Durham rally driver Stephen Petch took a well-deserved victory at the Minehead based Somerset Stages Rally on Saturday (8th April) but had to fight hard on all 14 stages to bring his Ford Fiesta WRC home in top spot.
On paper, Petch looked to have dominated the dusty Exmoor forest stages but he didn't have it all his own way during the event. Despite opening up an early event lead, Petch and co-driver Michael Wilkinson were challenged all day long by Callum Black and Elliott Edmondson in their Fiesta R5. Petch finally taking the win after Black lost time in the closing loop of the day with power steering failure. 2013 rally winners Connor McCloskey and John Rowan made the worthwhile trip over from Ireland to round off the top three in their Fiesta WRC.
The seaside resort welcomed the 100 crews who started the Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club and Minehead Motor Club organised event, bolstered by crews from the Ravenol BTRDA Rally Series, MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship, REIS ASWMC Loose Surface Rally Championship and FMP Rally Challenge.
The thousands of spectators that headed to Kennisham Forest to watch the action were in for a treat and number one seeds Luke Francis and John Roberts would be hoping to repeat their 2016 event win. Sadly they got off to a slow start, finding themselves languishing down in fifth place on the opening test of the day.
Ironically, the top three stage times on the opening stage would be the same order they finished with Petch opening out a slender two second lead over Black with McCloskey one second down. Not only that, but the top three positioned remained that way throughout the morning loop and despite the efforts of others, no one could unseat the Fiesta trio on the gravel.
It would however change on the Porlock Hill stage when McCloskey lost time thanks to an ineffective handbrake and it gave others a chance to step into the frame. Hugh Hunter and Rob Fagg made a brief appearance in third sport with yet another Fiesta R5 but were edged out on the second run by Francis who was attempting a comeback.
Sadly Francis retired on the very next stage, leaving the door open for McCloskey to re-join the podium positions for the remainder of the day. But up front the battle had become intense and with Black on a charge, he and Petch were now tied on times. They remained neck and neck through stages eight and nine, with Black only losing out by one second in the tenth.
But Black's impressive run would be undone with power steering failure in stage 13, losing over 20 seconds in the process, leaving Petch to take the event win by 11 seconds and spray the winners champagne on Minehead Seafront.
"This win could have gone in anyone's favour today and it's been a really close fought battle with Callum" said Petch at the finish. "It's great to finally win here and at one point I thought Callum and I would be equal coming back to the finish. He was really unlucky this afternoon. I'm no stranger to tie breaks on the Somerset Stages though, losing out to Steve Perez on the countback rule in 2013 so it's fantastic to finally get the win. It's actually been a really tough rally so I'm glad we have come out on top".
Hugh Hunter began to pick up the pace after the asphalt tests at Porlock and brought his Fiesta R5 home in a worthy fourth spot as the Ruthin driver continues to get to grips with the new car.
Taunton's Martyn and Dawn England had the honour of being first local home on the event, finishing in fifth spot in their Fiesta R5+. England was happy with his progress through the day and despite a "scrappy" opening few stages, settled down in the afternoon to climb the leader board from 16th spot after stage three.
The Production Cup battle for "showroom specification" models has always been impressive and this year's Somerset Stages was no exception. Patrick Naylor and Ian Lawrence took the spoils in sixth overall, leading the trio of Mitsubishi E9's of Russ Thompson / Andy Murphy and Richard Hill / Steffan Evans in eighth.
Tom Preston and Andrew Roughead took ninth overall in their Skoda Fabia R5 with Sacha Kakad and James Aldridge rounding out the top ten in their Mitsubishi E10.
In a rally of attrition, only 60 of the 100 starters made it back to Minehead and the tough Exmoor forests proved to be hard on cars and crews during the event.
Top-line crews will head to Minehead this weekend for national qualifier
Over 100 crews from across the UK will head to Minehead this weekend as the Somerset Stages Rally returns to the seaside resort for its annual event on Saturday 8th April.
Organised by Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club and Minehead Motor Club, the event forms the second round of the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series and the opening round of the Maxxis Tyres MSA English Rally Championship which once again brings some of the best rally drivers to the region.
Crews from the national championships are joined by contenders in the Reis Motorsport Insurance ASWMC Loose Surface Rally Championship and FMP Rally Challenge; ensuring spectators are in for a real treat during the day in the Exmoor forests.
Wearing the coveted number one on the door this year will be 2016 event winners Luke Francis and co-driver John H Roberts from North Wales who bring their potent Mitsubishi E9 to the South West.
The duo will be hoping to repeat their dominant performance from last year and boost their BTRDA title chances. Northumberland's Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson follow at number two in their Ford Fiesta WRC. Petch admits to be still getting used to the powerful machine but will certainly be looking for outright victory in Minehead.
Callum Black and Elliott Edmondson start the event at number three seed in their Fiesta R5. The newly formed duo have impressed so far this season and will be looking for a podium spot at the weekend.
Karl and Guy Simmons have swapped their Citroen DS3 R5 for a WRC for the event and start the event at four. David Wright and Steve Pugh lead a duo of crowd pleasing Ford Focus WRC's and are seeded at five with Hugh Hunter and Rob Fagg just behind at six in a similar machine.
2013 event winner Connor McCloskey and John Rowan will return to the event at seven and make the trip over from Northern Ireland in their Fiesta WRC. Scotsman Fred Milne makes the long drive south to Somerset in his Mitsubishi E9 to start at car eight with co-driver Jamie Edwards alongside.
Tom Preston starts at nine in his Skoda Fabia R5 with co-driver Andrew Roughead; the Somerset Stages saw the debut of the car last year.
Rounding off the top ten are local crew Martyn and Dawn England from Illminster. The husband and wife team were another to debut their Ford Fiesta R5+ on the event last year and recorded an impressive set of times, finishing fourth overall in the process.
Other local entries include Michael Threlfall and Mulberry Threlfall-Eyres from Taunton who will compete in their Mitsubishi Evo X. Threlfall last contested the Somerset Stages in 2013 and will be looking to go one better than the retirement sustained that year. They start the event at car 22.
Look a little further down the list and you will see another Threlfall name, this time sons Harry and Alfie in a Renault Twingo R1. Harry was once a regular in the British Rally Championship, but returns to the sport after two years away to complete his University degree.
The event also plays host to the Army Land Rover team who bring six of the impressive machines to Somerset. A favorite with spectators, the crews often put other more suitable cars to shame and are worth staying to the end of the field to watch.
The bulk of the event mileage takes place in the Exmoor forests and The Beach Hotel will house Rally Headquarters during the event. Teams will base themselves along the Minehead seafront for the scheduled services throughout the day.
The field will be flagged away from the ceremonial start on Warren Road Seafront bright and early at 08.00 on Saturday 8th.
For something a bit more fast paced, the spectator stage in the Kennisham forest complex is the place to go, offering the chance to see the action twice during the day. The first run through the stage kicks off at around 09.45 and provides around an hour and a half of action with the second run of the stage at 14.00.
Those fortunate enough to complete the event will get the chance to celebrate at 15.45 with the ceremonial finish on the Minehead Seafront (Warren Road), with the winning crews spraying champagne to celebrate victory.
More information is available at www.somersetstagesrally.com and you can keep up to date with all the latest news on the event Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Seeded Entry List
Posted: April 3, 2017 5:32 AM
No Driver/Co-Driver (Make Model) [Class]
1 Luke Francis/John H Roberts (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [B13]
2 Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta WRC) [B14]
3 Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson (Ford Fiesta R5+) [B14]
4 Karl Simmons/Guy Simmons (Subaru Impreza WRC S11) [B14]
5 David Wright/Steve Pugh (Ford Focus WRC 01) [B14]
6 Hugh Hunter/Rob Fagg (Ford Focus WRC 02) [B14]
7 Connor McCloskey/John Rowan (Ford Fiesta WRC) [B14]
8 Fred Milne/Jamie Edwards (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [B13]
9 Tom Preston/Andrew Roughead (Skoda Fabia R5) [B14]
10 Martyn England/Dawn England (Ford Fiesta R5+) [B14]
11 Matthew Robinson/Sam Collis (Subaru Impreza WRC S10) [B14]
12 Peter M Stephenson/Ian Windress (Ford Focus WRC 06) [B14]
14 Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Subaru Impreza N12B) [NR4]
15 Patrick Naylor/Ian Lawrence (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [NR4]
16 Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [NR4]
17 Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) [N4]
18 Richard Hill/Steffan Evans (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [NR4]
19 Aaron McClure/Michael Gilbey (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [NR4]
20 Simon Rogers/Wyn Davies (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) [B13]
21 Daniel Moss/Sam Allen (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [NR4]
22 Michael Threlfall/Mulberry Threlfall-Eyres (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) [B13]
24 Toni Carannante/Simon Coates (Subaru Impreza Sti) [B13]
25 Peter Smith/John Millington (Subaru Impreza) [B13]
26 Peter Baylis/Anthony Blyth (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [B13]
27 Jon Caen/Mark Morris (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3) [B13]
28 Stuart Haskins/Derek Davies (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) [B13]
29 Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor (Citroen DS3 R3) [B11]
30 Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham (Ford Escort RS) [B12]
31 Theo Bengry/Les Forsbrook (Ford Escort Mk 2) [H3]
32 David Bennett/Alistair McNeil (Vauxhaul Corsa) [B10]
34 Jody Bowcott/David Millard (Ford Escort MkII) [B11]
35 Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (Talbot Sunbeam) [1400S]
36 Tony Williams/Karen Phelps (Ford Escort RS) [B11]
37 Paul Street/Ian Jones (Ford Escort MK2) [H3]
38 James Hutchings/James Hood (Vauxhall Nova) [B10]
39 Richard Barrow/Andrew Richards (Subaru Impreza) [B14]
40 Scott Partridge/Keegan Rees (Subaru Impreza) [B13]
41 Peter Henson/Matt Neal (Landrover Discovery) [B13]
42 Barry Jordan/James Gratton-Smith (Hillman Avenger BRM) [B10]
44 Kieran Darrington/Simon Jones (Vauxhall Corsa) [1400S]
45 Andy Davison/Tom Murphy (Talbot Sunbeam VXR) [B11]
46 Rob Dennis/Andrew Boswell (Ford Escort Mk2) [H3]
47 Andy Reid/TBC (Seat Cordoba SX4) [B13]
48 Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair (Ford Fiesta ST) [N3]
49 Bob Vardy/Simn John Rogers (Ford Fiesta R2 +) [B10]
51 Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth (Ford Fiesta) [N3]
52 Alasdair Currie/Steven Brown (Ford Fiesta) [N3]
54 Jon Ambler/Doug Chivers (Ford Fiesta ST) [N3]
55 Harry Threlfall/Alfie Threlfall (Renault Twingo R1) [RF1.6]
56 William Hill/Richard Crozier (Ford Fiesta R2) [B10]
57 David Ashburn/Jonny TAD Evans (Mitsubishi EVO X) [NR4]
58 Graham Waite/Mike Reynolds (Toyota Corolla) [B10]
59 Chris Tite/Jen Tite (Ford Escort MK2) [B10]
60 Robert Smith/Frankie Hillman (Ford Escort) [B10]
61 Simon Slade/Steve Elliott (Vauxhall ADAM Cup) [B10]
62 Stephen James Richards/Ken Bowman (Ford Escort) [H2]
64 Jeremy Wells/Martin Saunders (Ford Escort MK I) [H3]
65 Christopher Jones/Moira Jones (Mitsubishi Evo I) [B13]
66 Carl Davies/Richard Jones (Nissan Micra) [1400C]
67 Steve Ward/Mike Crawford (Ford Escort MK2) [H2]
68 Simon Pickering/Siobhan Pugh (Ford Escort Mk 1) [H2]
69 Spencer Price/Katie Lee (Landrover Freelander) [B13]
70 David Peters/Brad Down (Subaru Impreza) [B13]
71 Steve Leigh/Darren Mathews (Ford Escort Mk2) [B12]
72 Gavin Rogers/Georgina Clark (Ford Escort) [B11]
74 Simon Brace/Glyn Thomas (Ford Fiesta R2) [B10]
75 Tom Easson/Abigail Haycock (Ford Fiesta St) [N3]
76 Martin Auskerin/Jon Ross (Ford Fiesta) [N3]
77 Mathew Davies/Mark Crisp (Ford Fiesta ST) [N3]
78 Jan Budge/Bruce Lindsay (Subaru Impreza) [B13]
79 Alan Holly/David Thorpe (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4) [B13]
80 Stuart Spyer/Peter Williams (Vauxhall Corsa) [1400S]
81 Rob Evett/Michael Evett (MG ZR) [1400C]
82 Ed Fossey/Chris Sharpe-Simkiss (Toyota Yaris) [1400S]
84 Tommi Meadows/Ian Oakey (Ford KA) [1400S]
85 Chris Hickman/Alex Stanbury (MG ZR) [RF1.4]
86 Bill Paynter/Andy Hollingham (Peugeot 106 Rallye) [1400C]
87 Peter Hedges/Alan Jones (Vauxhall Nova) [1400C]
88 James Webber/Sam Webber (Subaru Impreza) [B13]
89 Chris Henson/Stuart White (Ford Escort) [B11]
90 James Weaver/Teresa Butler (MG ZR) [1400C]
91 Aron Brown/Cal McElhinney (Ford Escort RS) [B11]
92 George Morrison/Jon Quintrell (MG ZR) [1400C]
94 Rich Cole/Matthew Nicholas (Ford Escort Mk2) [1400S]
95 Steve Deeley/Alan Proudman (Peugeot 205 1.6 Gti) [B10]
97 Elspeth Rodgers/Jordan Murphy (Ford Fiesta ST) [N3]
98 David Ginn/Mark Hughes (TBA ) 
99 Sheldon Furby/Carrie Rogers (MG ZR) [RF1.4]
100 Nikola Brown/Mike Brown (Peugeot 205) 
101 Craig Cameron/Jamie Vaughan (Subaru Impreza) [B13]
102 Ron Hall/Paul Hudson (Subaru Impreza) [B11]
104 Ian Woollacott/Simon Stanbury (MG ZR) [RF1.4]
105 Mike Truman/Leanne Harris (Subaru Imprezea) [B13]
106 Peter Adams/Tim Chapman (Peugeot 205 1.6 Gti) [B10]
107 Alex Waterman/Harry Thomas (Ford Fiesta R2) [B10]
108 Stephen Edmond/Andy Edkins (Vauxhall Astra Gsi) [B11]
109 William Gerald Slater/Gerald Robert Slater (Ford KA) [1400C]
110 Blair Thompson/John Cage (Land Rover Wolf XD) [M1]
111 Clive Allford/Alice Bancroft (Land Rover Wolf XD) [M1]
112 Andy Carter/James Sunderland (Land Rover Wolf XD) [M1]
114 Chris McCarty/Zac Smart (Land Rover Wolf XD) [M1]
115 Ben de Ronde/Scott Quinn (Land Rover Wolf XD) [M1]
116 Tyrone Westall/Ashley Hobson (Land Rover Wolf XD) [M1]
Popular West Country event secures seaside resort and revised route
The popular seaside resort of Minehead will once again play host to the only loose surface stage rally in the South of the UK as the Somerset Stages Rally returns to the town for its 8th April event.
As the event releases its regulations this week, organisers confirmed their offering of 42 competitive stage miles in the Brendon Hills and Exmoor National Park. The event will welcome competitors from the Ravenol BTRDA Rally Series, MAXXIS Tyres MSA English Rally Championship and REIS Motorsport Insurance ASWMC Loose Surface Rally Championship.
Comprising of familiar forest roads on Exmoor, the 2017 Somerset Stages Rally will also consist of the unique 3.73 mile test along the all-asphalt Porlock Toll Road (run twice) which inevitably provides a challenge for the predominately loose surface contenders. Once again The Beach Hotel will play host to Rally Headquarters during the event and rally teams will base themselves along the Minehead seafront for the scheduled services throughout the day.
Over 100 of the UK's best rally drivers will head to the West Country to tackle the rally which was named as the best ASWMC event in 2016 and event organisers Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club and Minehead Motor Club believe they have all the ingredients for a great rally for both competitors and fans alike.
"We have a fantastic base for the rally thanks to West Somerset District Council, Somerset County Council, Minehead Town Council and the Minehead Events Group" says Jason Hayes Clerk of the Course. "The town provides an excellent backdrop to host the rally and certainly creates a fantastic atmosphere during the weekend. Competitors and fans love it as well with spectators being able to get up close to the teams at the seafront service area as well as the start and finish celebrations along the seafront."
And the stages are promising to provide crews with a challenge on all of the events 14 stages. "We have tried to provide a bit of variety again this year and have come up with a format that means we can have a few longer stages. Add to that, the challenging Porlock Toll Road stages and the event should provide both seasoned competitors and newcomers to the sport a thrilling day's motor sport."
There will be plenty of opportunities for fans to get a slice of the action with a Spectator Stage in the Kennisham forest complex, offering the chance to see the action twice during the day.
More information is available at www.somersetstagesrally.com and you can keep up to date with all the latest news on the event Facebook and Twitter feeds.