North West Stages – Blackpool

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Bird Storms To Victory, Disappointment For Stone.
Paul Bird started as car number 1 in his first rally of 2014 and from the very first stage it was clear that he had more than a very good chance to be number 1 at the finish on Saturday night.

Bird, co-driven by Welshman Aled Davies, was the winner a year ago at the ‘Legend Fires North West Stages” which takes place in Blackpool. With 5 stages taking place in the dark on Friday night, Bird lay down a marker on the first stage taking 6 seconds from nearest rival Kevin Procter, who at the end of SS2 would become one of nearly 50% of the crews that retired from the event. Paul had no such problem with his Mac Tools, Frank Bird Poultry and Fuchs Titan backed Ford Focus WRC 2008 specification. He would win all of the 5 night stages and went to bed with a whopping 53 second lead.

John Stone’s Skoda Fabia WRC had a new livery for 2014 and was event sponsor with his company “Legend Fires”. He was looking for a good result but also for some seat time ahead of the opening round of this years Tarmac championship. Things started positivitely for Stone and co-driver Carl Williamson when they were 2nd to Bird after 3 stages but on the 2 spectator stages along the promenade 2 stalls would cause him to drop back to 5th overnight.

“Birdy” would continue his dominance of the event on the Saturday. setting multiple fastest times and after the opening loop of 6 stages in the morning had extended the lead to over a minute and a half to Tony Bardy. Bardy, an event winner in the past pushed too hard on the third run through Fleetwood, he would collide with a chicane and cause damage that ended his rally. Some drivers would back off with such a lead but although in his comfort zone Paul continued to put in storming times and continued to stretch his lead over the rest of the field to finish 5 minutes 8 seconds ahead of 2nd placed Neil Simpson in a Skoda Fabia S2000 after 26 stages.

Stone and Williamson set off on a mission on Saturday and found themselves crawling up from their 5th overall overnight and when Bardy retired this moved them into 2nd where they would find themselves for the rest of their rally. Setting many fastest and second fastest times throughout the day John was driving well and it was a good test for the Championship opener in Epynt. Unfortunately with just 2 stages left the Skoda lost all power and he had to retire. It was a great shame to see him retire as he had not put a foot wrong all day and had fully deserved his 2nd overall. Although very disappointing things look positive for 2014 for John as the pace and consistency was definitely there right from the first stage.

A quick turn around for Paul Bird’s Focus as it is converted into gravel specification for the opening round of the BTRDA championship at the Wyedean Stages in a weeks time where he will be looking for a good drive and a good haul of points to get the season of to a great start.

Stone and Williamson’s next outing in the Skoda will be the Tour of Epynt on the 9th of March.