Ireland’s Sam Moffett was left gobsmacked after winning the opening round of this year’s British Rally Championship, the Neil Howard Stages. Only one second separated Moffett and runner-up Rhys Yates after eight tests around Oulton Park.
Moffett and co-driver Keith Moriarty were fifth halfway through the rally but fastest times on Stage 5 and 6 put them within one second of the lead. The Irish duo overhauled fellow Ford Fiesta Rally2 runners Yates and James Morgan on the penultimate test before clinging onto the lead on the final 10.9 kilometre stage.
“I cannot believe it; literally cannot believe it,” said Moffett at the finish. “We’ve had a phenomenal day.
“We had a really good push this afternoon in stage five and six which managed to put us right ahead at the end of the day; it’s an amazing feeling.
“It’s been good to get in the mix with some new names and fierce competition. All credit to Dommy Buckley RSC for preparing an awesome car and for Keith sitting in for the day.
“It’s been great to be back behind the wheel and I’m really looking forward to the Nicky Grist.
“We’ve got more interest [in the series] now we’re here on the top step. Huge thanks to all the marshals and credit to the organising team too for putting on a fantastic event.”
The top two were hounded all day long by a gaggle of rapid BRC crews. Unlike early challengers Frank Bird and Matt Edwards, Osian Pryce stayed out of trouble to seal the final podium spot in his Volkswagen Polo R5.
Bird had been in control of the rally up until a spin on the rally’s sixth stage. His car was later excluded for being underweight.
Double British Champion Edwards received a ten second penalty on Stage 5 which dropped him out of contention.
Desi Henry opened his BRC account with an impressive fifth place in a Hyundai i20 as Seb Perez and Gary McElhinney pulled themselves back from outside the top ten at one point, to take sixth in their eye-catching Fiesta.
William Creighton and Liam Regan lived up to pre-event expectations sealing a controlled 11-second victory over Kyle White and Sean Topping. The two Northern Irish crews were joined on the podium by Donegal’s Eamonn Kelly who fought back from time loss earlier in the day.
“We’re using the British Championship to keep us sharp for the Junior WRC,” said Creighton. “But of course you want a good result on any rally you do.
“The next round, Nicky Grist Stages, is the weekend before Estonia so that is perfect.
“Oulton Park was looking amazing yesterday but it was tricky with so many cars on the road and gravel coming out onto the road.
“The fight was good between all the [MI Rally] academy guys, the times were really close but we got the job done early on which allowed us to manage the lead.
“You could see all the work that the academy has been doing paid off yesterday. We were all match fit, even the guys who had been out of a car for so long, and there were plenty of Irish guys setting competitive times.
“It was great to see Kyle White come over and get second position as well, I knew he would be quick on that type of event.”
Kelly, who was making his BRC debut, caught four cars on Stage 2 losing 20 seconds to Creighton. A subsequent reseed allowed Kelly to climb from sixth to third through the Neil Howard Stages, ending up 18s shy of the Junior BRC winner.
The top three Rally4 crews shared stage wins throughout the day along with David Kelly who claimed the final two stage wins.
Johnnie Mulholland and Calum Maguire enjoyed a confidence-boosting return to the series to take the Academy Trophy win ahead of Scotland’s Fraser Anderson.
National Rally Championship
Jennings was in fine form in his right-hand-drive Ford Fiesta, leading the way until a puncture on SS6 ruined his perfect start. Victory instead went to Thomas Preston in the fire-breathing Ford Fiesta WRC.
The next round of the series switches to the infamous Welsh forest stages of the Nicky Grist Stages in July
Standings after Round 1
1 // Sam Moffett – 25 points
2 // Rhys Yates – 22J
3 // Osian Pryce – 15
4 // Matt Edwards – 12
5 // Desi Henry – 10
6 // Seb Perez – 9J
7 // Josh Moffett – 6
8 // Oliver Mellors – 4
9 // Joseph McGonigle – 2
10 // James Wilson – 1
Photos courtesy of Jakob Ebrey / BRC