It was dry and sunny as crews left the start in Malton’s town centre and the superb conditions of the forest tracks meant the thousands of fans who had converged on the white rose county were in for some cracking action.
The penultimate round of the British Rally Championship was back in Yorkshire where Jonny Milner was hoping to repeat his success of the previous year and win the title on home ground. To do so he only needed to finish in the top nine but driving slowly can be risky and besides that’s not Milner’s style so the big question was would he do it?
With a tough programme of over one hundred stage miles spread across fifteen special stages making up two days of competition nothing was certain. What was certain though was that the Driffield driver would be giving it his best shot and his main rival Tapio Laukkanen would have to fight all the way.
The opening Spectator Stage at Pickering Showground was more of a teaser than a tester, the type where you can’t win a rally but could easily lose one. Milner was straight on the pace though as he and co-driver Nicky Beech guided the Corolla WRC into a slender four-tenths of a second lead over Jari-Matti Latvala/Miika Anttila in the Focus WRC. Laukkanen seemed to be taking things at a more leisurely pace as he and co-driver Ilka Riipinen finished the stage in sixth place in their Impreza WRC.
Milner/Beech and Latvala/Anittila retained first and second spots following the opening forest test Cropton 1 but Laukkanen/Riipinen were now moving at a more serious rate of knots and up into third despite dropping crucial seconds after stalling on the start line. A stage later and they were out in front storming through Gale Rigg 1 knocking both Milner/Beech and Latvala/Anittila down a notch – the battle was on!
By the end of Staindale it was a Finnish one two as Latvala/Anittila overhauled Milner/Beech who had a comfortable cushion of around twenty-five seconds over Austin McHale/Brian Murphy in the Impreza S7. Julian Reynolds/Iuean Thomas had started the test lying sixth in the Impreza but an excursion up at firebreak dropped them forty places.
Milner/Beech were now fully focussed on the championship allowing the Fins to trade fastest times over the next two Dalby tests. Meanwhile they extended their lead over McHale/Murphy to almost fifty seconds heading into the Pickering service.
Leading the Super 1600 class at this point, as they had been from the outset, were Gwyndaf Evans/Clare Mole in the MG ZR. They needed to look over shoulders though as Kris Meeke/Chris Patterson had now closed to within six seconds in the Corsa. There was also a threat from an unknown quantity in the form of Aki and Miika Teiskonen who were making their British debut in a Saxo. The Finnish brothers were adapting quickly to the conditions but as they were running so far down the order their progress was going almost unnoticed.
The scheduled re-run of the Showground stage was cancelled as it hadn’t withstood the first stage rigours as well had been expected. It was then back into Cropton where Latvala/Anittila reduced the arrears to 3.2 seconds before Laukkanen/Riipinen set another top time through Gale Rigg to widen the gap to just under six seconds at the end of the day’s play.
Keeping their sights firmly fixed on the championship Milner/Beech were happy to hold third over a minute ahead of McHale/Murphy with Steve Petch/John Richardson (Accent WRC) fifth, Barry Johnson/Stewart Merry (Impreza WRC) sixth and Chris Mellors/Craig Thorley (Escort WRC) seventh.
Evans/Mole had been holding eighth but when the ZR retired with gearbox problems within sight of the Cropton stage finish Meeke/Patterson moved up a place. The Teiskonen brothers then set a cracking time through Gale Rigg 2 to move ahead of the Evo IV of Dom Buckley/Doug Redpath who completed the top ten at the end of the first leg.
The first day had claimed the usual quota of casualties amongst whom were Steve Hill/Joanne Lockwood in the Alfa, Bob Ceen/Alistair Douglas in the Impreza 555 and Dougi Hall/Steve Egglestone in the Evo VI. When Shelly Taunt/Bob Stokoe broke a stub axle and lost a wheel in Cropton the driver hand brake turned the Micra into the first available safe parking spot. It was then, as if to add insult to injury, that the wayward wheel came bouncing down the track and smacked the Nissan’s rear quarter leaving it with a large dent. At least they had the consolation of being crowned the 2003 British Rally Championship F1400 Champions.
Sunday started with another spectator stage at Pickering Showground. The organisers had re-graded the track the previous evening and Milner/Beech made most of the opportunity to display their talents to the fans with another fastest time.
Latvala/Anittila again reduced the gap to Laukkanen/Riipinen to 3.2 seconds setting up what promised to be a real battle in the forests. Unfortunately it didn’t materialise as on the first test, SS11 Langdale, Latvala/Anittila put the Focus off the track. Around ninety seconds were lost with the car wedged on a log and all chance of victory was gone. Indeed the incident even cost them the runners-up spot as they were relegated to third with little chance of catching Milner/Beech.
A brace of fastest stage times left Laukkanen/Riipinen with a 56.1 second lead over Milner/Beech at the end of SS12 Pike Hill. Their lead looked unassailable but any hopes they had of winning the championship now rested on Milner/Beech having a big problem that would see them crash down the leaderboard or out of the rally.
With so much at stake neither crew would take any chances leaving it to Latvala/Anittila to set fastest stage time over the last three tests. It was of no consequence however as the final positions show. Laukkanen/Riipinen were the rally winners, Milner/Beech the runners-up and 2003 Champions with Latvala/Anittila very much the bridesmaids in third.
The rest of the top ten remained unchanged from its overnight order meaning Meeke/Patterson and Buckley/Doug Redpath both secured class wins. Similarly Marcus Foss/Glenn Patterson took the F2000 win clinching the class title in the Almera Gti while F1400 honours went to John and Stephen Moxon in the Felicia. Sami Vatanen/Jussi Martiskin made the trip from Finland worthwhile by taking the F1400 class spoils in the 206.
One outcome that did change on the day was in the Super 206 Cup where overnight leaders Stuart Jones/Richard Edwards hit problems on the penultimate stage. They finished the test way down the order but when the problem was pinpointed to a faulty map sensor retirement was their only option. This allowed Shaun Gallagher/Richard Pashley to move up from second and clinch another series win. They had started the leg trailing Chris Moore/Mike Panes but were a comfortable 50.8 seconds ahead of them by the end of Pike Hill. Moore/Panes had a troublesome time throughout Sunday eventually finishing third 3.1 seconds behind Phillip and Simon Morrow.
The win may have gone to Laukkanen/Riipinen but Milner/Beech were the real winners, British Rally Champions for the second successive year and for Milner the added satisfaction of winning the title on home ground.
- Tapio Laukkanen/Ilka Riipinen (Impreza WRC) 1:38:11.6
- Jonny Milner/Nicky Beech (Corolla WRC) 1:39:00.2
- Jari-Matti Latvala/Miika Anittila (Focus WRC01) 1:39:38.6
- Austin McHale/Brian Murphy (Impreza S7) 1:41:30.9
- Steve Petch/John Richardson (Accent WRC) 1:42:51.5
- Barry Johnson/Stewart Merry (Impreza WRC) 1:43:21.8
- Chris Mellors/Craig Thorley (Escort WRC) 1:44:13.6
- Kris Meeke/Chris Patterson (Corsa) 1:47:31.1
- Aki Teiskonen/Miika Teiskonen (Saxo) 1:48:32.3
- Neil Buckley/Douglas Redpath (Evo IV) 1:48:335
- F1400 – John Moxon/Stephen Moxon (Felicia)
- F2000 – Marcus Foss/Glenn Patterson (Almera)
- S1600 – Kris Meeke/Chris Patterson (Corsa)
- PROD – Neil Buckley/Douglas Redpath (Evo IV)