a few first-stage excursions and swiping a post with the rear corner.
Simon Belcher/Peter Butler’s Impreza was eighth, with Mike Taylor/Martin Haggett’s Sunbeam next. “We hit a chicane on an early stage and it bent the front suspension and a hub, so made steering interesting,” said Taylor. Craig Mcintosh/paul Vasey’s Escort Cosworth completed the top 10.
In Class 1 a puncture on stage five robbed Paddy & Tom Homan’s Puma of victory, handing the win to John and Ryan Godbehere’s similar car, over two minutes clear of Trevor and Mark Jones’ Metro GTI.
Richard Bliss/Jamie Vaughan’s Honda Civic was in limp mode on stage one, but led Class 2 from stage three onwards. Rivals and early leaders Matt Wood/ Riki Musson had clutch failure in their Vauxhall Corsa on stage four, promoting Paul Rees/Paul Briggs’ Vauxhall Astra, who overcame a range of problems.
This decisive victory on the 57th Dukeries Rally put Ashley Field in an exclusive list of drivers who have won the Dukeries Rally more than once. Is a hat-trick possible?
There were 80 Starters, including 21 Dukeries MC crews. 62 Finishers
(Report by Peter Scherer)