Tour of Flanders Historic Rally

Report, round seven: Tour of Flanders Historic RallyAfter a tremendous battle with the Escort Mk1 of Frank Cunningham and Ryland James, category two victory in Belgium finally went to the Porsche 911RS of Steven Smith and John Nichols.The Tour of Flanders was another great event to form round seven of the 2008 Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic, with some challenging stages and tricky conditions when rain arrived for the final leg on Saturday. In category one, Patrick Watts and Elgan Davies swept to a resounding victory in the Sunbeam Tiger, while in category three it was Belgian newcomer Darren Moon who scored a great win with John Stanger-Leathes on the notes in his Escort Mk2.Category 1It was something of a disappointment for Watts when he arrived in Belgium to find that he was the only runner in class B5, so full championship points were not available. But he got on with trying to push the rumbling Tiger as high up the overall order as he could and duly finished well inside the top 10 BHRC crews.The Tiger ran beautifully, despite the usual concerns over brakes and Watts chucked it around in style  "It’s been a good fun event," said Watts after another fine performance.Remarkably, second in the category went to the MG Midget of James Stait and Gill Cotton after a very trouble free rally. "No problems," said James. "It's slightly nicer in the dry," he added, after taking a dominant B2 victory.Trouble free could not describe the rally of Neil Calvert and Arlene Cookson, however, who battled through Saturday just to keep their Lotus Cortina in the rally. A catalogue of problems nearly put them OTL and concern over a failing head gasket meant they had to ease the revs back all through Sunday. Even a trip through a hedge failed to stop them, however, and B4 victory was just reward for a tough weekend.In B1, the Singer Chamois of Gary and Jane Edgington starred on their debut in Flanders. Relishing the fact that Flanders is flat, Gary pedalled the Imp in style and took third in the category as well as B1 spoils over Mike Barratt/Jody Watson (Sunbeam Stiletto).Category 2The star of Saturday in category two was Cunningham, who grabbed the lead with a storming performance on his favourite event. "I felt fabulous all day, as long as it was dry. The car was doing exactly what it was supposed to do," said Frank. But the rain that fell for the last loop of stages was his downfall as Smith/Nichols used the conditions to grab the lead."Down to a square left it just wouldn’t stop and we went straight into a cornfield," said Frank. "We got away with probably dropping 20 seconds in there. But I was very cautious for the next two stages on that leg.""It rained!" said a jubilant Smith at the end of Saturday, having taken a lead that he would hold through a dry Sunday. Cunningham's progress on Sunday was hindered by a broken spring, but that was changed at service with help from Smith's XS Racing crew.David Stokes/Guy Weaver went out on Saturday after a broken TCA pitched them into an electricity pylon, thankfully without harm, Ernie Graham/Alec Cooper led the chase of Cunningham in C5 and took third in category from Dessie Nutt/Geraldine McBride, who had a great run first time out in Dessie's rebuilt C4 Porsche 911.A very strong C3 category was won by the Escort Mk1 of Peter Smith/Russ Langthorne, but only after a long tussle with team mates Andrew Siddall/Captain Thompson. Both had moments in the rain, and Smith had an off again on Sunday morning, but still had things under control when Siddall hit late engine dramas. That allowed Robin Shuttleworth and Mark Midgley through to second in their Escort, while Neil Rudd/Brian Hodgson (Escort Mk1) bagged C2.Category 3The pace of Moon was one of the stories of the rally as he contested the event for the first time and with Stanger-Leathes alongside on the notes for the first time. A great category victory was just reward. "Brilliant! The best event I've done since coming into historics," said Moon at the end of Saturday and even a disputed 60s road penalty failed to spoil their result.However, it could have been closer had Richard Hill and Patrick Cooper not spent over two minutes in a ditch on Saturday morning. They got back on with help from spectators and recovered to take second, staying clear of the Porsche 911RS of Adrian Kermode/Liz Jordan. The Porsche took D4 spoils, having achieved the target of getting further than the 1-mile they had managed a year earlier.The D3 entry was tremendous and victory was reward for a mighty performance from Mark and Brett Clifford (Escort Mk2). They pushed hard, and really thought it was all over when the Escort popped out of a cut and dived into a ditch in Passendale, still going at very high speed. But it ran down the ditch and popped back out, with no damage. "We were both screaming," admitted Mark.They had battled hard on Saturday with Arwel Evans/Arwel Jenkins (Escort RS2000) and the defining moment came when Evans stalled, with a failing starter motor. He lost about a minute and that was too much to give away to the flying Cliffords.Will Onions/Tim Hobbs had a catalogue of dramas, but got to the finish for third in their Escort RS2000, just edging Chris Shooter/Bev LeGood in the process. Meanwhile, Pat Anderson/Tom Mansfield overcame gearbox woes to win D2 in their Sunbeam Talbot.

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