Last year the runner-up spot on the Malcolm Wilson Rally was taken by Paul Bird behind Euan Thorburn both in Ford Focus’. They both returned along with David Bogie and Stephen Petch to battle it out again in the Cumbrian forests.
Bird, of Langwathby counts the Malcolm Wilson as his home rally and is in as good a form as he has been in the last year or two despite taking many rally wins last year. Second overall behind Bogie in round 1, he had a small test on the Thursday prior to the rally and really had a good feel with the car which showed as he stormed out the blocks to take the first stage by five seconds from Scottish Champion Bogie. Last years winner and eventual BTRDA champion Thorburn was 3rd quickest a further five seconds back and Petch fifteen seconds behind Bird.
Two short three mile blasts through Wythop would see the Fuchs Titan and Mac Tools backed Focus World Rally Car extend it’s lead by a further 1 second on the first run and despite having what Paul described as a ‘major moment’ and ‘being very close to going over’ on stage 3 he still managed to take seven seconds from the orange Focus of Bogie. Thorburn had an overshoot on the second run through Wythop and was now twenty seven seconds behind Bird. Petch was there or there abouts on stage times and was only five down on the JTS sponsored Focus of Thorburn.
One stage remained before service at Penrith and it was a six and a half mile run through Greystoke. Bird flew to his fourth consecutive stage win taking another chunk of time from Bogie to lead by 19 at the 1st service. Any chance of victory for Thorburn and Petch looked to be disappearing as the were equal third but some 38 seconds behind the local rally leader.
Bird, on his own admission doesn’t normally go well in Grizedale and that’s where the rally was won and lost last year as Thorburn took 40 seconds in three stages from Bird. This year Paul was driving well and Thorburn seemed to be off the pace a bit. How quickly rallying can change though. Bogie’s Focus developed a rear diff problem and he dropped 2 minutes in the three stages and Euan would win all three despite a front left puncture on stage 7. This changes the leaderboard dramatically. With a second run through the Greystoke stage left, Bird led Thorburn by fifteen and Petch was third but as he was a minute behind it was now a two horse race for the victory.
One last check over the Focus by the Dom Buckley team and Bird headed to Greystoke after admitting he was ‘quite nervous’. Bird and co-driver Aled Davies had number 5 on their doors but were now running first on the road. They appeared out of the last stage and Bird confidently smiled and headed off to the finish near Penrith. Thorburn won the stage but only by two seconds so victory went to Bird and Davies by 13 seconds. Petch had problems but managed to get going again and claimed third overall while Bogie was losing time on every stage and said he ‘felt sorry for the rear diff as it was squealing like a pig through the last stage’ but he still managed to finish fourth and that could be valuable points come the season close.
Bird and Davies’ champagne tasted even sweeter as he was now leading the BTRDA championship after a second overall a win on the first two rounds. Next up for the BTRDA is the Somerset Stages on 12th April.