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Philip Morrow, together with his co-driver/brother Simon, won round two of the Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge on this weekend’s Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally by the narrowest of margins, just one tenth of a second separating them and second placed Ryan Champion/Craig Thorley.

For the 18 Evolution Challenge competitors entered it was an event packed with drama, the stages in Kielder Forest living up to their reputation of being the most demanding and unforgiving in the UK.

It was the first ever visit by the Mitsubishi series to this massive forest park, the event starting and finishing in Jedburgh and comprising eight nine-mile stages.

Round one winner, Stuart Jones, started where he left off and immediately surged into the lead following the opening stage. Morrow was hot on his heels, desperate to net a healthy haul of points following his exclusion from round one. Ed Stallard claimed third only .2 second behind, making it a junior driver 1, 2, 3.

First to succumb to the Kielder curse was Stuart Haskins. Making his Evo Challenge debut his recently rebuilt Evo VII slid wide just two miles into SS1 and dropped into one of the forest’s many ditches, the impact flipping the car onto its roof.

With a serious accident on stage two involving a non-Evo Challenge competitor, proceedings were temporarily halted, the leading Mitsubishi crews accredited with a notional time.

Stallard’s charge came to an abrupt halt halfway through SS2 when he launched his car off the road, the Evo coming to permanent rest in the soft Northumberland soil.

Nik Elsmore now claimed third, closely followed by William Bonniwell, Ryan Champion, Colin Greer and Richard Hill, only 22 seconds separating the top six Mitsubishi crews. Hill was the first of the bunch to retire, having reported transmission problems in the opening stages his day ended in a ditch on SS3.

As drivers became more familiar with the Kielder countryside, the pace amongst the Evo contenders picked up, Jones and Morrow beginning to edge away from the chasing pack. Then, on SS6, a broken shaft in the transmission of the Ulsterman’s car slowed him to such an extent, Jones caught him at the end of the stage.

Frantic work by Morrow’s service crew saw the problem rectified and, although now over a minute down on Jones, he set off hoping all was not lost.

As crews embarked on SS7 Jones found himself enjoying a 56 second lead ahead of a charging Greer. Then, halfway through the penultimate stage, Jones was caught out by a deceptive sequence of bends, his car dropping into yet another Kielder ditch which caused it to roll into the scenery. A similar fate also befell Bonniwell, the Scotsman ending his event at the end of the same stage.

All this activity meant that as crews prepared to start the eighth and final stage things were close - very close, four drivers now in with a chance of taking Evo Challenge glory, each separated by three seconds: Greer lead the pack ahead of a resilient Morrow, followed by Champion and then Elsmore.

All four were up for the fight, each reporting to have experienced massive moments in their quest to grasp the Evo Challenge lead. However, as the final nine-mile stage progressed Greer was horrified to find his car running out of fuel, the upshot of which saw him 25 seconds slower than Champion who was the fastest of the Evo drivers through the last stage.

At the finish in Jedburgh teams waited in anticipation for the final results to be confirmed, the times too close for crews to calculate themselves. Finally it was revealed that Morrow had done enough clinch victory, just one tenth of a second ahead of Champion.

“I can’t believe we’ve finally done it”, said a slightly bemused Morrow. “We have had a string of bad luck recently so it’s great to have some good luck at last. This is just what I needed to keep me in the Championship. I’m very happy.”

Having been confined to bed ill for two days leading up to the event, Morrow’s victory was further acknowledged by him being presented with the Shell Spirit award. His performance accredited him with the PIAA Junior Award and he was also the winner of the Pirelli Cup on this round.

With two third place finishes Nik Elsmore now heads the series standings and with such a change of fortunes between rounds one and two for many of the other leading drivers, this season’s Evolution Challenge is shaping up to be the most exciting yet.

Round three sees a of surface to asphalt, with the Mitsubishi crews heading to the Isle of Man for the Roush Manx Rally on 6th & 7th May.

The 2005 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge is supported by: Mitsubishi Motors UK, Ralliart, Walon UK, Pirelli Tyres, Shell Racing Fuels, Speedline Corse, PIAA UK and Mintex.


Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge Round 2 – Results

1st Philip Morrow (Lisburn)/Simon Morrow (Lisburn) 1:13:35.2
2nd Ryan Champion (Whitby)/Craig Thorley (York) 1:13:35.3
3rd Nik Elsmore (Coleford)/Nigel Gardner (New Tredegar) 1:13:45.7
4th Colin Greer (Beith)/Neil Ewing (Largs) 1:13:56.5
5th Anthony Willmington (Dorchester)/Andy White (Weymouth) 1:16:42.5
6th Alex Sabater (Spain)/Miquel Amblas (Spain) 1:17:53.9
7th Connor McCloskey (Kilrea)/Damien Duffin (Rasharkin) 1:19:24.0
8th Tim Pearcey (Harrogate)/Mick Johnson (Thirsk) 1:20:41.8
9th Steve Blunt (Woking)/Robert Duck (Derby) 1:23:13.7

Pirelli Cup Winner - Philip Morrow
PIAA Junior Award - Philip Morrow
Shell Spirit Award - Philip Morrow
Walon Best Prepared Car - Damon Harvey

Retirements
SS1 Stuart Haskins (Taunton)/Mike White (Highbridge)
SS2 Ed Stallard (Cheltenham)/Richard Edwards (Wolverhampton) - Accident
SS3 Richard Hill (Chesterfield)/Daniel Stone (Chesterfield) - Transmission/Accident
SS3 Damon Harvey (Plymouth)/Aled Davies (Llanelli) - Accident
SS3 Noel Kelly (Isle of Man)/James Kelly (Isle of Man) - Accident
SS5 Kevin Stevens (London)/Mark Jones (Birmingham) - Driveshaft
SS6 Neil McCance (Newtownards)/Graham Hopewell (Worcester) - Accident
SS7 Stuart Jones (Welshpool)/Ross Butler (Welshpool) - Accident
SS7 William Bonniwell (Oban)/Ian Fraser (Tobemory) - Accident


Series Standings

Drivers
1st Nik Elsmore - 18 points
2nd Anthony Willmington - 15 points
3rd Colin Greer - 14 points
4th Stuart Jones - 12 points
5th Philip Morrow - 12 Points
6th Richard Hill - 11 points
7th Ryan Champion - 11 Points
8th Alex Sabater - 10 points
9th Ed Stallard - 8 points
10th Neil McCance - 6 points

Co-drivers
1st Nigel Gardner - 18 points
2nd Neil Ewing - 14 points
3rd Ross Butler - 12 points
4th Simon Morrow - 12 points
5th Daniel Stone - 9 points
6th Craig Thorley - 10 points
7th Richard Edwards - 8 points
8th Andrew Street - 8 points
9th Andy White - 7 points
10th Graham Hopewell - 6 points

PIAA Junior Award
1st Connor McCloskey - 7 points
2nd Stuart Jones - 5 points
3rd Philip Morrow - 5 points
4th Ed Stallard - 4 points

Pirelli Cup
1st Anthony Willmington - 6 points
2nd Colin Greer - 6 points
3rd Philip Morrow - 5 points
4th Ryan Champion - 4 points
5th Neil McCance - 3 points
 
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