16 April 2024

Kelly takes the spoils as crowds turn out for East Riding Stages

Mark Kelly and Will Atkins came out on top of the 130-plus crews on the East Riding Stages Rally, as their Skoda Fabia R5 topped the times on six of the 10 stages.

The crowds were soon gathering in Beverley Marketplace for the ceremonial start on Sunday, February 25, as the sun broke through on a chilly morning for the prompt 9am start.

Kelly went into an immediate 3.2-second lead on the opening Wawne stage, which was a combination of wet and dry, with some mud on the road in places. Heading the pursuit were the Hyundai i20N of James Williams/Ross Whittock, tied for second with James Ford/Neil Shanks’ Citroen C3 Rally2, with last year’s runners up David Wright/Jane Nicol a further 1.4 secs back in fourth with their Fiesta Rally2.

It hadn’t started well, though, for 2022 and 2023 winners David Henderson/Chris Lees. They had a turbo pipe come off and were passed three-quarters into the stage by Callum Black/Jack Morton’s similar car, who ended the stage fourth best.

Coom Hill was the next stage with Kelly quickest again, as Ford consolidated second place over Williams. Wright was still in fourth, but Black was now in joint fifth with Kevin/Owain Davies’ VW Polo R5.

Kelly’s pace was already starting to look decisive and after he was quickest again on stage three through Hatfield, his lead had grown to 7.2 secs, but the fight behind continued to swap and change.

Ford had slipped to fifth – “It cut out on me, it happened to me on last years rally too,” he explained. Wright had also retired from fourth place, with a mechanical malady and so Williams, Davies and Black all moved up, with Neil Roskell/Dai Roberts’ Fiesta Rally2 into sixth.

There was one more stage before they headed for service and Williams managed to pull back 0.8 secs off Kelly’s lead. “It’s sixth months since I was in a rally car, tricky conditions though so having to take it with caution,” said Williams.

Kelly had surprised himself to be out in front, “I didn’t think I was going that quickly,” he admitted.

Black had moved into third through Dunnington, “it was wet and then it was dry, so had to compromise my lines sometimes,” he said.

Both Black and Ford had moved up as Davies had a brief excursion. “It had been comfortable, but you had to respect the conditions, then I glanced a hedge and took my mirror off, but it lost us time,” Davies explained after slipping to fifth.

Roskell was still in sixth, “I am braking too early and took the front wing off on stage two,” he said, while behind him tarmac rally debutant Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear’s Fiesta R5 was moving up, at the expense of Rob Swann/Darren Garrod’s Fiesta WRC.

“The conditions were a challenge for me, having been used to gravel, but I’m enjoying it,” said Hirst. “I was just struggling for grip so decided to change compound in service,” Swann added.

Elliot Payne/Patrick Walsh had managed to demote Swann to for eighth in their Fiesta Rally2, “we were miles out on set up though, I reckon I could have gone quicker in my pickup truck,” he reckoned, while rounding off the top 10 were Joe Cunningham/Josh Beer’s Fiesta R5.

“There was a lot of dirt dragged onto the road, which didn’t give me confidence, so treated it with a lot of caution,” Cunningham added.

A double run through the Super Special Stages at Westwood followed, with Kelly topping the times on to build his lead to 12.6 secs.

But Black had stalled on the startline, which consolidated Williams second place by 5.3 secs over Ford, with Davies fourth, another three seconds back.

Black was still a secure fifth, from Roskell and Hirst, while Swann’s change of tyres had taken him back ahead of Payne for eighth again.

The rest of the afternoon was a re-run of the morning loop, but the conditions had improved considerably in parts.

Williams managed to take time out of Kelly through Wawne, to bring the gap back to 8.2 secs, but Black was making up for lost time and managed to retake both Davies and Ford who had also swapped places. “We went for a harder tyre, and it made the car feel more stable,” said Black. Swann also continued his climb and was up to seventh, after both he and Payne ousted Hirst. The order had finally begun to settle down and Kelly went into the final stage with exactly 10 secs advantage, which Williams managed to halve on the last run. “I just drove to the notes, no real risks, but I was almost caught out a couple of times,” said Kelly, after securing his five second victory.

“I had a few slides here and there, but nothing serious,” Williams added.

Black completed the podium, with Davies consolidating fourth, after starting the last stage just 0.8 secs clear of Ford. “I had struggled for pace on stage seven, so we changed the suspension set up and it transformed the car,” Davies explained.

Ford had an off on the final stage which promoted Roskell to fifth. “I had harder tyres on for the afternoon, they worked, and we found grip too after tightening the suspension,” Roskell explained.

Swann explored the scenery too on the last stage, “I was pushing to catch Roskell, and we went off twice,” he admitted.

Payne had an excursion through the undergrowth too on the final test. “It didn’t turn in as I had expected, and we had the wrong set up all day. I don’t think tarmac is my forte,” he reckoned.

Hugh Brunton/Drew Sturrock’s Skoda Rally 2 Evo had been off in the morning but snatched ninth on the last stage at Hirst’s expense. “Great stages and we had good pace,” said Brunton.

“We did what we wanted,” said Hirst after reaching the finish on his tarmac debut, but it was also at the expense of Cunningham. “The headgasket went, absolutely gutted,” he said after retiring with a couple of stages to go.

In the Classes Mark and Andrew Constantine’s Vauxhall Corsa S never headed on the way to a dominant Class A victory. From almost 17 secs lead on stage one, they were well over four minutes clear of second placed Nicky Cowperthwaite/Helen Hall’s similar at the finish.

“I can’t back off, I just have the one pace, which is as quick as I can,” said Mark.

Richard/Pat Egger’s Vauxhall Nova had managed to hold off Mark Simpson/Julian Floyd’s Nissan Micra for most of the day in the battle for third, but finally succumbed on the last stage and had to settle for fourth.

In Class B it was the Peugeot 106 Maxi of Ben/ Andrew Wilkinson that led all day. “We had hoped for a top three in the Class but to win it was a bonus, we never had a problem all day,” said Ben.

Their lead was over 30 seconds by stage three and with second placed Tim Johnson/Adam Burkill retiring their Honda Civic after three stages, the final winning margin was closer to two minutes, with Adam Hanner/Wayne Wood’s Ford Puma seeing off Alex Kirk-Willey/Sasha Herriot’s Corsa for second during the afternoon stages.

Jake Briggs/Harry Walshaw’s Escort headed Nathan Evans/Rhys Edwards’ Renault Clio and Stuart Newby/ Ashley Young’s Escort in Class C, all three-holding station throughout the day.

“We had a few excursions into fields in the morning, but we were surprised to do so well,” said Biggs, after taking victory by 47.3 secs.

Class D started in dramatic fashion when multiple Scottish and former British Champion David Bogie/John Rowan’s Escort took out a wall on the opening stage.

They continued through stage two, but their retirement left the way clear for fellow Scot’s Gordon Morison/Ian Parker’s Escort to dominate the rest
of the day. “We touched a bale on stage six, but otherwise it was a great day,” said Morrison.

It was an all-Escort top three, with Dane Walker/ Phil Sandham and Martin Hodgson/Tony Jones completed the Class podium.

In the Historic Class Gareth James/Steffan Evans led all day, as their Escort took the spoils by over a minute from Martin Rossiter/Dan Petrie. Phil Rogers/ Jordan Joines made it another all-Escort top three.