Simon Moore and Emma Morrison clinched back to back victories in the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge after a thrilling finale on the Scottish Borders roads, making it the first time the Sunderland ace has taken the top step of the podium on the Jim Clark Challenge Rally this weekend.
The event had started brightly for Moore, but it was the local driver Gareth White who set the opening pace alongside navigator Mike Dickson. The R2 specification Citroën C2 was blisteringly quick throughout the early stages and the experienced guys behind struggled to keep pace with the youngster. Sadly however, on stage six, White rolled when the rear stepped out over bumps on an easy left. Both crew members were fine but according to White “The car’s going to need a new shell.”
Moore had closed to within a second of the lead before White’s exit, holding a 25 second advantage over Richard Sykes and Simon Taylor in their Citroën C2R2 Max after stage six. But a committed drive from Sykes on the technical Abbey St Bathans test cut the advantage to just three seconds with three stages remaining.
On the final three stages Renault Clio pilot Moore managed to hold his nerve and advantage, knowing any small mistake would be punished by the hard charging Brummie. As the pair traded stage times comparable with some of the international field, Moore pulled clear to win by a whisker under thirty seconds.
Moore was delighted at the finish saying; “I really didn’t think we could get this result this weekend, but I’ve just got into a rhythm and had no problems or made any costly errors. I think this is becoming my favourite rally.”
Third place overall went to Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy in another Renault Clio, giving them back to back podium finishes too, adding to their second place on round three. “I’m happy with that” explained Thompson, “That’s the fastest I’ve ever been on tarmac, and we haven’t really picked up on anybody else’s mistakes either, we’ve been in the mix all day.” He said with a hugely deserved grin.
With only five cars making it to the finish, the Scottish asphalt once again proved to be one of the toughest surfaces to master. The high speeds of the event make little room for error for the drivers, but make equally spectacular viewing for the spectators that turned out in their droves.
“It’s a real credit to the event” said Moore at the finish, “The crowds today have been wonderful, loads of people on the stages and even on the road sections, kids are coming out just to wave to us. It’s brilliant; it’s what it’s all about isn’t it?”
Fourth place went to James Ford who had to battle throughout the day suffering with a low revving engine and spongy brakes in his Citroën C2R2. But being his first real test in the car on the black stuff he seemed very pleased with the result.
Fifth was Championship leader James Watts. After setting an excellent time on the opening stage of the day, the Volkswagen Polo succumbed to a gearbox problem, leaving Watts and co-driver Steve Hartley with only fourth and fifth gear. “It’s been a frustrating day” explained the amiable Watts, “But we’re here and that has to be a good thing for the Championship.”
Early leader White wasn’t the only competitor to roll; Oxford Brooks University students, Adam Taylor and Loic Ditchburn had also suffered the same fate on the opening stage of the day. Their bad luck seemed to rub off on the rest of the field as the tough tarmac test began claiming more crews.
Chris Peart’s Corsa succumbed to an electrical fire before the first stage had even started, putting an early end to his only outing this year. Another driver faltering at the end of the Abbey St Bathans 16 mile opener was Jon Armstrong. The Irish teenager had a gearbox failure on his Ford Fiesta ST, leaving him and co-driver Emmet Sherry wondering what might have been.
The second stage of the day, Edrom 1, claimed another two competitors in the form of Mark McCulloch and Tony Simpson. McCulloch and Elliott Edmondson’s Proton Satria overheated on the 11.5 mile stage forcing the Scottish duo to call it a day. But it was a monumental engine failure that put an end to Simpson and Glyn Thomas’s rally; sadly for the Liverpudlian driver it also ended his good record of finishes this season.
Joining White at the roadside on stage six were Graham Roberts and Ryan Dooley, another crew with an engine failure which forced the retirement of the MG ZR. The Nissan Micra crew of Matt Jackson and Joe Cruttenden made it two stages further before joining the attrition statistics with mechanical woes.
The final retirement of the event was that of number one seeds Richard Archer and John Connor. They had climbed to fourth place with a push on stage eight after a slow start, but found their ex Kris Meeke Opel Corsa to be overheating in the penultimate stage and called it a day.
The mountains of retirements left only five cars making it back to the town centre in Duns for the ceremonial finish. But those that did make it to the end of one of the toughest rounds in the calendar had the chance to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee in style.
The spectators at the finish were rewarded with the chance to witness a pair of queens arriving in a slightly worse for wear Citroën. Both Sykes and Taylor had donned tastefully manufactured masks of HRH for the short trip over the finish ramp, to rapturous applause from the gathered public.
James Watts’ determination to get to the finish paid off as he maintains his lead in class and more importantly the overall standings too. Richard Sykes now moves to within ten points of him in the title race as the championship heads to Ulster, keeping his lead in RC5 as well. James Ford moves into third place overall just ahead of Simpson and the in-form Moore who are now tied for fourth.
The competing crews in the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge now move onto the abrasive tarmac of Northern Ireland on the weekend of the 17/18 August for rounds five and six, the Ulster Challenge Rallies.
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