12 months ago the East Anglia region became famous in the Motorsport calendar as the first event in England to benefit from the new “Closed Roads” Legislation and with that, the Corbeau Seats Tendering and Clacton Rally was born. Bringing rallying back to the East Anglia region was a major success and backed by the MSA/Motorsport UK, a crowd of 6,000 was out in force to enjoy the sights and sounds of WRC spec machinery from many eras of the sport. The 2018 winner ended up being BRC campaigner Melvyn Evans and Sean Hayde in a Subaru Impreza over fifteen stages; however for 2019 the reigning champ was unfortunately missing from the line-up. The event for 2019 was amended to see longer stages totalling 17.5 miles spread over four testing locations, as the crews would now tackle 12 stages on the 28 April 2019. Fans were spread out across the route at three spectator areas, enabling prefect viewing as 125 competitors, mixed up of front wheel and rear wheel drive cars, four-wheel drive and rallying specials would tackle the 2019 event.
The crew carrying the No.1 as first car on the road at 9am after their result in the 2018 event was Thomas Preston and Carl Williamson in the Hippo Motor Group Skoda Fabia R5. The other stand out entries for 2019 was car 2, the Mitsubishi Mirage of Robert Swann and Steve McNulty whilst Michael O’Brien visits from Ireland in a Ford Focus WRC and was expected to go wheel as fourth on the road. A special entry as car seven on the road was Gary le Coadou and Carl Sorenson in an ex Dani Sordo/Hayden Paddon Hyundai I20 WRC to the British roads. A couple of R5 Fiestas were expected to go wheel on the tight and twisty roads, such as James Self, car No.8 and Steve Finch, car No.14, both who competed in the MSN Circuit Rallies in the early months of 2019. The rally special Darrian made a couple of appearances in the entry list with Tony Rees in a GTR+ version, carrying the Number 11 and Jonathan Davies / Daniel James in car thirteen with a T9 model. These were expected to be impressive along the East Anglian roads and made plenty of noise. Out of the 125 registered in 2019, there was such an impressive mix that predicting an overall winner, let alone class winners was tricky.
Slender Advantage after opening loop for Preston & Williamson.
The event opened on Saturday 27th April 2019 along Clacton Seafront, as crews entered the service park and would each scrutineer before the Ceremonial start, which took place later that day around 6pm. Attended by local MP Giles Watling, the Union Jack flag was waved over each car getting the second running of the Corbeau Seats Rally underway. Sunday would see the opening stage contested at 9am and with conditions tricky due to the passing Strom Hannah, Ship Hill Bradfield would be a test for the early front runners in getting tyre choice spot on. All four stages would be contested during the morning to complete the opening run, before crews return to service. This would then be repeated twice to complete all twelve stages.
With the morning completed, Tom Preston and Carl Williamson returned to service holding the advantage going into the afternoon, topping the times after four stages. Preston began the day fourth after the opening stage, struggling a little as first car on the road. His opening time of 6:17.3 was easily beaten by the next crews, with Swann breaking the timing beam at 6:15.8 before Michael O’Brien went quicker, 6:13.5. The crew of Ross Brusby and Sam Collis who started further down the order, running as car 134 ended stage one second, a time of 6:14.9. The times were pretty close at the end of stage one between the front runners, but conditions resulted in mistakes, catching out a few, whilst others further down the order benefitted. In the second stage, a lot shorter than the first at only 3.34 miles, Michael O’Brien continued taming the East Anglian roads, setting the benchmark time of 3:09.6 to increase his advantage over the chasing pack, however the fastest time on the stage was from car 65, the crew of Rob Smithson and Martin Corbett, in a Ford Escort. They went through the stage in a time of 2:56.3. Tom Preston jumped up into second overall from fourth, doing a time of 3:10.6 to be second fastest on the stage. Mistakes cost Brusby/Collis and Swann/McNulty whilst in the Mitsubishi Evo, Craig Jones and Ian Taylor closed on the pack ahead, going third fastest on stage two, with a time of 3:17.9. It was the third stage however, a test of 5.25 miles where Preston and Williamson gained the lead of the rally, a time of 5:04.5 massively quicker than the rest in their Skoda Fabia R5. An overall time of 14:32.4 after three stages put them ahead of O’Brien and Glennerster, who slipped to second in the Focus WRC as a 5:12.7 lost them a lot of time to rivals and going into stage four, meant they held a time of 14:35.8, but this was comfortably ahead of the crew in third. Craig Jones and Ian Taylor jumped two places in stage three by completing the stage in a time of 5:15.3, the third fastest. Swann/McNulty held fourth into the final stage of the morning whilst Brusby/Collis were fifth, but there was merely nothing between the two crews. The final stage in the morning saw Preston and Williamson cement their lead before morning service, a time of 2:15.6 quicker than O’Brien (2:19.8), as a time of 2:15.7 by Ross Brusby and Sam Collis brought them back up to third overall. Craig Jones slipped down to fourth in the Mitsubishi Evo whilst Robert Swann and Steve McNulty held fifth position. The stage win however went to Guy Anderson and Steve Link in the Mitsubishi Galant, a 2:15.1 which left them just outside the top five prior to the first afternoon run.
Final Total after SS4
- Thomas Preston/Carl Williamson (No.1 – Skoda Fabia R5) = 16:48.0
- Michael O’Brien/Mark Glennerster (No.4 – Ford Focus WRC) = 16:55.6
- Ross Brusby/Sam Collis (No.134 – Ford Escort) = 17:13.4
- Craig Jones/Ian Taylor (No.26 – Mitsubishi Evo) = 17:14.1
- Robert Swann/Steve McNulty (No.2 – Mitsubishi Mirage) = 17:17.0
Preston & O’Brien Battle for Overall Honours
The first run of the afternoon saw the crews return to Ship Hill, Bradfield and with Preston and Williamson targeting further success, their time of 6:17.3 was slower than their first run through the stage. It was enough though for them to increase their margin over Michael O’Brien, as the Ford Focus WRC driver could only manage fifth fastest, with a time of 6:19.8. The quickest car through was the No.17 of Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear in their Mitsubishi Evo IX. Their time of 6:14.6 was impressive in the wet conditions, showing a tyre gamble may have paid off. Into stage six and with conditions appearing very trickier than before, Michael O’Brien gained some time back on Tom Preston, securing the stage win with a time of 3:13.9, with Preston only managing a time of 3:15.2. Ross Brusby and Sam Collis continued to hold third overall by going fourth fastest, but they had Craig Jones and Ian Taylor breathing down their necks. Stage 7 was significant for rally leader Tom Preston as he smashed the competition, setting a time of 5:25.4 in comparison to O’Brien’s 5:31.3. Ross Brusby and Sam Collis had their worse stage of the day down in eighth, whilst Craig Jones closed the gap by finishing in fifth quickest. Tom Preston repeated his speed on the next stage, pulling out more time over O’Brien with an impressive time of 34:16.4 whilst the Irishman could only do a 34:25.7 in the last stage before the final service. Ross Brusby struck back in SS8 to hold third going into the final run, as his time of 35:06.5 bettered Craig Jones, who took fourth with a time of 35:09.5. Guy Anderson and Steve Link came away from SS8 back up the leader board in their Mitsubishi Galant as fifth fastest kept the crew fifth ahead of a chasing Mark Holmes and Craig Simkiss in the Ford Fiesta S2000. The ones to watch going into stages 9 to 12 though appeared to be James Self and Ian Davis in the Fiesta R5, as they had slowly closed on a top five position during the second run of stages.
Final Total after SS8
- Thomas Preston/Carl Williamson (No.1 – Skoda Fabia R5) = 34:16.4
- Michael O’Brien/Mark Glennerster (No.4 – Ford Focus WRC) = 34:25.7
- Ross Brusby/Sam Collis (No.134 – Ford Escort) = 35:06.5
- Craig Jones/Ian Taylor (No.26 – Mitsubishi Evo) = 35:09.5
- Guy Anderson/Steve Link (No.44 – Mitsubishi Galant V4) = 35:52.6
Close fight to the Finish but Preston Holds on.
The final run of stages was all about right choice of set up to tackle the ever changing conditions and in proof of this, Tim Hill and Paul Spooner gambled correctly to secure the fastest time on SS9, a time of 5:51.7 going quicker than everyone else by quite some much and Tim was the only driver under the six minute mark. Michael O’Brien secured the second fastest time to slightly close the gap on his rival Preston, but the Skoda driver was only two seconds adrift with the third fastest time. Ross Brusby went fourth fastest to continue to hold third place, whilst Craig Jones lost significant time in this stage. Stage ten went in favour of Preston but there wasn’t much between him and O’Brien, but it was enough to stretch his lead, just as Brusby beat Jones again. The top five topped the stage times as Anderson and Link continued to go well in the Galant, setting fifth fastest time ahead of James Self’s Fiesta R5. The penultimate stage was significant in terms of the podium finishers as the rally came to a conclusion for Ross Brusby and Sam Collis, handing the final podium spot to Craig Jones and Ian Taylor. Preston would again take the stage win ahead of O’Brien, but Jones came home third and with that took third away from Brusby. This promoted everyone up a position ahead of the final stage and with that Anderson was fourth and James Self now in a top five position. On the final stage, O’Brien had to go for it to secure the victory as the gap was five seconds, but a mistake handed it to Preston and Williamson. The Skoda pair bagged a time of2:09.8, ahead of O’Brien’s 2:10.5 to take the rally victory, however it was the crew of Tony Rees and Geraint Thomas in the Darrian GTR+ who bagged their first stage win with a time of 2:09.1 to conclude the 2019 Corbeau Seats Rally. The Hyundai i20 WRC also went well on the final stage to record the fourth fastest time, ahead of James Self, who ended up bagging fifth overall. Craig Jones and Ian Taylor did enough on the final stage to secure the final podium position as a mistake cost Guy Anderson and Steve Link in making a challenge but the crew secured fourth overall.
Final Results after SS12
- Thomas Preston/Carl Williamson (No.1 – Skoda Fabia R5) = 50:50.2
- Michael O’Brien/Mark Glennerster (No.4 – Ford Focus WRC) = 50:55.8
- Craig Jones/Ian Taylor (No.26 – Mitsubishi Evo) = 52:27.2
- Guy Anderson/Steve Link (No.44 – Mitsubishi Galant V4) = 53:27.7
- James Self/Ian Davis (No.8 – Ford Fiesta R5) = 53:29.1
For the full photo album of the event from stages 1, 5, 9 at Ship Hill Bradfield where we were located and the service park, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.