The racing season in Norfolk got underway on the 18th February 2018 as the venue of Snetterton was transformed into eight competitive stages for round five of the 2017/18 Motorsport News MSN Rally Championship, hosted by the Anglia Motorsport Club. It had been over a month since the teams last took the track at Brands Hatch and yet again, entries were booming creating a mixed field of Historic Rally cars, such as the MkII Escorts to flame spitting 90s Subarus and Mitsubishi to the modern day R5 WRC2 spec Ford Fiestas. Whilst Snetterton may not have a purpose-built Rally stage like Brands Hatch, the paddock area and infield roads would create a unique test for the teams, with Chris West and Keith Hounslow the team the beat, in their lighting fast Peugeot 306 Maxi. Go back a year and West and Hounslow were trailing in the championship standings but dominated Snetterton, with a superb performance to take the honours. The duo came into Snetterton with an eighteen point advantage over Class E leader John Stone, competing in the Ford Fiesta NRC. Stone lost ground at Brands Hatch by finishing fourth to West’s second, but the two are being reeled in by the MkII Escorts of 2017 Champion Ian Woodhouse and the Brands Hatch winner Mark Kelly. Kelly’s victory at Brands brought him to within three points of John Stone and in a capable position of catching West before the seasons end. Fourth place had moved even closer too, as the 2016/17 Champion Ian Woodhouse moved to within five points of Kelly with a podium finish in round four. The four would all be targeting wins in the second half of the season, making for an exciting end to the season. Each round contained plenty of points, so the gap of twenty-six points covering the top four could disappear in a heartbeat, making each stage crucial for each team.
West and Woodhouse put everything on the line for Victory.
The stages would get underway at 9am sharp on Sunday morning with MSN Rally Championship leader Chris West entering the stage as car number 1, facing what appeared to be damp sections due to overnight rain. A few areas of the Snetterton layout had created testing puddles, especially in the paddock area. West though appeared unfazed by the conditions, stamping his authority on the rally with a blistering time of 6:52 on stage one. The benchmark had been set by the first car and drivers behind couldn’t overall the championship leader, only car 2 getting close of John Stone and Tom Woodburn. Holding second in the championship gave Stone second on the road and his time 6:54, closely followed by Ian Woodhouse (6:59) meant only three drivers would get under seven minutes at the start of the rally. The top three were covered by seven seconds heading into stage two, but were weary of Brands winner Mark Kelly, lying fourth after stage one by eleven seconds, however for the second run of the same layout, times got faster. With eight drivers going quicker than seven minutes, it was West yet again in control, topping the times with a 6:38s. Whilst Woodhouse and Leaf snatched second in stage from Stone and Woodburn, the champion’s time was still five seconds slower than West and overall one second down on Stone. Behind Stone in third on the stage, Kelly came within one second but had lost ten to West out-front. In the battle for fourth to sixth, Kelly had increased his margin over the Tilburn’s Escort, as the family duo were now fending off John Marshall’s Subaru Impreza, co-driven by Scott Crawford and the Class C Escort of Stephen Beck and Paul Brown.
MSN Rally Championship Top Three after SS2:
- West & Hounslow (Peugeot 306 Maxi – D) = 13:30s
- Stone & Woodburn (Ford Fiesta NRC – E) = 13:41 +11s
- Woodhouse & Leaf (Ford Escort MkII – D) = 13:42 +12s
Whilst the opening two stages were mostly trouble free, stage three unfortunately saw the biggest moment of drama, as the No.7 Class D2 Subaru Impreza of John Marshall and Scott Crawford went up in a cloud of smoke over at Nelson and Brundle corner. The session was quickly halted as emergency vehicles made it over to the stricken Subaru and lucky both driver and co-driver were clear from the wreckage. As smoke continued to rise from under the bonnet, oil had dropped onto the track, cancelling the stage as crews went to work to get stage four underway shortly afterwards.
Due to the cancellation of stage three, the fourth stage would see an increased run of three laps around the Snetterton circuit, opening up an opportunity for more mistakes which could have benefited drivers down the order. With the gap between the top two remaining at eleven seconds, carried forward from stage two, Chris West and Keith Hounslow would again get the stage underway and face the first batch of traffic or their second or third configuration, followed by Stone and Woodburn. In order to increase his advantage over the field, West would break the timing beam with a time of 7:30s after completing around about 9km. Rival John Stone would lose time in this stage as the Fiesta would set a time of 7:40 as the second car home, eight seconds slower than the Peugeot and whilst the gap went to nineteen seconds, Stone would lose second in the rally as Ian Woodhouse broke West’s stranglehold of topping the times. A time of 7:30s in the Escort MkII saw the reigning champion go two seconds quicker and therefore ten seconds behind the leader at the halfway mark. Behind the front three, a battle was developing between two other Escorts, as Brands Hatch winner Mark Kelly held fourth spot, six seconds ahead of Stephen and Jack Tilburn, but overall was thirty-five seconds back from the leader after struggling on the opening two stages.
MSN Rally Championship Top Three after SS4:
- West & Hounslow (Peugeot 306 Maxi – D) = 21:02s
- Woodhouse & Leaf (Ford Escort MkII – D) = 21:12s +10s
- Stone & Woodburn (Ford Fiesta NRC – E) = 21:21 +19s
By the time the afternoon stages got underway with stage five reintroducing the 300-circuit layout, the rally had unfortunately lost eleven competitors already, but this stage would see one of the championship contenders face trouble. With the leading crews (West and Woodhouse) continuing to up the pace and fight for top spot, championship rival John Stone saw his rally end exiting Agostini corner. Running within the top order and leading Class E comfortably, the Ford Fiesta NRC came to a halt and parked. With help from the marshals, the Fiesta was moved to a safe location allowing for the bonnet to be lifted and the investigation into the retirement to begin, turning out to be a blown engine. The misfortune for Stone handed Toni and Franco Carannante the lead of Class E in their Subaru Impreza STI, a position they would hold onto at the Chequered Flag to take Class E honours and decent championship points against rivals Stone and John Marshall.
After losing two stages to Ian Woodhouse and Jason Leaf and seeing the gap decrease to seven seconds, stage six would see a fightback from Chris West, as he and Keith Hounslow went fastest with a time of 6:40. Increasing the gap to nine seconds was a useful margin going into the final two stages, as Woodhouse could only set a time of 6:42. After the departure of John Stone in stage five, Mark Kelly and Andy Baker had inherited third and after lapping stage six with a time of 6:50, they still found themselves nearly a minute behind the leading two. Heading into the final stages Escorts held positions second to seventh and fourth spot continued to Stephen Tilburn, chasing Kelly, only ten seconds behind. Leaders of Class C Beck and Brown remained fifth, ahead of his class rivals Morris and Rayner (sixth) and Adams and Keith (seventh).
MSN Rally Championship Top Three after SS6:
- West & Hounslow (Peugeot 306 Maxi – D) = 34:29
- Woodhouse & Leaf (Ford Escort MkII – D) = 34:38s +9s
- Kelly & Baker (Ford Escort MkII – D) = 35:27 +58s
Into the final two stages, the fightback was on from Ian Woodhouse and Jason Leaf to stop West and Hounslow repeating their 2017 success at Snetterton as Woodhouse won stage seven by one second to close the gap to eight. The more seconds Woodhouse could take the tighter it would have been but pressure was mounting on the Peugeot pair. Being first car into stage meant West wouldn’t know if his time was good enough to outdo Woodhouse and any mistake in the final stage would be disastrous with the margin so small. Mark Kelly and Andy Baker continued to cement their podium place in stage seven, going third fastest as the only other car to go under six minutes. With the Tilburns only managing fifth in the stage, the gap between third and fourth increased to sixteen seconds, enough that a clean run in stage eight should secure another podium for the Escort pair. Behind the Tilburns, Beck and Brown continued to challenge in their Class C Escort and would only lose a second going into stage eight but had enough in the tank to secure a top five finish.
The final stage was always going to be tense and when West crossed the line with a time of 5:49, eyes were on Woodhouse. The Escort driver gave it everything he had, but a time of 5:46 was only three seconds faster and therefore West and Hounslow secured victory by five seconds. Mark Kelly came home with third fastest time on stage eight, but after losing time again to West and Woodhouse, would end the rally over a minute behind the leading two. Stephen and Jack Tilburn lost time in the final stage but did enough to retain fourth overall, twenty-eight seconds behind Kelly but comfortably ahead of Stephen Beck and Paul Brown, who won Class C by three seconds, as a fightback from Darryl Morris and Aron Rayner in the final stage to go fourth fastest closed the gap right down.
MSN Rally Championship Round Five – Top Five Overall:
- Chris West/Keith Hounslow (Peugeot 306 Maxi – D) = 46:07s
- Ian Woodhouse/Jason Leaf (Ford Escort MkII – D) = +5s
- Mark Kelly/Andy Baker (Ford Escort MkII – D) = +1:08S
- Stephen Tilburn/Jack Tilburn (Ford Escort RS 2500 – D) = +1:36s
- Stephen Beck/Paul Brown (Ford Escort MkII – C) = +1:47s
Great Fight in other classes further down the order.
In the other class competing within the MSN Rally Championship, Class B honours would go to Matthew Ockendon and Vicky Barry, repeating their achievement of 2017 at Snetterton in their Peugeot 205, overhauling Brands Hatch winners Paul Sheard and Bruce Lindsay. It is Paul Sheard who holds drivers’ championship lead in the Class, sitting on 100 points and twenty-two ahead of Ashleigh Morris, who could only finish eighth in the class. In Class A, the Vauxhall Nova of David McMullan and James Elston again secured honours, continuing on their fine form from Brands Hatch to keep rivals at bay for another weekend. In terms of the drivers’ championship for this class, it’s the Ford Ka pairing of Aaron Rix and Rob Cook who lead the way and after finishing third at Snetterton, their championship lead is seventeen points over Craig Aston, who finished eighth in class in his Toyota Yaris partnered by Nick Baker. As previously mentioned above, Class E honours for the modern WRC Subarus, Mitsubishis and Fords saw victory for Toni and Franco Carannante, benefitted by retirements for John Stone (Fiesta NRC) and John Marshall (Subaru Impreza). Sixteenth overall would be finishing position for the Carannante family pairing, with an overall time of 50:35 being quicker than the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V of William and Stuart Moore by a time of 1:12s. With this being their first rally of the season for the pairing and Stone and Marshall the only two crews to compete the full season, the championship for Class E hadn’t been massively affected. John Stone continues to lead on ninety-six points and holds an advantage of nine over John Marshall.
As the crews now prepare to pack for a trip to Donington Park on the 4th March for round six of the season, the victory in Norfolk for West and Hounslow has moved the Peugeot duo closer to wrapping up the season title, with three rounds remaining. With a lead of eighteen points heading into Snetterton, retirement for John Stone and a drop in the overall standings for Mark Kelly has meant West increased his advantage to twenty-nine points, for an overall total of 268. Mark Kelly now holds second place in the standings but the main benefactor is the 2016/17 Champion Ian Woodhouse, as he lies third on 237 points after taking second place to West in what was a close fought fight in Norfolk. The retirement for John Stone has dropped the Fiesta driver from second to fourth, now on 199 points and sixty-nine back from Chris West. Taking up fifth spot in the standings and leading Class C after taking forty points at Snetterton was Dane Walker, now only five points back from fourth spot and in contention over three rounds to challenge for an overall podium spot.
MSN Rally Championship Drivers’ Standings:
- Chris West (Peugeot 306 Maxi – D) = 268 Pts.
- Mark Kelly (Ford Escort MkII – D) = 239 Pts
- Ian Woodhouse (Ford Escort MkII – D) = 237 Pts
- John Stone (Ford Fiesta NRC – E) = 199 Pts.
- Dane Walker (Ford Escort – C) = 194 Pts.
For more pictures from the Snetterton event, please visit our Flickr album here.
With the calendar for the 2017/2018 season nearly coming to a close, the teams will visit two venues in the month of March, first at Donington Park (4th) for round six, before moving west to Anglesey (18th) as the Welsh coastline circuit hosts the penultimate round. The season’s conclusion takes place the following Month, as the Lincolnshire venue of Cadwell Park hosts round eight on the 8th April.
This will be our last report of the MSN Rally Championship in the year 2018, but keep an eye out over the coming months as the 2018/2019 season will be formally confirmed, with the calendar released and entries flocking to the circuits for a bit of rallying with a difference. To keep up to date with the Motorsport News MSN Rally Championship for latest results, drivers’ standings and the new season, we recommend you check out www.msnrallychamp.co.uk.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.