Leading rally co-driver Rob Fagg faces a change of surface this weekend, but with it a chance to compete on home roads as the Isle of Man welcomes the Manx National Rally, the second round of the Motor Mall Manx Rally Championship.
Robert Graham & Co Chartered Quantity Surveyors sponsored Fagg, from Kirk Michael in the west of the island, will again be alongside Ruthin’s Hugh Hunter in the R S Hunter Tarmac backed Dom Buckley RSC prepared Ford Fiesta R5 which they guided to fourth place on last month’s Somerset Stages.
That result moved the pair to the top of the Ravenol BTRDA Rally Championship, the UK’s principle gravel series, standings after two rounds but the opportunity to take a break from that series was too much of a lure to resist.
Therefore this weekend the focus is on closed roads asphalt stages, the jewel of the Irish Sea offering some of the most demanding in world rallying.
Hunter is no stranger to tarmac (he lays it for a living), although not so much the Manx roads as the MC Locksmiths sponsored pace note caller explained.
“Although most recently Hugh has focused on the gravel events, he has taken victories on Irish soil in the National series at the wheel of a Subaru S12 so he does have a good history on the black stuff. His most recent appearance though was on last year’s Rally Isle of Man but co-driving, something he enjoyed and encouraged him to come back behind the wheel this year, 2010 the last time he entered as a driver.”
With limited mileage in the Fiesta on tarmac the pair have utilised the experience of Dom Buckley to give them a strong base to start from when it comes to set-up. Buckley not only runs Irishman Eammon Boland on WRC tarmac events but also Irish Tarmac Championship front runner Alistair Fisher, knowledge which proves vital when setting up the car. And with three runs of the short shakedown stage available to the crews, Hunter and JR Hinchliffe Plumbing and Heating backed Fagg will use each run to prepare themselves.
“Although the shakedown is not the most representative of the stages in terms of narrow bumpy lanes, it will give us the chance to feel what the car is doing on the tar with the settings and make tweaks where we feel they are required” explained Rob, “Although it won’t be till we hit the proper stages we know if we have got it right. At the end of the day though we are out to enjoy ourselves, no championship pressures but of cause we want to be competitive.”
Despite contesting events off the island regularly, competing on home soil is still something Rob regards as special.
“At present you can’t compete on closed roads in England and the Isle of Man gives this opportunity. While I do enjoy the gravel I do have a preference for tar and there is no better place than at home” commented Rob, “It also gives the opportunity to compete in front of those who help and support me throughout the year, without those sponsors it would be much harder to compete at the level I do. For this year I have a number of new sponsors and I am very grateful, coming on board from this round onwards is Organic Construction Solutions and I can’t thank Peter Titterton enough for agreeing to help me out.”
The event will be led away by three times winners Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke in a Ford Focus WRC03 who will look to make it four in a row and start as hot favourite. Competition will come from multiple tarmac champion Damian Cole in a Fiesta WRC who is keen to add an elusive Manx victory to his CV and he will be followed away by Simon Bowen (Subaru Impreza WRC). Reigning Manx champion Dan Harper is another to watch in the top 10, a switch to a WRC Mini is sure to give him the tools to compete for honours, although he will need to tame the beast on the narrow lanes.
Lying in wait on the opening Friday evening leg are six tests covering 46 miles in the south of the island, the latter two of which will be contested in fading light and possibly darkness. Saturday sees a further 75 miles over six more stages spread across the island. The event includes eight stages over 11 miles long, making it one of the biggest challenges of the year and it will be hard to recover from time loss.
Hugh and Rob’s progress can be followed through the live results at: http://results.djames.org.uk/results/event.php?eventID=475&Entries=Entries
Rob is supported in 2017 by Robert Graham & Co Chartered Quantity Surveyors, JR Hinchliffe Plumbing and Heating, Burger Man Catering, MC Locksmiths and Organic Construction Solutions.
Photo - Hunter and Fagg kicking up the dust in the R5 on the recent Somerset Stages. Photo courtesy of RallySport Media (https://www.facebook.com/rallysportmedia/).