Darlington rally driver Paul Swift claimed a deserved 15th overall and third in class on this weekend's Legend Fires North West Stages Rally despite a time-consuming off-road excursion which cost him over two minutes.
Along with Welsh co-driver Stuart Powell, the pair were contesting the popular two-day Blackpool-based event in their 2.0 litre Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800 and after a steady run round the opening pair of stages last night, they upped the pace in front of a big crowd on Blackpool Promenade to set a pair of top five times and hold 14th overall overnight.
With slippery conditions set to dominate throughout today, the day didn't get off to a good start when they got stuck behind a car which had spun on a hairpin on the first stage dropping 30 seconds in the process as it was blocking the stage temporarily.
Undeterred, the seven-times British champion and professional precision and stunt driver charged back into contention and by the halfway point, had moved up to ninth overall and held the class lead going into the afternoon stages.
All was going well and Swift was holding sway inside the top ten, when on the 16th stage in Lytham Hall, the route took the crews down a muddy track and with very little grip, the Escort slid off the road and down a bank, dropping two valuable minutes as the marshals eventually extracted them.
Dropping to 17th overall as a result and losing the class lead, it was a damage limitation exercise from thereon in and with a string of top 20 times on the remaining stages, Swift clawed his way back to 15th overall and third in class after the 22 stages, consolidating his lead in the 2012 AS Performance North of England Tarmacadam Championship in the process.
Paul commented: "Firstly, I have to thank the marshals who pushed us out of the ditch and up the bank when we went off as without their help, we would have been out of the rally so I'll be buying them a couple of beers tonight if I see them. We were on slick tyres and it was sheer mud through some trees and that's how we ended up going off. It was frustrating to drop time earlier in the day also when we were wedged behind a stricken car on a hairpin so those two problems cost us the chance of a better result but I'm still happy enough with 15th overall and third in class considering the level of competition. Stuart has won this event before and did a great job for me and it was vital time together before the first round of the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship in a month's time."
Indeed Swift's next event is Tour of Epynt which takes place on Sunday March 11th and comprises the opening round of the 2012 MSA Asphalt Rally Championship.
Photo: Marcus Andrews
|1|| Tony Bardy/Tony Walker|| Nissan Sunny GTIR|| 1:27:22|
|2||John Stone/Lee Carter||Skoda Fabia WRC|| 1:28:51|
|3|| Kevin Procter/Dave Bellerby|| Subaru Impreza|| 1:31:15|
|4|| Mark Roberts/Gareth Twiss|| Ford Escort Cosworth|| 1:32:18|
|5|| Paul Bird/Kirsty Riddick|| Ford Focus 07 WRC|| 1:32:20|
|6|| Alex Taylor/Martyn Taylor|| Subaru Forester||1:33:19|
|7||Simon Bowen/Richard Robinson|| Subaru Impreza||1:33:21|
|8|| Russell Morgan/Martin Kenyon|| Ford Escort MK1|| 1:33:30|
|9|| Pete Gibson/Josh Davison|| Mitsubishi Evo|| 1:34:51|
|10|| Adrian Atkinson/Dave Riley|| Mitsubishi Evo 6||1:35:49|
|15|| Paul Swift/Stuart Powell|| Ford Escort MK2 RS1800|| 1:38:11|