The Manchester-based solicitor Graham Coffey edged out Legends Fire owner John Stone on the final stage as he retained the Neil Howard Memorial Stages.
In a tightly-contested rally, Coffey came out on top in the battle of the World Rally cars, with his Subaru Impreza narrowly beating Stone’s Skoda Fabia WRC. Just two seconds ended up separating first and second.
While David Turnbull and Robin Shuttleworth rounded off the top three as the WRC cars dominated in the front of the proceedings, the top ten highlighted the eclectic nature of the event. Mark Jones edged out Damian Cole for fourth, while Paul Swift pipped Paul Evans to seventh in a compacted top ten. Alan Oldfield finished sixth, while Dr. Ian Rowlance and Adrian Spencer rounded off the top ten.
On the final day of competitive racing at Oulton Park this year, Steve Simpson set the early pace, winning three of the first five stages, opening up a slender lead. Not a bad return for the late entrant. With a further victory on Stage 4 and a second place finish on Stage 5 increasing his lead further, it looked like a question of when, and not if, his name would be being carved onto the Neil Howard Memorial Stages trophy.
As is often the case in rally, though, disaster struck and the rally was flung wide open. A turbo failure led to his retirement, leaving Stone to fight it out with Coffey for top honours. An unfortunate miscalculation of stage miles on Stage 7 saw Stone and Coffey record identical times, although the former went into the final stage two seconds in front, courtesy of his successive victories on Stage 5 and 6. A narrow margin, albeit, but it was increasingly looking like it would be disappointment for Coffey and his rookie co-driver Victoria Myers, as they just couldn’t find that something extra.
However, as darkness fell the legal eagle swooped. A time of 6:13 was set, leaving Stone needing to either match it or drop just three seconds. If he managed that then victory would be his. As it turned out, despite pushing hard he struggled to match Coffey’s time and fell at the final hurdle. In the end just two seconds separated the top two as Coffey pulled off an incredible turnaround to retain the Neil Howard Stages.
The closeness of the drivers was replicated throughout the top ten, with just three seconds separating sixth and eighth, highlighting the calibre of drivers on the event in only it’s second year at Oulton Park. While Group D drivers dominated the top of the overall leader board, there were class wins for Graham Gibbs, Matthew Roberts and Chris Roberts, as they brought the curtain down on their seasons with class victories.