Phillip Morrow recorded a resounding victory the first round of the 2007 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge on this weekend’s Rallye Sunseeker, his performance also rewarding him with an impressive fourth place overall and a win in the Production Car Class.
Co-driven by his elder brother Simon, the Ulster siblings led the 23-car strong Mitsubishi field from start to finish, crossing the line ahead of Jonny Milner/Ian Windress and Julian Reynolds/Patrick Walsh in third.
The Bournemouth-based event, which was also the opening round of the Hankook MSA Gravel Rally Championship, began on Friday evening with two runs of a stage taking the event’s 90 competitors through the town’s botanical gardens and along the esplanade road.
Morrow made his intentions clear right from the start, not only leading the Evolution Challenge after the first two stages, but blasting into second place, surrounded by a host of more powerful WRC cars. He was closely followed by Milner, then series newcomers Garry Jennings and Sebastian Ling in third and fourth.
Experiencing problems early on were Jonathan Sparks, who frustratingly had to retire due to loss of power and Tom Naughton, who had to replace his car’s gearbox during the overnight halt.
Saturday featured 12 stages in the Wareham and Ringwood forests, the rain during the week leading up to the rally making the traditionally soft gravel roads more treacherous than usual, with stretches of standing water and slippery corners catching out the unwary.
But there was no stopping Morrow, who was back to his old form and reveling in his car’s improved set-up. In the first loop of three stages he increased his lead to 15 seconds ahead of Milner who was in turn just ahead of Reynolds and Ling - both Welshmen reporting that they were getting used to their new cars and having to use organiser’s pace notes rather than their own.
Not far behind a battle raged between seven more Mitsubishis: Neil McCance, Garry Jennings, who reported his car had lost third gear, Craig Middleton, Stephen Petch, Richard Hill, Nik Elsmore and Connor McCloskey, with just 11 seconds separating them all.The next trio of stages heralded dramas for a number of Evo Challenge crews. Jennings’ battle with his transmission concluded on SS6 and Spain’s Alex Sabater pulled over on SS7 when his engine went on to three cylinders, whilst Middleton retired end at the next service halt having lost fourth gear. Also exiting the event at this point were Tom Naughton and Wayne Sisson, who’s contact with the scenery saw them go no further.
Although going off the road and into a ditch at the end of stage seven, damaging his car’s suspension in the process, McCance managed to continue - as did Errol Clark who plunged his Evo down a bank, through a fence, only to climb out of the undergrowth with just a couple of scratches. Ling also dropped time after clipping a tree, which meant he was now coming under pressure from Elsmore, Petch, McCloskey and Hill.
Whilst Morrow and Milner consolidated their positions, all were determined to start the season with the largest haul of points possible and, although the surface of the stages was starting to get rutted, there was no let-up in pace from the chasing pack.
Elsmore elbowed his way past Ling to take fourth place on SS12, but it all nearly ended on stage 13, when his car’s brake pedal went to the floor approching a junction following a high-speed straight. Thankfully, there was an escape road straight on and although losing time Elsmore was able to continue – shaken but not stirred.
But it was Morrow’s day and his performance rewarded him with a more than deserved Evolution Challenge win, fourth place overall and a first in class.
“This is the best start to the season I could have hoped for”, said Morrow. “After a few bad runs last year I was starting to get concerned, but this result has really boosted my confidence. I’m also really pleased with the car. It performed 100% and the adjustments we made recently have made all the difference to the way it handles. I’m now really looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Milner crossed the line back in Bournemouth happy with second place – admitting he had driven within his limits. Reynolds was equally as pleased with his third place - first time out in an Evolution IX, whilst Ling felt he could have driven faster if he was more used to his car.
McCloskey finished an excellent fifth, with Petch, Hill and then Elsmore taking the next three places. The remaining two top-ten places were taken by David Bogie and Danny Barry, both youngsters posting impressive performances in their Evo Challenge debut. David Bogie also won the Shell Helix best prepared car award.
Gordon Cunningham and Alan Carmichael were also pleased to finish their first event in the Mitsubishi Championship, with Carmichael overcoming a number of set-backs for which he was rewarded the Tesco 99 Octane Spirit of the Rally award.
The Evolution Cup was secured by Miles Johnston, who had thoroughly enjoyed his series debut, having led right from the start. Second place went to Wayne Radford, with Mark I’Anson’s Challenge ending when his car’s transmission developed problems half way through the rally.
The Evolution Challenge offers drivers what is widely regarded as the best prize in British rallying – the chance to become a Mitsubishi works driver in the 2008 British Rally Championship. The Evolution Cup will see the winner walking away with a first prize worth £5000.
Also included in this year’s Mitsubishi championship is the Evolution Cup for standard specification Mitsubishis, the PIAA Junior Award for under 25 year-old drivers, plus the Pirelli and Performance Friction Brakes Cups.
The series is backed by Mitsubishi Motors UK Ralliart and sees continued support from its associate sponsors Pirelli, PIAA, Speedline Corse and Shell, whilst Sparco, Performance Friction Brakes and Tesco 99 Octane (suppliers of the controlled fuel for the championship) join the series for the first time in 2007.
Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge
1 Phillip Morrow (Lisburn)/Simon Morrow (Lisburn) – 1:06:48.8
2 Jonny Milner (Huggate)/Ian Windress (Northallerton) - 1:07:32.8
3 Julian Reynolds (Narberth)/Patrick Walsh (Aberystwyth) – 1:08:00.5
4 Sebastian Ling (Llandysul)/Aled Rees (Crymych) – 1:08:30.9
5 Connor McCloskey (Lirea)/Damian Connelly (Monaghan) – 1:08:55.9
6 Stephen Petch (Richmond)/Michael Wilkinson (Tow Law) - 1:09:34.8
7 Richard Hill (Chesterfield)/Aled Davies (Llanelli) - 1:09:35.4
8 Nik Elsmore (Coleford)/Vicky Allen (Denbigh) – 1:09:40.7
9 David Bogie (Dumfries)/Rob Fagg (Isle of Man) – 1:10:22.3
10 Daniel Barry (Enniskerry)/Mark Bowen (Cork) – 1:10:43.9
11 Errol Clark (Irvinestown)/Greg Shinnors (Limerick) – 1:11:12.8
12 Neil McCance (Coomber)/Jim Crozier - 1:11:28.0
13 Wayne Radford (Dinnington)/Nick Cadwallader - 1:14:00.5
14 Gordon Cunningham (Galston)/Stuart McManus (Kilmarnock) – 1:14:00.5
15 Alan Carmichael (Ballymena)/Ivor Lamont (Ballymena) – 1:17:05.4
Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Cup
1 Miles Johnstone (York)/Ian Bevan (Wrexham) – 1:11:48.9
2 Wayne Radford (Dinnington)/Nick Cadwallader - 1:14:00.5
SS2 Jonathan Sparks (Glastonbury)/Bradley Magnus (Downham Market) – Engine
SS6 Garry Jennings (Kesh)) /Craig Drew (Lydney) – Transmission
SS7 Alex Sabater (Barcelona)/Josep Moreno (Girona) - Engine
SS8 Thomas Naughton (Bury)/Horace Saville (Bury) – Accident
SS8 Wayne Sisson (Carnforth)/Daniel Stone (Chesterfield) – Intercooler
SS8 Craig Middleton (Llandrindod Wells)/Robin Hernaman - Transmission
SS8 Mark I’Anson (Haydon Bridge)/Graeme Walker (Henley) - Transmission
1 Phillip Morrow 12
2 Jonny Milner 10
3 Julian Reynolds 8
4 Seb Ling 7
5 Connor McCloskey 6
6 Stephen Petch 5
7 Richard Hill 4
8 Nik Elsmore 3
9 David Bogie 2
10 Danny Barry 1
1 Simon Morrow 12
2 Ian Windress 10
3 Patrick Walsh 8
4 Aled Rees 7
5 Damien Connelly 6
6 Michael Wilkinson 5
7 Aled Davies 4
8 Vicky Allen 3
9 Robert Fagg 2
10 Mark Bowen 1
1 Miles Johnston 12
2 Wayne Radford 10
1 Ian Bevan 12
2 Nick Cadwallader 10
PIAA Junior Award
1 Phillip Morrow 5
2 Connor McCloskey 4
3 Stephen Petch 3
4 David Bogie 2
5 Danny Barry 1