RallyCross expert Stephen Simpson took victory on the Neil Howard Stages for the first time, as he came out on top in a three-way tussle with Kevin Procter and Graham Coffey lift the trophy for the first time.
Leading from start-to-finish, and winning five of the eight stages, a consistent performance throughout the day ensured that even a disappointing time on the final super special under the lights at Oulton was negligible and didn’t stop Simpson from making up for the disappointment he suffered on the event last year when he retired while leading.
Kevin Procter leapfrogged Graham Coffey on the final Super Special and stage of the day to finish second, leaving the Manchester-based solicitor in third. In the end a disappointing result on a rally that he has won for the past two years. David Turnbull, Adrian Spencer, Julian Jones, Steve Quigley, Ian Hucklebridge, Nigel Mummery and Roger Moran completed the top ten in a rally dominated by the ‘big boys’ of Class D.
Much like last year it was Simpson who set the early pace and opened up a commanding lead as the clouds and rain converged over Oulton Park. In comparison, the reigning champion Coffey didn’t have the best of starts, dropping behind 11 seconds off the pace and being rapped for being too noisy. His new Ford Fiesta WRC, making its debut on the event, was deemed too noisy for the quaint Cheshire circuit.
The water splash on Stage 3 treated both the drivers and spectators to a cascade of mud and water and provided quite a spectacle for the many who converged around the bank in front of Fosters. It was a welcome addition to the predominantly tarmac rally and provided the drivers with a new test of skill. The return through on Stage 4 proving particularly tricky after the cars had dug it up on the first run through.
A move onto the infield shortly before lunch saw the rally move further from Coffey’s grasp, as Kevin Procter took the inaugural victory on the ‘Graham Coffey Super Special’. Procter narrowly beating the man who sponsored it by just four seconds. The infield track, used during the week as a drift track for Oulton’s driving experiences proved to be a hit as spectators came infield for the first time and witnessed some of stage rallying’s finest display impeccable car control on the slippy circuit up close.
While Simpson was forced to retire in 2013 after Stage 5, there was no repeat of that this year and after three more stage victories out of the next four, he went into the final stage in a commanding position and with virtually one hand on the trophy. Even dropped time on the last super special of the day didn’t prove fatal as a combination of a resounding performance throughout the event and a slip-up from those below on the final stage was enough for him to take victory for the first time.
Despite first place being a mere formality the rally did throw up a few surprises. Coffey, who had pipped John Stone to the title last year saw himself drop down to third and below Procter. It had been a close race all event with both battling it out throughout the day, but a disappointing final super special saw him leapfrogged. A disappointing finish for the man who now has his name on the event.
While Class D drivers dominated the top then, elsewhere there were class wins for John Clayton/Stephen Booth, Lee Farrrer/Jordan Joines and Julian Jones/Mikey Herritts. Kevin Procter followed up his second place finish with the inaugural ‘Best Performer on the Graham Coffey Super Special’, while David Davies/Michael Hughes took ‘Spirit of the Rally’.