Marty McCormack and Barney Mitchell won the 2017 Roger Albert Clark Rally (10th-13th November) after four days, 270-stage miles and 29-special stages in the forests of Wales, Northumberland and Scotland.
The Northern Irish crew battled hard with leaders Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke over the first two days and moved ahead when Pritchard was sidelined by a broken halfshaft. Once ahead, McCormack continued his stunning pace to win by 1m44s from fellow former winners Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis while Roger Chilman and Bryan Thomas turned in a star performance on unfamiliar stages for third after leading overall during the opening day in Wales. The concurrent Open Rally was won convincingly by the Ford Escort Mk2 of David Hutchinson and Jeff Garnett.
Britain’s biggest and toughest rally made a triumphant return after a break of three years and drew a fantastic response from competitors, service crews, marshals and spectators. The incredible atmosphere of camaraderie and adventure made this the stand-out rally of the season and each of the finishers was elated to complete the rally.
A total of 91 crews started from Brightwells in Leominster on Friday morning and a remarkable tally of 61 finished at Kielder Waterside on Monday afternoon. In between were heroic tales of crews working miracles to keep cars running.
Spectators turned out in their thousands, including for the opening pair of stages at Shelsley Walsh on Friday morning when the rally made history by running cars competitively both up and down the hill for the first time. With many fans out in the forests across four days, the overall standard of spectator behaviour was very good.
McCormack drove a superb rally to repeat his 2012 victory and was elated with the result as he drove his Ford Escort Mk2 in the British forests for the first time in four years. However, he paid tribute to Pritchard’s outstanding drive over the first two days.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” said McCormack. “It’s been a massive event and Colin Heppenstall and the team have done a fantastic job.” It was not all plain-sailing for McCormack, however, as his Ford Escort Mk2 needed two new clutches and two gearbox changes during the rally.
The battle for second got down to as little as 14s after the night stages, but Robinson pushed hard again in the daylight to see off Chilman, who duly took a fine third place on his first sight of many of the northern stages. Fourth place was a tremendous result for Alan Walker and John Connor while Simon Webster and Jez Rogers were fifth as Steve Bannister and Callum Atkinson came back from a roll and a final day off to salvage sixth.
All across the field were impressive performances and they included ninth-placed Josh Browne and Jane Edgington on only the driver’s seventh rally and Ben Friend and Cliffy Simmons who were on target for a top six overall in their Pinto-powered Escort until they slid off on ice on Sunday morning.
David Hutchinson and Jeff Garnett tackled the event for the first time and came away with a resounding victory in the Open Rally for non-historic two-wheel drive cars. By Monday afternoon Hutchinson was three minutes clear of the Peugeot 205GTi of James Nicholls and David Allman, which was the best front-wheel drive car on the event. Open Rally class winners included Andy Gray/Emma Morrison to make it a memorable weekend for the Grays as Andy’s wife Kim took victory in class D2. This was an absolute triumph in the face of adversity for Kim and Tom Murphy in their Escort Mk2. It started with engine issues on Friday that dictated a return to Chesterfield for an overnight rebuild but sheer determination got them through.
Dave Watkins and Graham Wride won class C2 in Watkins’ ex-works Escort Mk1 as the superbly presented car ran like a train across four tough days. Jimmy McRae and Pauline Gullick drove a rally befitting their combined experience to win class C5 in the Chevrolet-powered Vauxhall Firenza. Another V8, the Triumph TR7 of David Kynaston/Val Thompson, won class D4 despite an off on Sunday’s ice. Stuart Egglestone and Brian Hodgson in their Pinto-powered Escort Mk2 took an impressive class D3 win on Egglestone’s first rally in a rear-wheel drive car.
The Category K classes were won by the VW Golf GTi of Chris Hellings and Glyn Thomas and Paul Griffiths/Iwan Jones. The VW Golf crew drove a great rally to win their class on their first attempt at the event. Griffiths took over in class G2 when Pritchard went out of the lead of the rally.
The two-stroke Saab 96 of Stephen Higgins and Sam Spencer won class B2 after a wonderful performance in the low-power car. The Saab behaved impeccably over four days and Higgins drove it with gusto. Veteran Bob Bean and co-driver Malcolm Smithson took victory in class B4 among the Category 1 contenders in their freshly built Lotus Cortina. Finally, Rikki Proffitt and Graham Wild (Porsche 911) won class B5 despite a challenging event.
Results: Roger Albert Clark Rally
1 Marty McCormack/Barney Mitchell (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h28m27s
2 Matthew Robinson/Sam Collis (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h30m11s
3 Roger Chilman/Bryan Thomas (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h31m19s
4 Alan Walker/John Conner (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h34m24s
5 Simon Webster/Jez Rogers (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h35m51s
6 Steve Bannister/Callum Atkinson (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h39m03s
7 Paul Griffiths/Iwan Jones (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h40m28s
8 Stuart Egglestone/Brian Hodgson (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h41m03s
9 Josh Browne/Jane Edgington (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h43m32s
10 Barry Stevenson-Wheeler/John Pickavance (Ford Escort Mk2) 4h50m05s
Class winners: Steve Higgins/Sam Spencer (Saab 96); Bob Bean/Malcolm Smithson (Ford Lotus Cortina); Rikki Proffitt/Graham Wild (Porsche 911); Dave Watkins/Graham Wride (Ford Escort Mk1); Wayne Bonser/Richard Ashton (Ford Escort Mk1); Jimmy McRae/Pauline Gullick (Vauxhall Firenza Chevrolet); Kim Gray/Tom Murphy (Ford Escort Mk2); Egglestone/Hodgson; David Kynaston/Val Thompson (Triumph TR7 V8); Chris Hellings/Glyn Thomas (VW Golf GTi); Peter Johnson/Charles Johnson (Datsun 240Z); Griffiths/Jones.
Roger Albert Clark Open Rally
1 David Hutchinson/Jeff Garnett (Ford Escort Mk2) 5h01m23s
2 James Nicholls/David Allman (Peugeot 205GTi) 5h04m21s
3 Dave Hemingway/Simon Ashton (Ford Escort Mk2) 5h12m49s
4 Mick Plowman/Nigel Hutchinson (Ford Escort Mk2) 5h16m22s
5 Andy Gray/Emma Morrison (Peugeot 205 GTi) 5h25m08s
6 Richard Phillipson/Stefan Arndt (Honda Civic) 5h45m26s
Class winners: Mathew Evans/Daniel Evans (Peugeot 205); Gray/Morrison; Nicholls/Allman