Ireland’s Mark Donnelly took the spoils at an enthralling curtain-raiser to the 2012 MSA British Rally Championship, exclusively supplied by Italian tyre firm Pirelli, over the weekend.
Set in the Wareham and Ringwood forest complex close to the rally base in Bournemouth, Dorset, the Rallye Sunseeker International marked the first time since the 1990s that two-wheel-drive cars were the only entries eligible to score points.
Competitors covered 66 miles over 12 competitive stages using 15-inch Pirelli K6 tyres and with three registered manufacturers – Citroen, Renault and Ford - all vying for championship honours, the competition was fierce from the outset.
Jarkko Nikara and Mark Donnelly were locked in a gripping duel for the top spot after the event’s opening stage. Only 1.2 seconds separated the two competitors until Nikara’s Citroen DS3 R3T incurred engine problems, forcing the Finn to retire on the rally’s penultimate stage.
Nikara’s retirement meant that Donnelly secured his first BRC victory, to establish an early championship lead at the wheel of his Renault Clio R3.
After his sterling performance, 20-year-old Donnelly was presented with the coveted Pirelli yellow jersey and a nomination towards the end of season Pirelli Star Driver shoot out.
Donnelly’s victory also catapulted Renault to the top of the manufacturers’ standings with 34 points, one point ahead of fellow French manufacturer Citroen. Ford lies third in the overall standings with 29 points.
With a string of top five stage times, 2012 Pirelli Star Driver Jukka Korhonen, made an impressive competitive debut at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia R2. With only 2.4 seconds separating the Finn from second overall going into the day’s closing stage, the scene was set for an exciting finale.
A mechanical problem, however, compromised his efforts and the 27-year-old was forced to retire after a promising start to the season.
“We didn’t have the best ending but we learned a lot about the car and had some fun,” said Korhonen. “We tried very hard to catch Elfyn [Evans] but he was going so fast. We caught him on the closing stages but then we had a problem with the ECU and we retired close to the end. For sure, I am disappointed but I know that next time we can finish on the podium. Maybe I could even win.”
The fight for second place proved nail-bitingly competitive with Desi Henry snatching the runner-up spot by a mere 0.2 seconds over former Pirelli Star Driver Elfyn Evans who was forced to settle for third. Osian Pryce claimed fourth with Peter Taylor in fifth.
Maximum points in the Citroen Racing Trophy UK was awarded to Desi Henry who pipped Osian Pryce to the post. FordFiesta SportTrophy honours went to 2010 FST champion Elfyn Evans whose polished performance put him on the overall podium’s second step. Garry Pearson became the first ever winner of the inaugural Twingo Renaultsport R1 Trophy UK.
Carl Naylor, Pirelli Tyre’s UK motorsport manager, said: “Rallye Sunseeker marked a new beginning for the British Rally Championship and I am pleased to say that Saturday’s event proved more exciting than ever, with some of the closest fought battles the championship has ever seen. With the added news that Ford have signed up to the manufacturers’ championship, the future of Britain’s premier rally series is looking very positive indeed.”
The second round of the 2012 Pirelli-supported MSA British Rally Championship will take place next month when the six-round rally series moves to Wales for the Bulldog International Rally of North Wales, 23 – 24 March.