The final round of the 2003 Kumho National Rally Championship took competitors back into the Welsh Forests for the final round of the series.
Organised by Wolverhampton & South Staffs Car Club National contestants assembled in Newtown from where they would depart to tackle eight stages whilst those competing in the Clubman Rally would only cover six.
The route of seventy-five stage miles for Nationals and forty-five stage miles for Clubman would be interspersed with service halts at Sweet Lamb and Dolgellau Farmers Mart. Survivors would then head east across the border to the finish at Shrewsbury Livestock Market late in the afternoon.
First test for the sixty-eight car entry was the 14.6 miles of Hafren North where Mark Perrott/Graham Hopewell blazed a trail in the Escort WRC over six seconds faster than the Impreza of Julian Reynolds/Ieuan Thomas.
Championship hopefuls Roger Duckworth/Mark Broomfield were third in the Impreza WRC whilst the much fancied favourites David Mann/Alun Cook were content to hold sixth. Sandwiched between them was a pair of Imprezas in the hands of Gary and Gordon Adam and Paul Wedgbury/Neil Dashfield.
The day had started disastrously for Andy Burton/John Roberts who picked up a puncture in the Peugeot Cosworth, which resulted in a damaged wing and left them languishing in thirty-first place the best part of two minutes behind the leaders.
At least they were still in the rally as already out were Nigel Griffiths/Andrew Owens (Impreza), Steve Palmer/Stephen Greenhill (Evo VII), Mandy Roberts/Derek Davies (Evo V) and Matthew Humphris/Andrew Cadle (Micra) Another crew to go off in the stage were Malloch Nichol/Jude Wylie who lost so much time after burying the Evo IV in a banking they would eventually go OTL.
Hafren South was next and proved the scene for the start of an amazing charge up the leaderboard by Burton/Roberts. Fastest time, 0.8 second quicker than Adam/Adam, moved them up seven places. Perrott/Hopewell were a further 5.7 seconds behind but it was enough for them to retain top spot. Adam/Adam were now second heading the Imprezas of Reynolds/Thomas, Duckworth/Broomfield, Wedgbury/Dashfield, Mann/Cook and Barry Johnson/Stewart Merry.
The two Sweet Lamb tests saw Burton/Roberts continue their charge up the leaderboard with a brace of fastest times taking them to eighteenth. On the first of the stages Adam/Adam took the lead after sharing second fastest time with the Accent WRC of Paul Bird/Larry Carter. Perrott/Hopewell then retaliated but left the Sweet Lamb complex trailing the Scots crew by seven tenths of a second.
Perrott/Hopewell then retook the lead in Taliesin as Burton/Roberts moved up to ninth by continuing their run of fastest times. The stage marked the end of the rally for two crews holding the top ten places. Wedgbury/Dashfield retired the Subaru and Bird/Carter’s rally ended when the Accent caught fire.
SS6 Gartheiniog brought about an interruption in Burton/Roberts’ run of fastest times as honours here fell to Perrott/Hopewell who now had Duckworth/Broomfield as their closest challengers.
Mann/Cook were quite content to hold sixth in the knowledge that they only needed a ninth placed points scoring position to secure the championship.
With only two stages remaining only an accident or mechanical failure stood between them and the title.
Duckworth/Broomfield kept the pressure on Perrott/Hopewell taking 4.6 seconds off them through Dyfi Main closing the gap to 14.5 seconds. The stage wasn’t so good though for Adam/Adam who rolled into retirement.
Burton/Roberts had been quickest again and repeated the feat through Dyfnant to claim a richly deserved third place at the finish as Perrott/Hopewell made sure of victory increasing their margin over Duckworth/Broomfield by another two seconds.
Reynolds/Thomas had held a podium place until Burton/Roberts’ last stage charge deprived them but at least they won N4. Steve Petch/John Richardson settled for fifth in the Accent WRC.
Sixth place may not have been a spectacular result by Mann/Cook’s recent performances but it was nonetheless a telling one as it meant they were the 2003 Kumho National Rally Champions.
Anthony Wilmington/Andy White secured the runners-up place in the 2003 Mitsubishi Evo Challenge Championship by bringing their Evo VI home fourteenth overall.
In the classes David Young/James Young took B11 honours in the Mk II Escort, James Wozencroft/Nick Cadwallader were the only B9 finishers in the Nova, Michael Coomber/Jeremy Pole took A6 in the Satria, A5 went to Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson in the Ka and the N3 win was taken by Astra crew Nigel Wakefield/Roger Allan.
Drivers Championship – Final Positions:
Mann 123 points; Duckworth 115 points; Crealey 96 points; Harrison 84 points; Burton 80 points; Petch 79 points
Leading the field of forty-one cars away was the Impreza of James Harvey/Pete Bold and despite head gasket problems later in the day they stayed in front to prove the seeding committee had done their homework properly.
James Belton/Paul Williams provided the early challenge finishing the opening Hafren South stage just 4.4 seconds in their Escort RS. A blown gearbox put paid to the expected charge from Joe Price/Ian Allsop in the Sunbeam.
It was then the turn of another Escort crew, Dave Brick/Phil Clark to take up the gauntlet through Sweet Lamb before breaking a diff and allowing Martyn and Ian England to bring the Evo VI up to second by the end of Taliesin.
Gartheiniog saw the early retirements of championship regulars Alistair and Andrew Adams who put the Escort off the track whilst lying fourth and Allan McDowall/Gavin Heseltine when the gearbox failed on the Kadette.
It was here that Ieuan Rowlands/Andy Davies took up the challenge but with the championship being a priority they elected to ease back a little through the final Dyfnant test and settle for third and first in Class 02.
This left Denis Parry/Huw Lewis, who had completed the day’s opening test in eighth place, to snatch second. The Escort Cosworth crew had made steady progress up the leaderboard throughout the day and fastest time through Dyfnant brought them just reward.
There were top ten finishes for Class 01 winners Nathan Crewe/John Connor in the MG ZR and Will Onions/Steve Quine who took Class 03 in the Escort Kit Car.
Drivers Championship – Final Positions
Ieuan Rowlands 119 points; Potter 103 points; Adams 97 points; McCulloch 84 points; Shirlaw 80 points; McDowell 79 points
Top Ten Bulldog Rally:
- Mark Perrott/Graham Hopewell (Escort WRC) 1:18:42.1
- Roger Duckworth/Mark Broomfield (Impreza WRC) 1:18:58.6
- Andrew Burton/John Roberts (Peugeot Cosworth) 1:20:06.5
- Julian Reynolds/Ieuan Thomas (Impreza) 1:20:13.3
- Steve Petch/John Richardson (Accent WRC) 1:20:33.0
- David Mann/Alun Cook (Impreza) 1:20:41.5
- Martyn Harrison/Steve Harris (Metro 6R4) 1:21:04.6
- Barry Johnson/Stewart Merry (Impreza WRC) 1:21:33.3
- Mick Jones/Andy Morgan (Evo III) 1:21:35.9
- Phil Morgan/Martin Douglas (Impreza WRC) 1:21:53.9
Top Ten Bulldog Clubmans Rally:
- James Harvey/Pete Bold (Impreza) 54:23.9
- Denis Parry/Huw Lewis (Escort Cosworth) 54:49.8
- Ieuan Rowlands/Andy Davies (Mk II Escort) (206) 54:59.2
- Will Onions/Steve Quine (Escort Kit Car) 55:02.6
- James Belton/Paul Williams (Mk II Escort) 55:05.1
- Martyn England/Ian England (Evo VI) 55:14.9
- George Collister/Rob Fagg (Mk II Escort) 56:19.4
- John Rowlands/Darren Garrod (Mk II Escort) 56:42.9
- Steve Finch/Stan Graham (Mk II Escort) 56:54.2
- Nathan Crewe/John Connor (MG ZR) 56:56.9