2013 season rally report

Round 9, Cheviot Stages.

The final round of the 2013 championship, going into it at the head of the points table BUT with three other drivers still able to take the crown the pressure was on Damian to win a 4th straight driver’s championship.


After a brief shakedown on the main road on Saturday evening just to make sure the new seat was in the correct position, only a minor adjustment was needed and the team was ready for battle to commence at 8.30am on Sunday morning.


“Bleak” would be a good word to describe the military ranges on Sunday morning, damp roads shrouded in mist were going to offer a stern challenge for all concerned. With co-driver Elliott Edmondson returning to the left hand seat after the last successful outing in Wexford, the Focus WRC set fastest times on the first five stages, catching car 1 through the fog on ss2 even with a 1 minute gap on the start line, after which they had built up over a minute's advantage. With the other championship contenders falling by the wayside, Stephen Simpson and John Indri both retiring with mechanical failures and Paul Bird being off the pace all day and sliding into a ditch on the last stage incurring a stage maximum, they completed the remaining eight stages and took the victory they deserved by 2 minutes 20 seconds.


Despite an unwarranted judicial enquiry instigated by Paul Bird/Aled Davies protesting at the finish, they were eventually declared the rightful winners even with a 2 minute time penalty and Damian took his well deserved place in the Championship history books as the only driver to win four consecutive titles.


Can we make it 5 in 2014…?


Round 7, Wexford Stages Rally

After the disappointment with the non-finish on the Mewla, the pressure was really on for a good result in Southern Ireland on this event. Another new co-driver joined the Get Connected/Accident Advice Solicitors team, coming highly recommended by John Stone after recently completing the Mewla in 4th overall in the Skoda Fabia WRC, 19 year old Elliott Edmondson from Milton Keynes paired up with Damian for the first time.


A slightly hesitant start, including an overshoot at a crossroads on ss1, saw the team arrive in first service after ss2 already 46s down on local crew James and James Stafford in their Darrian T90 GTR. More importantly though, the Focus WRC was leading the championship registered crews, in front of the two main rivals, Paul Bird and Stephen Simpson.


Setting fastest time on ss3 now Damian was confident in Elliott’s pacenote delivery and third fastest time in ss4, second service was reached 47s behind Stafford BUT 22s in front of Bird and 58s in front of Simpson. Stage 5 saw Bird’s retirement from the event after suffering a puncture and the team ended Day 1 54s behind Stafford and 54s in front of Simpson.


These positions remained the same throughout the six stages on Day 2, fastest times on ss7, 8 and 9 only saw the Focus decrease the Darrian’s lead by 4s but increased the gap to Simpson to 1 min 38s. The decision was made at last service after ss10 to back off, settle for 2nd overall and maximum championship points and cruise through the last two stages.


With two rounds of the championship remaining and both Damian and Steve Simpson dropping Round 8, the Patriot Stages in Caerwent to comply with championship rules, the championship will be settled on the Cheviot Stages on Otterburn in October. With 1.25 points being awarded on this round, Damian’s 4 point lead going into the last round could be overhauled, Paul Bird can compete on the Patriot Stages so a strong result there will help his bid for championship honours.


An exciting finale is on the cards….


Round 6, Mewla National Rally

Heading into this event leading the championship for the first time this season, the pressure was on for another good result.


Making a return to rallying from a long lay-off, Tim Sturla was co-driving on this occasion, his first event for over 2 years and the first time in the Get Connected/Accident Advice Solicitors Focus WRC.


A good quality entry meant winning the event was going to be a stiff challenge, with Paul Bird failing to show once again, beating Steve Simpson would be the most important task to stay ahead in the championship battle. Peter Lloyd however proved to be the fastest man on the day, leading from start to finish and taking maximum championship points in the Subaru S14 WRC.


With Simpson making a couple of errors during the morning stages with a spin and an overshoot the Focus was comfortably in front of the main championship rival and holding on to 2nd overall with two stages left when it all went wrong on ss10, a very heavy landing after jumping over a bridge flat in 6th gear on the Cilieni Track resulted in losing all drive and the usually very reliable Focus coasted to a halt at the side of the road. The only consolation from the championship point of view is that Steve Simpson dropped from what would have then been 2nd overall to 10th overall with a loss of turbo boost through stages 10 and 11.


With three rounds of the championship left and with both Damian and Steve Simpson having to miss one round due to championship rules, we now go to Wexford in Southern Ireland for Round 7 and what is bound to be a hard fought battle over 12 stages and 2 days to see who will go into the last round, the Cheviot Stages on Otterburn in October with the best chance of taking the title.


Paul Bird could also still spoil the party, will he start the rally in Wexford....?


Round 5, Tyneside Stages

Having won this event for the past two years and with James Morgan in the co-driver’s seat the whole team was hoping for the first (long overdue) overall win of the 2013 season.


Stiff competition was expected to come from Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Subaru S12 WRC and so it proved on the first stage, dropping 7s to the Impreza crew. Taking 1s back on ss2 then the top crews beating the bogey time on ss3 we arrived at first service 6s down. Not the start we had hoped for. The Focus was lacking grip on the rear, dropping the ride height by 5mm cured the problem and a big push on ss4 resulted in nearly overshooting one triangle then spinning at another one, losing 10s, arriving at the stage finish 12s down on Simpson, the gap now standing at 18s. Clipping a bridge on ss5 resulting in a rear left puncture didn’t help matters…


The bogey times became a big issue with the top crews beating them on half of the stages and therefore being credited with identical times.


The Focus WRC was now looking doubtful for a third win in a row, embroiled in a battle for second place with Simon Mauger/Brian Cammack in their Mk2 Escort.


However…. the Subaru WRC cried enough on the penultimate stage, ss11, the front right hub shearing off, leaving the car stranded on three wheels. We just managed to hold on to the lead through the last stage, winning the event by just 2s and making it a hat-trick of wins on this event, 2011, 2012 and 2013.


Damian now leads the driver’s championship for the first time this season. We go to round 6 next, The Mewla National on Epynt, once again starting from the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells, looking for another victory to add to 2008 and 2012.


Round 4, ALMC Stages

With James Morgan back in the team we headed to Dublin looking for a win and 30 championship points, this being the first event with our new sponsor, Accident Advice Solicitors on board. With three loops of three high speed stages, very warm weather and a quality entry it was never going to be easy…

The Focus WRC got off to a good start, running second on the road proved challenging on the first loop as the roads seemed surprisingly slippery, we came into first service after ss3 leading by 2s from Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Subaru S12 WRC with Paul Bird/Aled Davies in their newer Focus WRC only a further 1s behind. A stall at a tight hairpin on ss2 dropped us 7s, a seemingly small amount of time that was going to cost us dearly later on.


The second loop of the same stages was just as competitive, the top 3 remained the same but in a slightly different order, Paul Bird leading by just 1s from Damian/James with Simpson in third, 5s behind us. It was now all to play for on the final loop, ss7 both the Focuses set exactly the same time of 6 mins 7s, dropping just 1s to Simpson, then again on ss8 the same joint fastest time of 5 min 57s which meant going into the last stage 1s apart. Both cars gave it their all on the last stage, Bird/Davies taking the win by going 5s faster, winning by 6s after a hard battle, that stall on ss2 now making a big difference.


You can’t make mistakes at this level, to win everything has to be spot on.



Next round is the Tyneside Stages on Otterburn, August 11th, we have won the last three rallies we have contested on the Northumberland military range, we really need to win this one!


Round 3, Jim Clark National Rally

One of the team's favourite events in the championship calendar, we headed North to Duns looking for a third win to add to the victories in 2010 and 2011, hoping to improve on last year's 2nd place.


Another new co-driver for this event, the experienced Yorkshire man Craig Thorley joined the team. After the spectator stage around Duns town centre we headed to Abbey St Bathans for the first proper stage and set second fastest time, being beaten convincingly by local driver and last year's winner Euan Thorburn in his older Focus WRC.


Lying in 2nd overall overnight after most of the top cars beat the bogie time on SS3 we looked forward to having a big push on Saturday. With a stage on the first loop cancelled due to a shortage of marshalls, we went into service still lying 2nd overall.


On the road section after service the usually very reliable Focus had a rare mechanical failure, the clutch seizing and we parked on the side of the main road, game over.

Very poor sportsmanship was displayed by John Indri, driving past pumping his arm out of the window - there is no place for this behaviour in our sport.


We now head to Dublin for Round 4, the ALMC Stages on July 7th, nothing less than an overall win and maximum championship points will do to get our title challenge back on track.


Round 2, Manx National Rally

Round 2 of the championship - the Manx National, probably the most challenging event in the championship, very fast, very bumpy closed roads on the Isle of Man and another new co-driver, Darren Garrod.


Intercom issues on the runs through the shakedown stage suddenly got much worse on the startline of SS1 when with two minutes before we were due to start the microphone completely failed in Darren's helmet, Damian couldn't hear anything. Quick thinking from Darren saved the day, swapping helmets so Damian could hear the pacenotes.


Fastest times on stages 3, 4 and 5 saw the Focus WRC lying in 3rd overall overnight only 8.1 seconds off the lead after SS8 was cancelled due to an accident on the first running of the stage. This became 2nd overall on the first stage on Saturday morning when Melvyn Evans dropped time due to a misted windscreen, the conditions were very challenging, wet, slippery roads with lots of standing water.


It all went wrong on SS12 when an error in the pacenotes (a chicane that wasn't there) resulted in a stall against a bank and a loss of approx 1 minute, the fight to win the event was over. A double puncture on SS18 dropped another minute so it just became a case of bringing the car home in 3rd overall, cruising through the last two stages. This is the third time that we have finished 3rd overall on the Manx National, we'll be back next year to try and win it again!


Tour of Caerwent, March

The debut of the Mk 2 Escort and another new co-driver for the Get Connected Rally Team, Jonathan Griffiths from Abergavenny coming out of retirement after a 5 year lay-off from the sport. This was a test event for the car, a non-championship rally to see if everything worked correctly. The event highlighted a severe lack of traction, the 345bhp Millington Diamond engine still causing wheel-spin in 4th gear making the car extremely difficult to drive competitively.


We finished the event 9th overall, the Proflex dampers will be re-valved before the next outing to make the car more compliant and tractable, hopefully the next event will be the Harry Flatters on Epynt which we won last year in the Focus WRC.


Round 1, Tour of Epynt

Re-united with 2010 champion co-driver Craig Drew for the first round of the championship the team was hoping to start the season with a win, this is the only rally on Epynt that Damian hasn’t won overall in the past.


Too slow a start caused by lack of seat time since the end of last season meant that after 6 stages the Focus WRC was trailing Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Subaru S12 WRC by 24s, a mistake by Simpson hitting a chicane and a massive push from Damian and Craig on the last stage saw the deficit reduced by 24s so both cars finished on the same time, the 1st overall position given to the Subaru crew due to their faster time on the first stage.


2nd overall for the Focus, a result which should have been one place better given that the Subaru failed to correctly negotiate part of the route on SS6, gaining a time advantage of approx 8 seconds, but the organisers chose not to penalise the misdemeanour.


We’ll have to wait until 2014 to win the Tour of Epynt….