There were those who thought Christmas had come early when Northallerton Automobile Club announced that their annual Christmas Stages would run in August.
A counter to the ANECCC Championship the rally was run on the mixed surfaces of the military ranges adjoining Catterick Garrison.
The event had only four stages with service between each test. All the stages were ten or more miles long making over forty-one miles of competition that would prove a tough challenge for competitors.
SS1 Foxglove started with two and half miles of twisty concrete followed by eight miles of fast gravel. Clearly knowledge of the venue was a real advantage, a fact acknowledged by the organisers in seeding Charlie Payne and Craig Thorley at one in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6.
Payne immediately set a blistering pace finishing the opener forty-four seconds ahead of the Sapphire Cosworth of Kevin Procter and David Bellerby. Tony Thompson and Richard Myers were the only other crew to stop the clocks on under thirteen minutes and were third, a further two seconds adrift, in another Evo6.
David Brown and Paul Hudson had the dubious honour of being the first to retire when less than two miles into the stage the throttle jammed on their Ford Puma 4×4 and ended their rally.
With a handful of first stage retirements less than forty cars would make it to the start of SS2 Deepgill, a modified but slightly shorter version of the opener. Payne stopped the clocks on 11:41 with Procter next up on 12:15 and Thompson another three seconds behind. Andy and Gary Kenny in the Evo7 were holding fourth by two seconds from the Impreza of Michael Glendinning and Dave Thompson. The top two wheel drive was coming from Tim Pearcey and Mick Johnson in an Escort Mk2 who would ultimately set fastest 2wd time on every stage.
Going into SS3 Heartleap Well, Payne’s lead was already looking unassailable and by the end of the test he had increased it to over a minute and a half. Proctor was second fastest, four seconds quicker than Thompson, opening up a nine second gap between the second and third cars while Glendinning took fourth relegating the Kennys to fifth.
Local favourite Charlie Taylor, with Steve Beilby on the maps, retired his Escort Mk2 in SS3 with electrical problems. They were the only crew throughout the day to have got close to Pearcey’s times having been a mere two seconds slower on the previous stage.
With such a big lead it came as no surprise when Payne backed off through the 10.63 mile SS4 Sward Field. Fastest stage time went to Thompson who stopped the clocks on 12:32 seven seconds ahead of Glendinning. It was enough to promote the Evo6 pilot to the runners-up spot as he had outpaced Procter by ten seconds. As they say so often in rallying “every second counts!”
To further prove the point a second was enough for Alistair Thorburn and Keith Jones (Subaru Impreza) to snatch tenth overall from the similar car of Adrian Wilson and Keith Bardon. The seventh and eighth places were closer still and had to be decided by the tie-breaker, fastest Stage 1 time, so it was advantage Pearcey, unlucky for Evo6 pairing Chris Lewis and Michael Wilkinson. Pearcey didn’t have all the luck though as he missed out on sixth place to Barry Johnson and Don Whyatt’s Impreza by just a handful of seconds.
In the classes Jonathan and David Atack took Class 1 in the Skoda Felicia. Class 2 went to Ian Cartwright/Shelley Rogerson, 3 was taken by Pearcey/Johnson and 4 by Martin Kenny/Steve Quine all in Escort Mk2s of various guises.
With only thirty of the forty-three starters finishing, the rally lived up to its reputation as being a tough test.
1. Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 48:48
2. Tony Thompson/Richard Myers (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 49:53
3. Kevin Procter/David Bellerby (Ford Sapphire Cosworth) 49:54
4. Michael Glendinning/Dave Thompson (Subaru Impreza) 50:26
5. Andy Kenny/Gary Kenny (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7) 51:04
6. Barry Johnson/Don Whyatt (Subaru Impreza) 51:36
7. Tim Pearcey/Mick Johnson (Ford Escort Mk2) 51:40
8. Chris Lewis/Michael Wilkinson (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 51:40
9. Tim Johnson/Neil Colls (Subaru Impreza) 52:01
10. Alistair Thorburn/Keith Jones (Subaru Impreza) 52:41