Last weekend’s Manx National Rally produced a surprise victory for Isle of Man resident co-driver Rob Fagg, continuing his strong start to the season.
Competing alongside Welshman Hugh Hunter in the Dom Buckley RSC prepared RS Hunter Tarmac backed Ford Fiesta R5, the pair took victory by just under a minute over 2016 runners up Simon Bowen and Richard Robinson in their Subaru Impreza WRC S12 after event long leader and three times winner Jason Pritchard (Ford Focus WRC05) hit problems on the penultimate stage.
It was a rally of firsts for Hugh and MC Locksmiths / Burger Man Catering / Organic Construction Solutions backed Fagg, as prior to the event they had not undertaken a recce or indeed competed on tarmac together. With this in mind the shakedown stage on offer to crew’s midday Friday provided the ideal opportunity for the pair to get a feel for the car.
With clear sunny conditions forecast for the two day event, the pace was always going to be quick. First up were two runs of the shortened Marine Drive stages, unfortunately without the main Marine Drive section following a decision by the organisers not to run this part due to safety concerns.
Hunter and Fagg emerged from two clean runs holding onto sixth place, a spot they would continue to occupy as crews headed into regroup following stages 3 and 4 but within touching distance of third.
But with the two longest stages of the opening leg still to go, the final one being in darkness, they first moved up to fourth passing rivals Bowen and Damian Cole (Fiesta WRC) in the standings before an excellent second quickest time to leader Jason Pritchard promoted them to third, Pritchard though already over a minute in the lead as crews reached the overnight halt while Jamie Jukes (Mitsubishi Mirage R5) holding a slender 3.6 second advantage ahead of Hunter and Robert Graham & Co Chartered Quantity Surveyors sponsored Fagg.
Saturday’s opening test saw the unfortunate demise of second placed Jukes as he crashed out within site of the finish, moving Hunter and Fagg up to second spot despite their own moment on the stage when the Fiesta got out of shape over the renowned Switchback. A spin at the start of Baldwins cost time but a solid run through the reminder of the stage limited the damage to the chasing Bowen in third.
Following a repeat of the final two stages of Friday night, the event was to be turned on its head when Pritchard, leading by three minutes, hit electrical dramas within the first mile of the penultimate stage, and while he would manage to complete the test he would drop almost six and a half minutes and to fourth place. Hunter and Fagg inheriting top spot on the leaderboard with just over a half minute advantage and 11 miles to go.
A sensible no risk approach saw them get through, extending their winning margin over Bowen to 56.7 seconds as Pritchard recovered with a fastest time to take the final step of the podium. It was an unexpected result for Hugh and Rob with the pair using the event as a test for Rally Isle of Man later in the year.
“We are obviously gutted for Jason and Phil; they are both great competitors and were in a league of their own this weekend. It’s cruel luck but it comes to us all at some point” explained JR Hinchliffe Plumbing and Heating supported Fagg, “To win the Manx National is something I have always wanted to do but I did not think it would be this year. We bought the R5 to gain experience and mileage ahead of Rally IOM in September, so to take victory is a pleasant, welcome surprise.”
Rob dedicated the victory in memory of close friend Steve Colley’s son Max who passed away recently.
“This result is for Max, having spoken with Steve prior to the event I carried a picture of Max in the car with us during the event, he certainly looked out for us (referring to a the couple of scares they survived) out there” commented Fagg, “Steve has been a great friend to me in recent years and helped me keep my chin up when times are down – this rally was for Max”.
There’s not much time for Rob and Hugh to enjoy the victory as they are straight back into action this weekend as they contest the third round of the Ravenol BTRDA Rally Series, the Plains Rally based in Welshpool. The pair shall return to the wheel of the P&R Benn prepared and run Ford Focus WRC 02 which carried them to 5th place overall and 3rd in the series contenders on the Malcolm Wilson Rally back in March, they are currently tied at the top of the standings.
Live results for the event can be found at http://www.btrdarallyresults.co.uk/results/
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 - Hugh and Rob tackle Oatlands hairpin on their way to victory. Photo courtesy of Mark Corlett (Markspics) (https://www.facebook.com/Markspics/)