The 2011 Legend Fires North West Stages will be best remembered for three things. Firstly the weather, it was the wettest in the events 14 year history; Secondly the winning margin, it was the closest ever finish with just a single second separating the top two cars; and thirdly John Stone won his class, not in a world rally car, but in a Nissan Micra, now that will live long in the memory!
Gale force winds and a high tide battered Blackpool hours before the start throwing Friday’s pair of Promenade stages into doubt as stage set-up crews were given a near impossible mission. Fortunately calm followed the storm and the stages ran as scheduled but torrential rain throughout Saturday made driving conditions treacherous with standing water at every venue.
There’s a saying in rallying that ‘every second counts’ and if ever proof were needed the final outcome of this year’s rally gave it. After 76 miles over 24 timed to the second special stages it was the Subaru Imprea WRC of Kevin Procter and Dave Bellerby that proved the quickest. The rallycross aces beat the Nissan Sunny GTi-R of Tony Bardy and Reg Smith by a single second.
Stephen Simpson, a five times winner of the event, and co-driver Simon Hunter were happy to settle for third place in their Hyundai Accent WRC. At the finish a relieved Simpson said
“What a tough rally, there was the sea coming over the wall on the Promenade, we had three spins in Weeton and a puncture at Clifton.”
Stone, who’s company Legend Fires are the events main sponsor, and co-driver Kevin Hodkinson won Class F in a Nissan Micra hired as a last minute replacement for Stones’ Skoda Fabia WRC which was undergoing an engine rebuild. Stone, who finished 32nd in the overall standings, said
“We decided on a steady pace on Friday night but caught all our class rivals napping by attacking from the off at Hillhouse on Saturday.”
Procter had been quickest on three of Friday night’s four stages with Simpson his nearest challenger with Bardy third at the night halt just four seconds ahead of the MG Metro 6R4 of Mark Holmes and Tony Lindsay. Saturday’s monsoon like conditions suited Bardy who grabbed the lead but the final pair of stages on Blackpool’s Promenade clearly favoured Proctor who snatched a dramatic last gasp victory.
Radiator problems had forced Holmes to retire the Metro on Fleetwood Waterfront allowing two other Blackpool South Shore Motor Club crews to move up the order and complete the final top five places. Simon Bowen and Richard Robinson finished fourth while James and Chris Ford finished fifth, both crews in Subaru Imprezas.
Top 10 Results
1 Kevin Procter/Dave Bellerby (Subaru Impreza WRC) 1hr40m48s;
2 Tony Bird/Reg Smith (Nissan Sunny GTi-R) 1hr40m49s;
3 Stephen Simpson/Simon Hunter (Hyundai Accent WRC) 1hr45m36s;
4 Simon Bowen/Richard Robinson (Subaru Impreza) 1hr45m50s;
5 James Ford/Chris Ford (Subaru Impreza) 1hr46m17s;
6 Tony Hewitt/Emma Hewitt (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo5) 1hr47m36s;
7 Connor Corkill/Howard Allison (Ford Escort Mk2) 1hr49m19s;
8 Nigel Hobson/Tim Hobson (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 1hr50m29s;
9 Alan Kirby/Lawrence Kirby (Subaru Impreza) 1hr50m30s;
10 Alistair Hutchinson/StJohn Dykes (Renault Clio LPG) 1hr51m10s.