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….

Rally Report Patriot Stages 30th September 2012

The aim for Round 8 was a third victory on the Patriot Stages at the de-commissioned WW2 naval munitions factory between Chepstow and Newport to add to 2002 and 2011. Overall victory and maximum points would bring the co-driver's title to the Get Connected Rally Team, retaining the championship for James Morgan.

The main competition was expected to come from Peter Lloyd/Patrick Walsh in their Subaru S14 WRC and Simon Mauger/Brian Cammack in their Mk2 Escort, the Subaru's challenge for overall honours faded on the first stage when the car refused to run properly due to an exhaust over filled with silencing material, Lloyd/Walsh dropping over 2 mins struggling through the stage.

A big push through SS1 gave us a comfortable 22s lead, it was then a case of maintaining the lead through the following 6 stages through this tricky venue, tight, twisty roads with curbs ever present ready to catch you out... 

Everything was going to plan until SS6, when not paying enough attention to the co-driver's notes, Damian decided to turn left instead of right in the middle of the stage, hit the front of the Focus WRC into a wall trying to turn the car around, stalled twice and lost approximately 25s getting back onto the correct route. Starting the last stage with a depleted lead of 16s, a good, steady run saw the team take victory from Mauger/Cammack by 22s, the same gap we had opened over car 5 (Dave Willett/John Davies) after SS1.

Win number 17 for the Focus WRC over the last 3 years, 3 MSA Asphalt Championships and only one retirement due to mechanical failure - a fantastic record and a tribute to the preparation skills of Paul Benn and his team in Cockermouth. The car is now for sale as a new challenge beckons for 2013 - can the championship be won for the first time since 1985 in a two wheel drive car.... ?

Rally Report Mewla National Rally 26th August 2012

Round 7 of the MSA Asphalt Championship and the third and final round of the Epynt Challenge started from the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells. This has been a kind start/finish venue in the past, Damian sealing his third consecutive Welsh Tarmac Championship title here in 2002, winning the event overall in 2008 and winning his first MSA Asphalt title with second overall in 2010.

With Stephen Simpson being the only other driver capable of winning the championship with three rounds to run it should have been a good battle all day on the fast military range, this came to nothing however when an electrical fault meant the Subaru S12’s engine would not start so never left the showground. This gave Damian MSA Asphalt Championship number 3 before the start of the first stage. Pulling out a 5s advantage over car 1, Peter Lloyd and Gwynfor Jones, in their Subaru S14 WRC on SS1 was a great start, this turned into a huge lead of 48s by the end of SS2 when Peter and Gwynfor unfortunately hit three sheep towards the end of the stage at high speed causing terminal damage to the Subaru and ending their rally.

With 7 stages to go it was now a case of managing the lead and getting to the end to collect maximum co-driver championship points for James and to win the Epynt Challenge (to add to 2009 and 2010.) Three times through the 14 miles of SS8 we had sheep run across the road and at the end of the stage the bracket at the bottom of the handbrake snapped on a hairpin. With only the 3 miles of SS9 to go with a 46s lead we just drove through to win the rally by 33s – the 16th win in the Focus WRC.

The next round is the Patriot Stages in Caerwent at the end of September, a maximum score here will retain the co-driver’s title for James, hopefully we can repeat last year’s result and win the rally overall.

Rally Report Tyneside Stages 12th August 2012

Round 6 of the championship – the fast, bumpy roads of the Otterburn military range in Northumberland and re-united with 2010 championship winning co-driver Craig Drew to attempt back to back wins on the Tyneside Stages.

In an attempt to improve the Focus WRC’s handling and speed the rear springs were changed for stiffer units before the event, this went disastrously wrong approximately 6 miles in to SS1 when the car bottomed out after landing over a flat in 6th gear jump and spun off the road backwards, coming to rest in a ditch. Thinking the rally was over, we managed to extricate the car after watching Melvyn Evans/Aled Davies drive past in their Subaru WRC S12b and drove to the end of the stage, dropping 48s to the leaders in the Subaru. Luckily we went straight to service after stage 1, where Paul Benn and his team re-fettled the car, attempting to repair the damage underneath the rear of the car as best they could in 30 minutes and changed the rear springs back to the softer set-up.

With a big time deficit it was now going to be an uphill struggle to win the rally, fastest times on both SS2 and 3 (beating the bogey time on SS3) saw us take 2s and 5s respectively from the Subaru so still leaving a 41s gap to the lead. Due to a technical infringement over noise levels, the Subaru of Melvyn Evans/Aled Davies was to take no further part in the event, leaving us with a comfortable lead – however the remainder of the day was not going to be straightforward….

As a result of spinning backwards in 6th gear, the strain on the transmission had damaged 6th gear which was now rattling, stages 4 and 5 were driven without using 6th, probably losing half a minute on each stage due to the lack of top speed. In service after SS5 the gearbox was inspected and we were instructed not to flat change from 5th to 6th, to lift off the throttle and use the clutch. This seemed to work ok and 6th gear held out for the rest of the event.

Going into the 9th and last stage, 17 miles with a 1 min 46s lead it should have been easy…. BUT only a few miles in the front left tyre started to deflate causing the car to understeer and veer left under braking, we had to then be very careful, driving slower and slower throughout the stage as the tyre lost more pressure and finally started to delaminate. The last mile was driven at 30mph with the tyre ripping apart, enough to still win the rally by 1 minute 7s and take maximum championship points for the third time this year.

The Focus now needs some serious repair work over the next fortnight before August 26th, Round 7, The Mewla on Epynt where a top 2 result will win the MSA Asphalt Championship for the third year in a row and also the King of Epynt to add to 2009/2010.

Rally Report ALMC Stages 15th July 2012

Round 5 of the championship means a trip over the water to Dublin for 9 stages on closed roads.

The event format is 3 loops of 3 stages with the first stage of each loop being the longest at just under 15 miles and unfortunately for us the fastest with lots of long straights. The Focus struggles to match the top speed of the Subaru WRCs and we knew it would be an uphill battle when we saw the stage times for SS1. Fastest time on the more technical stage 2 and a good run through stage 3 saw us return to the City North Hotel for first service in 3rd place overall behind Melvyn Evans/Aled Davies and James Belton/Mark Glennerster in their respective Subaru S12b and S11.

The championship was about to be turned on its head however as both Subarus were given written notification as they entered service that they were being excluded from scoring championship points on this event for a technical infringement, not having the correct size mudflaps on both cars despite being warned the day before at scrutineering.

We were therefore promoted to first place in the championship points scoring positions with a comfortable gap to Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh in another Subaru and maintained this position through the second loop of stages, a tricky loop due to a heavy rain shower that affected stages 5 and 6.

We moved into 2nd overall on the rally with a strong time on SS8, still maintaining first championship position. This all went wrong however just over a mile from the end of the last stage when the fly by wire throttle motor failed which leaves the car with nothing more than engine tickover. A frantic effort by James Morgan to exit the car, open the bonnet and change the throttle system over to a manual setting meant we dropped nearly a minute and a half before we re-started and two overall positions were also dropped. Finishing 4th overall but more importantly 2nd championship position now means that are still leading with 2 wins, 2 seconds and 1 third in the drivers' championship. There are four rounds remaining, the next one on August 12th, the Tyneside Stages on Otterburn which we won last year.

Rally Of The Midlands - 22nd/23rd June 2012

Round 4, the Rally of the Midlands, has been kind to us over the past two seasons, 1st overall in 2010 and 2nd overall in 2011. Moving to a new base at Mallory Park race circuit for 2012 but using similar stages to the last 2 years we were aiming for another win and maximum points score, to take full advantage of Melvyn Evans/Aled Davies not competing on this round of the championship due to the shoulder injury sustained on the Jim Clark.

With 5 stages on Friday evening followed by 19 stages on Saturday at 5 different venues this is a hard event on both the car and crew. The main threat, as expected, came from Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Subaru S12 WRC, after the first 5 stages it couldn't be any closer, we were tied on time for the overnight lead but already pulling away from everyone else. A big push on the first loop of 8 stages on Saturday morning, especially on the first long stage in MIRA, meant we returned to the service area at Mallory Park with a substantial lead of 1 min 23s, enough to manage the gap for the remainder of the event.

After another loop of the same 8 stages we were leading by 1 min 32s with just 3 stages remaining. Dropping just 6s through these last stages we arrived at the finish with a winning margin of 1 min 26s and more importantly maximum championship points. On dropped scores we are now equal with Melvyn Evans with 2 maximums each, we are however leading the championship over Steve Simpson due to also having a 2nd and a 3rd place score to add to the wins.

It's all to play for on the next round, the ALMC Stages in Dublin on July 15th, we will be aiming for a repeat of the 2010 result on this event, 1st overall...

Jim Clark National Rally - 1st/2nd June 2012

Round 3, the Jim Clark National Rally, has proved to be a good event for the Get connected Focus World Rally Car over the last two years, winning the event overall in 2010 and 2011.

Three wins in a row was the aim and to take maximum championship points in the process and get the championship defence back on track. The main opposition for championship points was expected to come from the winner of the opening two rounds, Melvyn Evans in the Subaru S12b, however an uncharacteristic mistake on the very first corner of the rally instantly dropped 10s. With only two short stages around Duns town centre on Friday evening, the rally proper started on Saturday morning with a Jim Clark Rally classic stage, 16 miles through Abbey St Bathans. Stand-in co-driver Eurig Davies did a great job on the notes and fastest overall stage time saw the Focus WRC take the rally lead. Later in the event Melvyn suffered a dislocated shoulder and a puncture, not a good day in the office which ended in retirement from the event.

After SS6 we were second overall by just 2s to local driver Euan Thorburn in an older Focus WRC, an incorrect tyre choice for the remaining four stages saw us drop out of contention for the rally win however we comfortably held onto second overall and more importantly maximum points as Thorburn is not registered for the championship. Another win is needed on Round 4, the Rally of the Midlands to draw level with Melvyn on maximum scores and extend the championship lead.

Manx National Rally - 11th/12th May 2012

Round 2 of the championship saw the team arriving on the Isle of Man fresh from winning the Corinium Stages at Down Ampney (an ex WW2 RAF base.)
Up against the newer Ford Focus of previous double Manx winner Paul Bird and three times previous winner Melvyn Evans in his Subaru S12b it was always going to be a tough task to win and so it proved.

We were consistently third over the whole event, after some great stages in the dark on Friday evening we were given a rude wake-up call on Saturday morning when we arrived at the grandstand to discover a hydraulic oil leak in the engine bay. After 40 minutes of frantic work by the P&R Benn service team the car was ready to go out on the stages, this problem was due to cause problems later in the day however...

Most of the Saturday stages were quite short, stages 18 and 20 were the longest and on both of these the dashboard warning lights came on indicating that the gearbox oil temperature was climbing too high, 147 c at one point. This was due to the oil cooler being bypassed to remove the damaged pipe, we had to back off on both of these stages to keep the temperature at a non-terminal level, we had enough time in hand over 4th place John Stone in his Skoda Fabia WRC to retain 3rd place overall behind Melvyn Evans and Paul Bird, Melvyn winning his 4th Manx National Rally.

We now go to Round 3, the Jim Clark Rally in 2nd place in the championship behind Melvyn, needing a repeat of the 2010 and 2011 victories on this event to regain some ground in the championship battle. Eurig Davies will be joining the team on this event, replacing James Morgan in the co-driver's seat due to James's commitments in the British Rally Championship.

Tour of Epynt - 11th March 2012

We have joined forces with REIS to sponsor the championship so we headed to Llandovery for the first round of the REIS Get Connected MSA Asphalt Championship 2012 hoping to make it a hat-trick of titles, adding 2012 to the 2010 and 2011 championship wins.

Once again using the Ford Focus WRC 05 fresh from a winter re-build at P & R Benn's but with new co-driver Dave Engwell for the day (James Morgan had to sit this one out with a broken ankle) we had a great start setting fastest time by 8s on the slippery first stage. At first service after SS2 we were leading by 7s from 2009 champion, Melvyn Evans with Aled Davies alongside, in his Subaru S12b WRC. As the temperature increased through the morning we didn't react fast enough with tyre choice, staying on too soft a compound and paying the price through dropping both time and rubber... this is what happens to new tyres in 15 miles if they're too soft for the conditions: 

By the end of SS4 we had lost second place to Peter Lloyd/Ryland James in their Subaru S14 WRC, however a strong run through the three long stages in the afternoon eventually put us 14s in front of the S14, back into second overall, taking second place points in both the MSA Asphalt Championship and the King of Epynt Challenge.

Round 2 on the Isle of Man will be another tough challenge, Melvyn Evans won the event last year whilst we retired from second place, a win is needed to start mounting a serious challenge for that third title.

Rally Report - Cheviot Stages - 23rd October 2011

Due to the cancellation of the RDP Autumn Rally on Epynt, meaning we could not defend the King of Epynt title having missed the Harry Flatters Rally in July, the Get Connected team travelled north to compete on the last round of the REIS MSA Asphalt Championship, the Cheviot Stages on Otterburn. The expected strong challenge from Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Subaru S12 came on the first two wet, slippery stages, the red Focus lying 3rd overall, 17s behind the Subaru WRC.

A change to softer tyres and damper settings showed an improvement over the following stages, the first fastest stage time coming on ss5, taking 9s from Simpson's 21s lead. An overshoot on SS7 followed by a puncture on SS8 cost Simpson the lead, now trailing the Focus WRC by 14s. Damian stalled twice in SS9, both times on tight square lefts, thankfully only losing 2s to the Subaru, a further 2s were lost in SS10, the only problems in this stage were white and woolly, two sheep stood in the middle of the road on a fast uphill section causing a lift of the throttle.

SS11, 14 miles and a 10s lead - maximum attack all the way through gave us another fastest stage time, 11s quicker than Simpson/Walsh and the rally victory by 21s, a difficult win due to the conditions and the stiff competition, not only from Simpson/Walsh but also from Michael Glendinning/Paul Hughes in their Subaru Impreza until the gearbox cried enough not long after the start on SS8.

A great way to finish the season, 122 points for Damian and 125 for James (best 5 scores to count, 25 points for a win) and the 11th overall win in the Focus, once again meticulously prepared by Paul Benn and his team. We'll be back to attempt a hat-trick of championships in 2012, the last and only time this was done was by Pete Doughty in 1994/1995/1996.

Rally Report - Patriot Stages, Caerwent - 25th September 2011

With the championship at stake we were expecting a hard battle over the seven stages at this unforgiving venue. Having previously won four rallies at Caerwent, Damian knew what to expect. You have to be neat, tidy and avoid all the kerbs and low brick walls at this decommissioned MoD munitions factory near Newport in South Wales.

Simon Mauger/Brian Cammack, starting at Car 1, were always the biggest threat for the rally win and also the championship title, a fast start for both cars saw equal times on the wet, slippery first stage and already pulling away from the rest of the field. The Get Connected Focus took an 8s lead on Stage 2, followed by another tie on Stage 3. This stage was stopped due to an accident involving a car further down the field, the time taken to treat injuries meant a long delay and the subsequent cancellation of the last stage, Stage 7.

With the weather rapidly improving and the roads drying, Stage 4 saw the championship resolved when unfortunately for Simon and Brian their Mk 2 Escort stopped with throttle problems and retired from the event, instantly giving the Get Connected Team the REIS MSA Asphalt Championship. The retirement also gave us a big lead over the rest of the field so we could drive carefully through the last 2 stages, without taking any risks, to win the rally by 1 min 39s from John Indri/Dave Engwell in their Darrian T90 GTR.

James Morgan has become the youngest champion since the championship started in the 1980s, at only 20 years old he has done a fantastic job all year and hopefully will be back for more in 2012 !

This is the 10th win for the Focus over the last 2 years, a testament to the preparation skills of Paul Benn and his team in Cockermouth, Cumbria.

A big thank you also to Kumho tyres and Vital Equipment/Carless Fuels for their support, all that’s left to do now this season is attempt to win the King of Epynt title for the 3rd year running on the RDP Autumn Rally on October 23rd.

Rally Report - Dick Bailey Wexford Stages - 10/11th September 2011

Next stop - the Sunny South East of Ireland for the Dick Bailey Wexford Stages. After finishing 2nd overall in 2009 and 1st overall in 2010 we were looking for another win on this great event on its 40th anniversary, but it was not all plain sailing for the current MSA Asphalt Championship leaders.

Campaigning the Ford Focus WRC05 Damian and James pulled out a 17 second lead after the opening 2 stages but a driveshaft problem on SS3 dropped them to 2nd behind Sebastian Ling and only 6 seconds ahead of Roy White in 3rd. The crew managed to make repairs to get the car back to service where the team rectified the problem. Damian went on the attack over the remaining 2 stages of the day and ended the day back in the lead by 16 seconds over Sebastian Ling.

Day 2 saw no let-up in Damian’s attack, taking another 24 seconds out of Ling on the opening stage to extend the lead to 40 seconds, SS8 Damian backed off, being careful through the muddy, slippery farmyards that were a feature of this stage, but still took 3 seconds out of Ling. Another push on SS9 gained another 25 seconds which allowed Damian to cruise to the finish and win the 2011 Dick Bailey Wexford Stages by a margin of 1 minute 39 seconds with fastest times on 9 of the 12 stages, becoming the only overseas driver to win the event two years in a row in its 40 year history.

The team now heads to Caerwent on September 25th for the penultimate round of the MSA Asphalt Championship with a clear goal - finishing in front of Simon Mauger will clinch the championship. Caerwent holds fond memories, the first time Damian won a class award was here in 1998 in a Road Rally class Mk 2 Escort and the first overall win was also in Caerwent in June 2000, driving a 2.0 litre Darrian T90.

With 4 overall wins at the venue in the past we need to add a 5th and the 10th win for the red Focus....

Rally Report - Mewla National Rally - 28th August 2011

Back on home ground for Round 7 of the championship we were hoping to do what we did in 2008 and win the Mewla National Rally overall.

This was made extremely difficult by a slow front left puncture on the first loop of 2 stages, dropping 22 seconds behind the eventual winners, Peter Lloyd/Carl Sorensen in their Subaru S12. At this point we were also 13s behind our main championship rivals Simon Mauger/Brian Cammack.

A big push over the following stages saw the Get Connected Focus move up to 2nd overall, 15s ahead of Mauger with one stage remaining.

An overshoot on the last corner of the last stage, getting the car stuck between banks in a narrow section cost over 20s and second place, eventually finishing 5s behind Mauger, not the result we were looking for....

The team now heads to Round 8 in Caerwent on September 25th needing a win from this or Round 9 to guarantee the 2011 championship.

Rally Report - Tyneside Stages - 31st July 2011

A long trip North was the order of the day for Round 6 of the 2011 championship, Otterburn near the Scottish border.

With the driver not having been there for nine years and the co-driver never having competed there it was going to be difficult for the Get Connected Rally Team to compete against locals and championship regulars with more knowledge of the fast and bumpy MoD roads, especially as only one recce run was permitted.

A steady run over the first stage was not quick enough, 7s slower than John Indri/Dave Engwell in the Darrian but 2s quicker than car 1, last year's winners, Simon Mauger/Brian Cammack in their Mk 2 Escort.

Fastest times on stages 2 and 3 put the red Focus into the lead, but braking too early in stage 4 saw Simon Mauger take 9s back, meaning both cars now had equal times. We tied for time on ss5, still nothing in it. We managed to pull back 4s on ss6, losing 1s on ss7 so with two stages left we were leading by 3s. Another strong contender departed the fray on this loop, Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh losing the front right wheel on their Hyundai Accent WRC, pulling out of our way at a chicane towards the end of the stage.

A big push was now needed on ss8, halfway into the stage we could see we were catching the Escort. Unfortunately for Simon and Brian a halfshaft had snapped in the axle, we passed them as they limped to the stage finish, losing 53s and any chance of the win.

With one long 17 mile stage to go, we now had a 36s lead over the Subaru S11 of Dave Turnbull, so a steady run through, taking no chances, ensured the rally victory by 25s and maximum championship points - well worth the long trip up the motorway !!! 

Rally Report - ALMC - 17th July 2011

The City North Hotel in Dublin was the start venue for Round 5 of the championship, the ALMC Stages. Starting at car 1 after winning the event outright last year, the www.upgrademyorangemobile.co.uk Focus headed out into the Southern Irish countryside against stiff opposition, not only from championship regulars Stephen Simpson and Simon Mauger, but also from two young Irish drivers, Robert Barrable and Darren Gass. Both the latter drivers took the opportunity to register for the REIS Asphalt Championship in order to be featured in the TV coverage.

With new differential maps programmed into the car to improve traction but with no opportunity to test before the rally, the first 2 stages were a learning curve getting familiar with a slightly different driving technique. We started SS3 already 35s down on rally leader Darren Gass, but fastest time on this stage saw us arrive at first service in second place, 28s in arrears. The first loop of 3 stages saw many crews, including Simpson and Barrable, experience terminal problems and drop out of the battle.

In the ever changing conditions, fastest times on stages 5, 6 and 9 and joint fastest with Gass on stage 8 kept him honest throughout the rest of the event, but the damage had been done on the first two stages and at the finish the gap was still 30s. However, the team is now confident that the revised settings have made the car faster. 2nd place championship points has strengthened our lead at the top of the points table, Simon Mauger remains second overall after another strong finish in third place, just over 2 minutes behind us in Ireland.

Rally Report - Rally of the Midlands June 17th/18th

Round 4 of the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship saw the Get Connected Rally Team return to Hinkley, starting the Rally of the Midlands at Car 1. With 24 stages at 5 different venues over 2 days this is a challenging event for both the crew and the car.

Friday evening did not go too well, SS3 in Bramcote Barracks was cancelled by the organisers after the start marshalls failed to follow the correct procedure resulting in a potential time loss of 30s. The following 3 stages were not great, resulting in lying 4th overall overnight.

Saturday morning didn't start any better, a spin on the first stage of the day, SS7 (once again in Bramcote) dropped another 10 seconds. Throughout the day we moved up to 2nd overall after setting fastest times in all 4 visits to Merevale, we were however struggling on every visit to MIRA with a lack of top speed. The stages had many long straights, the Focus WRC has a top speed of approx 120mph - not enough for MIRA!

With 2 stages to go we were lying 37 seconds behind car 4, Simon Mauger/Brian Cammack. These last stages were in MIRA.... This time the stage was slightly more technical and at last we managed to set fastest time, 6 seconds quicker than Simon/Brian. With only 1 stage to go, 31 seconds was too much of a tall order, but it was nearly to be. Fuel pressure problems for car 4 on the last stage meant that the engine wouldn't rev properly, by the end of the stage the gap had been reduced to only 7 seconds....

The spin on the first stage in the morning had now cost us dear, but 2nd place in the rally and in the championship points now means that the we have taken the lead in the race for the 2011 championship, the next round is the ALMC Stages in Dublin on July 17th where we will once again lead the field away as Car 1 and can hopefully defend last year's win on this event.

Rally Report - Jim Clark National Rally - 27/28th May 2011

For the third round of the championship in the Scottish Borders the team was joined by another new co-driver, James Morgan.

Last year's champion, Craig Drew, filled the hot seat on Round 1 followed by 2003 World Champion Phil Mills on Round 2, no pressure on 20 year old James then... as John Indri told him while we waited for the start at Duns High School "What can possibly go wrong...?" Having received advice from former WRC co-driver Nicky Grist prior to the event (only his fourth rally on pacenotes) James was well prepared for the challenge ahead, to win the event and take maximum championship points.

A steady run around the spectator stage in Duns put us third overall, a push through SS2, Bothwell put the Focus WRC into the lead. SS3, Abbey St Bathans didn't go as well, having to swerve to miss a spectator who stepped into the road on a high speed section towards the end of the stage didn't help. Fourth overall overnight, 13s off the lead meant the win was still possible.

Four fastest stage times in a row on Saturday morning moved us into a 6.4s lead over Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh in their Subaru Impreza S12 WRC, a lead which was lost on SS12 after catching a slower car on the split in Eccles. Now 2s behind, maximum attack was the only way we were going to win. Pushing very hard on SS13, Swinton 2, we were lucky to get away with an overshoot into a field at the end of a long, bumpy straight, thankfully someone had kindly opened the gate.... even with the overshoot fastest time by 5s put us back into the lead by 3s, over the next 2 stages this was whittled down to 1.8s - too close for comfort with only one stage to go. Beating the Subaru by 3.4s over the last 12 miles guaranteed the victory for the second year running on the only closed roads event on the UK mainland, putting the championship title defence back on track.

James will now continue as co-driver for the rest of the season, the team is looking forward to Round 4, Rally of the Midlands and hopefully another win on June 18th.

Rally Report - Manx Rally - 6/7th May 2011

The Get Connected Rally Team was joined for Round 2 of the championship by 2003 World Champion co-driver, Phil Mills. Having retired from full-time, professional competition last year, Phil was returning to the sport "just for fun" but looking for a good result. The event started well with second fastest time on the opening stage around Port Erin, after 4 stages we were 4th overall BUT then the rain came on stage 5, the longest stage of the Friday evening. Dark, rain and slick tyres are not a good cocktail and we arrived at the end of Stage 5 both shaken and stirred after going off into a bank on a slippery downhill section, amazed to see we were still 4th overall.

The weather was much improved on Saturday morning, a great time on SS6 saw us move into 3rd overall, then half a mile into SS7 we passed the rally leader, Paul Bird stuck in a ditch. Having gone from 4th to 2nd in less than 2 stages a fantastic result was there for the taking, but it was not to be. Towards the end of SS7 the fly-by-wire throttle motor failed and the car ground to a halt, blocking the stage. A very disappointing end to the rally, but a privilege for the whole team to have a World Champion in the car for seven stages - Thank you Phil.

Rally Report - Tour of Epynt - 13th March 2011

Round 1 of both championships was the Tour of Epynt on March 13th, based in Brecon.

After 6 months out of the car, getting up to winning speed proved to be a tall order, however we did set fastest time on the penultimate stage before disaster nearly struck on the last stage. The left rear driveshaft broke 5 miles into the 15 mile stage and we had to nurse the car to the end of the stage, also suffering with a slipping clutch. 

We had enough time in hand to retain the second overall position behing Steve Simpson/Aled Davies in their Subaru S12 WRC and then had a fraught 20 mile drive back to the rally finish in Brecon, arriving at the final time control with only 4 minutes to spare before we would have started incurring time penalties and therefore losing positions. The Tour of Epynt remains the only rally at this extremely fast, challenging venue that the team has yet to win, maybe in 2012.... 

Season Preview

The Get Connected Rally Team will once again contest the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship and the King of Epynt Challenge for 2011, after winning both in 2010. We will be attempting the "Triple Crown" on Epynt, hoping to add 2011 to 2009/2010.

The season has started slightly better than last year, a retirement on the first round of both the above championships, the Tour of Epynt in February 2010 due to power steering failure, was not the best way to start the campaign, but this year on March 13th we came away from Round 1 with 2nd overall and maximum points in the King of Epynt.

The Ford Focus WRC 05 is again being prepared by Paul Benn's team in Cockermouth with technical assistance from M-Sport. Regular co-driver Craig Drew is unable to contest every event this year due to a professional contract with Subaru USA working with David Higgins. Experienced co-driver Martin Henry will join the team for selected events, starting with Round 2 of the King of Epynt, The Welsh Rally on May 1st.

For our archive of the 2011 season rally reports, please click here

A week later on May 6th/7th we head to the Isle of Man for the second round of the MSA Asphalt Championship where the team will have the honour of working with 2003 World Champion co-driver, Phil Mills. A long time friend, Phil has agreed to compete on this classic event and is keen to add another win to his already impressive CV even though he says it's "just for fun" now he's retired from the WRC.