Hambleton’s Simon Bowen and co-driver Richard Robinson defied dreadful weather to win the 2016 Legend Fires North West Stages rally on the Fylde coast over the weekend.
Blackpool Mayor Coun Peter Callow waved the cars off from the ceremonial start outside the Norbreck Castle Hotel on Friday evening.
The 110 crews tackled four short stages, including Lytham Hall and the North Promenade, that night and a further 20 the following day, some of them on the Fleetwood waterfront.
The first stage at Lytham Hall saw many retirements, including that of event sponsor John Stone, whose Ford Fiesta S2500 had alternator problems.
Fleetwood engineer Mark Holmes, who was driving Blackpool and the Fylde College’s supercharged Mini, also retired with drive shaft failure, and the crew’s attempted return on the Saturday was also unsuccessful as the engine overheated.
Far happier were two-time winner Tony Bardy and co-driver Neil Colman, who arrived back at the rally HQ with a six-second lead over Carnforth driver Arron Newby (Subaru Impreza) and co-driver Rob Fagg, having refitted the engine of their Ford Focus WRC in the early hours of Friday morning and started at the back of the field.
Having chosen the wrong tyres, local crew Bowen and Robinson were lying 12th after the Friday stages, 48 seconds adrift in their Impreza.
Saturday morning saw the crews tackle a loop of stages starting at Fleetwood, where spectators braved the conditions to see the cars battle the slippery surface.
The top three swapped positions all morning, with Bowen and Robinson arriving back in Blackpool for the lunchtime service with a slender 21-second lead over Bardy and Colman, whose power steering belt had come adrift going through standing water on the Weeton Barracks stage.
The afternoons loop of special stages started on North Promenade, where mistakes saw Bowen lose the lead to Bardy and then retake it by 20 seconds.
Back at Fleetwood docks in this ding-dong battle, Bardy hit a kerb, breaking two wheels and puncturing three tyres. He duly dropped into fifth play, some three minutes new leader Tristan Pye.
Pye’s lead was shortlived, and by the time the cars had left Weeton Barracks again, Bowen was back in front by 73 seconds, with Arron Newby holding second place.
Bowen and Robinson consolidated their lead with a no-risks approach over the final five stages to win the gruelling by 32 seconds.
Newby and Fagg held on for second place, with Bardy and Colman clinching third after a charge in the last stage.
The events chosen charity, Chorley-based Derian House, is set to benefit greatly from the event, with over £700 received in pre-event DVD orders alone. These can still be ordered via the official website www.nwstages.co.uk