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Reigning British Rally Champion Mark Higgins stamped his authority on his home event by ending the first day’s action in Rally Isle of Man with his Stobart VK Subaru at the head of the BRC field in the third round of the championship.
“We were too soft with the set-up on the first loop and the first stage was tricky, but I don’t think anyone had a good feeling there,” said Higgins, co-driven by Rory Kennedy. “But then it was all good after we changed it at service and the last three stages went well.”
Higgins was 9.4 seconds faster than the rest of the BRC field over the five stages held on Thursday evening, opening the longest and arguably best-loved event on the calendar.  Next up was another giant-killing performance from Guy Wilks in his S1600 Suzuki Ignis. Wilks was not only faster than the rest of the BRC field, whether they be four or two wheel drive, but also WRC cars entered in the event as part of the Irish Tarmac Championship. He also beat Higgins to be the fastest BRC car regardless of class on two stages.
“On the first stage the car was too soft so we changed it four clicks all round and it was too hard for the second stage, which was pretty disappointing,” explained Wilks of his run with co-driver Phil Pugh. “But we changed it in service and it went really well. On the shorter stages we were right on it, but we lose out on the longer stages. If it hadn’t been for the set-up on the second stage we’d only be about four seconds off Mark.
Third fastest on day one was Mitsubishi Motors UK’s Ryan Champion and co-driver Craig Thorley. Despite his potential podium placing, Champion reckoned there was more pace to come once he had the suspension of his Evo IX at its optimum and attained his position at the end of the day despite an engine worry in the opening stages. “In the first stages we were dropping to three cylinders at low revs in second and third gear corners and we just hadn’t got the car working as there was too much understeer. It’s a compromise with the set-up to get them to work on the bumps, it’s working well there for us but the car pushes too much so it’s not the right compromise.”
Right behind Champion was the second Mitsubishi Motors UK Evo IX of Rory Galligan and Greg Shinnors. “We could have done without dropping ten seconds to Mark Higgins after the second stage to be honest, there’s still a little bit of work to be done,” he said.
Leading the Mitsubishi Evo Challenge, the contest run within the British Rally Championship in 2006 and offering the best prize in British motorsport of a season’s drive with in the championship with the Mitsubishi Motors UK squad, was Phillip Morrow and co-driver Daniel Barritt. They were assisted to their top placing to a degree by the misfortune of their rivals with Gwyndaf Evans suffering an over-eager electrical cut-off switch, Jonny Milner an unenthusiastic turbo unit and an under-the-weather Stuart Jones putting his Evo over on its roof on the second stage.
“I didn’t really enjoy the last stages as we weren’t really getting traction and we need to wave a magic wand over the car,” said Morrow. “On the second stage we were the next car through after Stuart Jones’ accident and it scared the crap out of me as we came on it so quickly as it was the last corner of the stage.”
Jones and co-driver Craig Parry were not seriously hurt in their crash, and were back in the service park afterwards. Their car, however, was rather worse for wear. “We were going about 90 mph when we hit the wall,” said MSA British Rally Elite member Jones. “I haven’t been well the last few days and I’m not sure exactly what happened as we weren’t really pushing in there. I do know the glue for the windscreen is pretty strong as it took me a while to kick the screen out to exit the car!”
The SJR Hankook driver was not the first of the BRC runners to have an off, that ‘honour’ going to Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Roman Kresta in the Ford Fiesta S1600. Kresta and co-driver Petr Goss ended their rally a mile into the first stage. “There was a jump and we had a big compression on the landing, the rear slid about and then bang, it went so quickly and it was a big accident. I have a sore neck and sore ribs and that’s the end of the rally for us,” Kresta explained.
Leg two of Rally Isle of Man starts at the TT Grandstand at 08:50 on Friday 4th of August, finishing at the same location at 20.00 after 95 miles of stage distance later.
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