Somerset Stages Rally at Exmoor National Park

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Andy Burton’s unbeaten run of victories on the Betta Somerset Stages Rally was extended still further at the weekend when, co-driven by Peter Cotton, he took his seventh consecutive win on the Minehead-based event.

In spite of his proven mastery of the stages on Exmoor, Burton did not have things all its own way on this occasion and his Peugeot Cosworth was actually headed by the Subaru Impreza WRC of Will Nicholls/Nick Broom for a while during the day. However, Burton had assumed the lead once again prior to Nicholls’ retirement with engine failure on the eighth of the eleven stages.

Second place in Somerset went to Pete Elkins/Andrew Joll whose Ford Escort WRC finished ahead of Damian Cole/Craig Drew after a fantastic last-stage charge by the Hyundai Accent WRC crew saw them miss out on the runners-up spot by a solitary second. John Lloyd/Pauline Gullick (Ford Focus WRC) took an excellent 4th place, while Peter Egerton/Paul Spooner were right behind them in their Hyundai Accent WRC.

The top six was rounded off by the first Group N ‘production’ car, a Subaru Impreza driven by David Howells/Andy Morgan whose performance also gave them a class win by a minute from the similar car of Plympton’s James Harvey.

In the battle for two-wheel drive honours, Graham Middleton’s Hyundai Coupe emerged as the winner on the day, but Steve French’s Hillman Avenger was paying very close attention for much of the time.

Thirty years on since Ed Hardy won the very first Somerset Stages Rally, the Highbridge driver, co-driven by his daughter Karen, finished 25th overall in his Mitsubishi Lancer.

After a ding-dong battle with the Vauxhall Nova of Taunton’s Julian Wilkes/ Richard Millener, Neil Weaver & Nick Thornton won the 1400 category for the second consecutive year. Their Proton Satria arrived back at the finish 10 seconds ahead of its main rival although, as neither crew was registered for the Tesco 99 Octane 1400 Championship, maximum points went to series leaders Clive Wheeler/Ken Bartram in their Citroen C2.

On a bright and sunny day in the south-west, the rate of attrition was particularly high with almost 50% of the original entry not classified as finishers. Four of the original Top Ten starters – including Nicholls/Broom – succumbed, the most alarming being the hydraulic fire that claimed the Ford Focus WRC of No.4 seed Mike O’Brien on the opening stage of the event. Fortunately, with the help of extra fire extinguishers from several following competitors, the flames were quickly extinguished before too much damage was done but, even so, the genial Irishman’s rally was run.

<em>Full results of the 2007 Betta Somerset Stages Rally are available on </em><a href=”//www.btrdarally.com”><em>www.btrdarally.com</em></a><em> / Report Courtesy of </em><a href=”//www.somersetstagesrally.com”><em>www.somersetstagesrally.com</em></a><em> </em>

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Graham is a professional photographer and motoring writer with over 15 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and rally events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers. See more at grahamcurry.com

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