After being launched in 2015 as a combined championship between the Bolton Le Moors Car Club and MSVR, the second season of the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship is currently underway and Snetterton on the 19th February 2017 hosted round 5 of 8. Running on UK national circuits featuring around 100 cars per event, competitors are faced with the task of racing the clock on bespoke stages, using the paddock, circuit and infield sections to create a unique challenge.
With the championship broken down into five classes, a capacity entry list of 90 cars would be tackling 8 stages around Snetterton and allowing for spectators to see a variety of rallying machines. Leading the line-up and used by most was the classic Ford Escort, but there were a lot of converted hatchbacks, from the Renault Clios to Peugeot and MG. Modern day Rally machinery complete the line up with a few Mitsubishi Evos and Subaru Imprezas which dominated the WRC in the 90s and 2000s with the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Tommi Mäkinen securing World Rally Championship titles.
The previous round of the championship took place at Brands Hatch in January and it was stunt driver Paul Swift who secured the honours of top spot, with co-driver Patrick Walsh controlling the day in his Ford Escort MkII. The victory meant that Swift came into Snetterton with the overall drivers’ championship lead, on 208 points, 33 ahead of second place driver John Griffiths, who competes in D2 class in a Subaru Impreza. After John manged eighth at Brands Hatch. Completing an all Ford podium at Brands Hatch was Martin Hodgson and Tony Jones in second in an Escort ahead of the WRC specification Focus of Nigel Mummery and Fiona Scarrett. With Class D1 and D2 being the top classes for cars over 2001cc and either 2WD and 4WD, there is plenty of entertainment from the other classes. Class A sees the smallest machines of 1400cc or less and at Brands Hatch, Sam Johnston and Joe Morgan took the victory in a SEAT Arosa and led the class drivers’ championship on 113 points. In Class B for up to 1600cc cars, Mazda MX-5 circuit racer and team owner Paul Sheard led the drivers’ championship on 112 points over Mark Burton by 6 points, after Sheard took victory at Brands. In Class C for cars up to 2000cc, Steve Quigley leads the way on 149 points in his Renault Clio 172 Cup however at Brands Hatch it was John Matthews and Gary Mason who secured victory in their Ford Escort Mexico ahead of Kevin Boyle’s Ford Escort. This closed up Class C in terms of the drivers’ championship as the gap was only 42 points.
Escorts on Top after Opening Two Stages
At 9am, the opening stage of the event got underway and with conditions perfect for rallying, the cars took to the 300 circuit in reverse for two lengths, using parts of the paddock area and access roads to create a technically opener. As Championship leader Paul Swift entered the stage as Car No.1 expectations were high, however the championship was less prepared to push in opening stage and instead was targeting a decent finish for the first event in the second half of the season. Chased in the opening stage by the Peugeot 306 maxi of Chris West and Steve Cox and setting the bar at 6:52, Swift and McNulty remained at the top in the Escort until the 5th car on circuit crossed the line. In their Ford Escort MkII, Ian Woodhouse and Paul Rowland pushed to the limit, going 2 seconds quicker with a time of 6:50 to lead the opening stage and fastest in class D. As others started to progress through the stage, the nippy Renault Clio 172 cup car of Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield went quickest in class C, lapping just over 7 minutes and behind class E leaders Robert Swann and Aron Rayner, who ended the stage seventh quickest in their Subaru S12B WRC. As Mark and John Burton topped class B in their Ford XR2 and David and Mathew Smalley completed stage 1 first in class A in the Vauxhall Corsa, the top of the overall times shifted. Completing the course in 6:43, Bruce Edwards and Jim Smith took the spectacular Darrian T9 GTR to the top of the times by 7 seconds. Looking like they were controlling things when stage 1 came to an end, a penalty of 30 minutes was applied to the duo, an infringement record as “OTL at MTC 1” and therefore dropped them to the rear of the field.
Stage 2 of the Rally saw the competitors compete the same course as before and it was evident earlier on that the circuit was becoming more gripper and drivers were used to conditions, after Paul Swift and Steve McNulty went around with a time of 6:43, seven seconds faster than their previous times, similar to the Peugeot of West and Cox, Subaru of Swann and Rayner and the Escort of Woodhouse and Rowland. Whilst the No.1 Escort MkII held top spot, the 3rd car on circuit of Martin Hodgson and Tony Jones ended the their run in first, with their Ford Escort MkII going two seconds faster. As times continued to filter through, it was the Escort MkII of Ian Woodhouse and Paul Rowland who would secure the overall lead after two stages, however yet again the Darrian T9 GTR recorded the stage win, setting a blistering time of 6:33 but with the penalty from stage 1, struggled to move up the order. A further penalty of 10 seconds was handed to the team for being 1 minute late to the start of stage two, effectively ruining chances of a good result to the rally. In Class E, the rally leader remained Robert Swann and Aron Rayner in the Subaru S12B WRC, ahead of the WRC Spec Ford Focus of Nigel Mummery and Darren Spann, with a gap of 17 seconds between them. Another stage win for Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield in class C meant their Renault Clio 172 Cup held onto the class lead, whilst closer challengers Steve Beck and Paul Brown in a Ford Escort remained five seconds off the pace in stage 2 and ended up just fewer than 10 seconds behind. In Class B and A there was new stage winners in Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry (Peugeot 205 – B) and Mark and Matt Blackmore (Vauxhall Corsa – A) with the Peugeot 205 taking the class lead after two stages, whilst David and Mathew Smalley held onto class A lead by three seconds in what was turning into the battle of the Corsas.
Snetterton MN Circuit Rally Championship, top 5 after 2 stages:
- Ian Woodhouse / Paul Rowland (No.5 Ford Escort MkII – D) = 13:34s
- Paul Swift / Steve McNulty (No.1 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +1s
- Martin Hodgson / Tony Jones (No.3 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +3s
- Robert Swann / Aron Rayner (No.4 Subaru S12B WRC – E) = +9s
- Chris West / Steven Cox (No.2 Peugeot 306 MAXI – D) = +11s
Peugeot sandwiches the Escorts
A small break to rearrange the circuit took place ahead of stage 3, which would see competitors repeat the course from the first two stages, however three laps instead of two, making the length 7.78 miles. Paul Swift and Steve McNulty were first to enter the stage, setting the bar at 7:37 in their Ford Escort MkII. Lying second in the rally unfortunately wasn’t going to last for the pairing as behind West and Cox were flying in the Peugeot, reaching the line 5 seconds quicker than Swift and McNulty and topping the time sheets. Following behind them was the Escort of Hodgson and Jones, who equalled the second placed time of 7:37, putting pressure on the championship leaders. The rally leaders though continued to impress, as Ian Woodhouse and Paul Rowland came home with a 7:32 to remain at the top of the overall times and lead class D. Looking comfortable for their first legit stage win, it wasn’t to be though, as the Darrian T9 GTR again went faster, this time by nine seconds to lap the course in 7:23 After three stages, Class E continued to be led by the Subaru of Robert Swann and Aron Rayner, as they lapped with a 7:43 to end the stage overall in sixth and continued to gap Nigel Mummery and Darren Spann in the Ford Focus WRC. In Class C, there was a different stage winner as Darryl Morris and Steve Gully came through with a time of 7:52 to take a win away from Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield. Limping the Renault Clio 172 cup car home with a time of 10:05, Quigley and Littlefield lost a load of positions in the class leader board, falling to 19th and handed the lead to Steve Beck and Paul Brown in the Ford Escort. In Class B and A the previous stage winners continued to dominate, as Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry took the honours whilst Mark and Matt Blackmore secured Class A. With that both stage winners held the overall class leads as they moved into stage 4. The third stage of the event unfortunately saw the first casualties of the rally, as Roland Brown and Terry Luckings retired their Ford Escort MkI with a bent value and another Escort MkI in the hands of Josh Browne and Josh Sadd retired shortly afterwards.
Repeating the course to complete stage 4 and mark half way of the event saw another controlled performance by Paul Swift and Steve McNulty to end with a time of 7:40 however a fight was brewing between Chris West and Steven Cox in the Peugeot and Ian Woodhouse and Paul Rowland in the Escort MkII, as both completed the course tied with a time of 7:30 to be split by only nine seconds with four stages remaining. Martin Hodgson and Tony Jones again pushed hard to fourth in the stage with a time of 7:35 to secure 3rd overall, eleven seconds down overall. Whilst the overall standings were heating up, the Darrian T9 GTR of Edwards and Smith was continuing to show just how quick it was, lapping the course with a time of 7:22, eight seconds faster than the time set by West and Cox. Without the penalty it was clear who probably would have won this rally by the halfway stage, but it wasn’t going to be with the crew down in 80th overall and 28 minutes behind the leaders. In the other classes on course, Robert Swann and Aron Rayner pulled even further away in Class E, lapping with a 7:44 to give them an overall time of 29:10 and hold fifth in the standings. Their closest challenger remained Nigel Mummery and Darren Spann, 34 seconds behind. In Class C there was a fight back from Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield as the Clio took the stage win, equalling the time set by the Class E Subaru of Swann and Rayner. It wasn’t going to be enough to secure overall class honours due to stage 3 dramas, however it was entertaining in the class with the Escort MkIIs of Morris/Gully and Beck/Brown spilt by only five seconds and fighting hard. Classes B and A though remained very much the same, with another stage win for Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry and Mark and Matt Blackmore. Both continued to pull away from their closest rivals in the class and looked comfortable heading into the final 4 stages.
Snetterton MN Circuit Rally Championship, top 5 after 4 stages:
- Ian Woodhouse / Paul Rowland (No.5 Ford Escort MkII – D) = 28:38s
- Chris West / Steven Cox (No.2 Peugeot 306 MAXI – D) = +9s
- Martin Hodgson / Tony Jones (No.3 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +11s
- Paul Swift / Steve McNulty (No.1 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +24s
- Robert Swann / Aron Rayner (No.4 Subaru S12B WRC – E) = +32s
Peugeot Controls Proceedings after Six
The fifth stage was the first of two runs using the circuit in the correct direction, however switching to a dusty, slippery infield section around the bridge, before re-joining at the Esses and then using the access road and paddock to complete the stage. First to test the conditions was Paul Swift and Steve McNulty however after what looked to be a strong performance was dented by a slower Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield who slowed within the infield section where passing was tight. The Escort MkII completed the stage in 7:58 however the Peugeot 306 MAXI of West and Cox blasted the stage with a time of 7:47, taking a win away from the Darrian T9 GTR who could only manage a time of 7:48 to lose out by one second. Rally leaders Ian Woodhouse and Paul Rowland managed third with a time of 7:51 as the overall lead gap fell to five seconds. The overall honours switched between third and fourth, as Swift and McNulty regained third from Hodgson and Jones, who could only end stage five in twelfth with a time of 8:17. In Class E, Robert Swann and Aron Rayner again looked quick in the Subaru S12B WRC, however they were joint class E stage winners as the Subaru Impreza of John Griffiths and Nigel Wetton matched their time of 8:12. As Griffiths and Wetton held third overall in the class, 30 seconds behind the Focus WRC in second of Mummery and Spann, it looked a little too late to challenge for class honours. Class C stage honours were snapped up by Darryl Morris and Steve Gully in the Escort MkII to secure the top spot in class after 5, as they broke away from challengers Beck and Brown. Classes B and A yet again remained unchallenged, with yet another stage win for Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry (B) and Mark and Matt Blackmore (A). The gap at the front was growing bigger and bigger, making it very likely that these would take overall honours. At the end of the fifth stage and the first to see the cars tackle a dusty and slippery infield section, this also saw the most casualties, with four ending their rallies and not proceeding. Four Ford Escorts withdrew from the Rally at this stage as both Phillip Clarke/Richard Bonner and Stuart Cogger/Ade Summers retired with clutch problems, Rob Hughes and Sion Cunniff due to differential, Steven Finch and Ashley Davies due to gearbox and the last car to retire was the MG ZR of Sheldon Furby and John Parsons.
Stage six saw a rerun of five and yet again Paul Swift and Steve McNulty were quick out of the blocks; however it was West and Cox’s Peugeot that was starting to control the rally, smashing the stage with a time of 7:33 and therefore taking top spot in the overall standings. As challengers Woodhouse and Rowland ended up second by eight seconds, they went into the final two stages three behind. In a stage that saw times falling, the Darrian T9 GTR of Edwards and Smith was beaten for a second time, as they had to settle for third with a time of 7:43, ten seconds slower than the Peugeot. As Martin Hodgson and Tony Jones ended the stage fifth, they looked to have settled for fourth overall, as lost ground on Swift in front and would be 52 seconds back going into the final two stages. Class E was again dominated by the Subaru of Robert Swann and Aron Rayner, this time ending sixth with a time of 7:56 and holding onto fifth overall with two to go. Class C stage honours again went to Darryl Morris and Steve Gully in the Escort MkII, taking victory in the stage off of Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield. The win further pulled them clear from Beck and Brown, as they looked set to win Class C and Snetterton. Class B saw another fine performance from the Peugeot 205 of Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry, however in class A the Vauxhall Corsa of David and Matthew Smalley fought back, whilst class leaders Mark and Matt Blackmore had to settle for fourth. This closed the gap between the Corsas, however 50:52 played 51:32 entering the final stages, so was still in the favour of the Blackmore’s.
Snetterton MN Circuit Rally Championship, top 5 after 6 stages:
- Chris West / Steven Cox (No.2 Peugeot 306 MAXI – D) = 44:07s
- Ian Woodhouse / Paul Rowland (No.5 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +3s
- Paul Swift / Steve McNulty (No.1 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +37s
- Martin Hodgson / Tony Jones (No.3 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +52s
- Robert Swann / Aron Rayner (No.4 Subaru S12B WRC – E) = +1.11s
Down to the Wire with Stage 8 to Decide It
Stage 7 and 8 would be the shortest stages of the event, as the drivers would tackle the full Snetterton 300 circuit once before ending up in the paddock for the final run and tacking the flag at the end of the pit lane. With the day light fading, stage seven got underway with Paul Swift and Steve McNulty completing their run trouble free and clocking a time of 5:57. As rally contenders followed behind, the battle between the No.2 Peugeot and No.5 Escort intensified with both ending the course with a time of 5:50 and sharing the stage win. This meant stage 8 would be fought with both split by only 3 seconds. After Hodgson and Jones completed the stage and ended fifth with a time of 6:01, this technically settled third and fourth overall unless there would be any major dramas in stage 8. When the Darrian of Edwards and Smith entered the stage, they were flying but hit major trouble as they entered the paddock section, getting the Darrian way out of shape and smacking a lump of tyres. The damage ripped up the rear of the car, slowing the pace and ending the stage with a time of 5:53 in third. Without the damage, they probably would have secured another stage win. Class E was again controlled in fine style by Robert Swann and Aron Rayner as they completed the course with a time of 6:05 and likely secured fifth overall. Class C saw a fight back from Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield, as the Renault Clio took another stage win, but it was Darryl Morris and Steve Gully who remained in top spot overall, ahead of Beck and Brown. Class B saw yet another win for Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry, however there was drama in Class A as class leaders Mark and Matt Blackmore retired the Vauxhall Corsa due to the differential and technically handed victory in the dying moments to the Vauxhall Corsa of David and Matthew Smalley, who took victory in stage 7.
As we entered stage 8 and the deciding stage, dusk fell over Snetterton and some of the cars would run in darkness. As Paul Swift and Steve McNulty entered for the final time to look to secure a podium spot, focus was on the battle for the overall win and West and Cox showed they were on it and with a time of 5:46, pressure was on Woodhouse and Rowland. When the Escort crossed the line with a time of 5:51, the Peugeot duo had done and it and wrapped up the Snetterton MN Circuit Rally with an overall time of 55:43, eighteen seconds ahead of Woodhouse and Rowland after they picked up a 10 second penalty. Swift’s time of 5:56 was enough to grab the championship leader third on the podium, whilst Hodgson and Jones secured a well-deserved fourth place. Pushing hard again on the final stage was the Darrian of Edwards and Smith and they wrapped up a wrecked event in second with a 5:48, ending up 66th overall and 18th in class. The final stage saw Class E leader Robert Swann and Aron Rayner take it steady and a time of 6:03 wrapped up the overall honours in class and fifth overall. Class C saw the final stage taken by Steve Quigley and Peter Littlefield, but overall class victory went to the Ford MkII Escort of Darryl Morris and Steve Gully with a fine eighth overall. After dominating much of the rally, Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry took another stage win and therefore were unchallenged in their quest of overall class honours, taking it with a time of 1hr01:34, with second going to Mark and John Burton in the Ford XR2. In Class A, honours looked certain to go to David and Matthew Smalley; however, it was the Nissan Micra of Ollie Bell and Dan Sykes who ended stage 8 with stage victory, coming home with a time of 7:02 to edge out the SEAT Arosa of Sam Johnson and Joe Morgan, whilst the Smalley’s Vauxhall Corsa was third. David and Matthew Smalley took the overall class honours with a time of 1hr05:30, whilst Olli Bell and Dan Sykes secured second on 1hr05:35
Snetterton MN Circuit Rally Championship – Final Standings
- Chris West / Steven Cox (No.2 Peugeot 306 MAXI – D) = 55:43
- Ian Woodhouse / Paul Rowland (No.5 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +18s
- Paul Swift / Steve McNulty (No.1 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +54s
- Martin Hodgson / Tony Jones (No.3 Ford Escort MkII – D) = +1.17s
- Robert Swann / Aron Rayner (No.4 Subaru S12B WRC – E) = +1.43s
With three rounds to go in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship, the series now moves to Donington Park on the 5th March, before the penultimate round goes to the Welsh coast at Anglesey on the 19th March and the championship concludes at Cadwell Park on the 9th April. As Ian Woodhouse secured valuable championship points with a second place finish, Paul Swift continues to hold the championship lead in the Escort, by having an advantage of 39 points. Championship challenger John Griffiths in the Subaru Impreza had a nightmare at Snetterton and lost ground as second in the championship, finishing 31st overall as Woodhouse closed in the drivers’ championship. In the co-drivers’ championship, Peter Littlefield continues to lead the way in the Renault Clio 172 Cup car, but only by 5 points after only managing 20th alongside Steve Quigley and therefore Joe Morgan has closed the gap. Morgan might have only finished 49th overall partnering Sam Johnson, however they brought their SEAT Arosa home in 4th in class A, compared to 8th in Class C for Littlefield.
For more photos from the event, check out our Flickr album here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.