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Following a faultless performance David Bogie and co-driver Kevin Rae won the opening round of the 2008 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge on this weekend’s Bournemouth-based Rallye Sunseeker, recording their first ever victory in the highly competitive one-make rally championship for Group N (production specification) Lancer Evolutions.

Behind them, a battle raged for second place - no less than 9 of the 14 Evolution Challenge crews swapping times throughout the event - with Daniel Barry/Mark Bowens the eventual runners-up, just nine seconds behind the winners and only five seconds ahead of third-placed Seb Ling/Aled Rees.

In fact, such is the level of performance in this year’s Evolution Challenge, seven different drivers set fastest times out of the event’s 13 special stages and less than 30 seconds separated the first six cars after 62 miles of competition.

The event began on Friday evening with two runs of its now traditional 1.6-mile tarmac stage, which runs through Bournemouth’s botanical gardens and along the sea front towards Boscombe, in front of 1000s of spectators, Nik Elsmore caught the whole 90-car field napping on the opening stage by not only taking the fastest Evo Challenge time, but stopped the clock two seconds ahead of everyone else!

However, his overall lead was short-lived when he collected a puncture on the second run through the stage, dropping him to second in the Mitsubishi standings. Bogie posted an almost as impressive third overall time on the second run to lead the Evolution Challenge field before the overnight halt, with Elsmore just 0.5 second behind in second and Icelandic Rally Champion Daniel Sigurdarsson in third.

Not enjoying his first night on the prom was Evo Challenge newcomer Richard Cathcart, who’s car stalled on the start-line of the very first stage when he tried to use its launch control. Although getting going again, he had dropped 30 seconds to the Mitsubishi front-runners, giving him a tough task for the following day.

Saturday saw the road surface switch to gravel and a further 11 stages in the Ringwood and Wareham Forests. Determined to make up for lost time, Cathcart won the first two tests, but his charge was temporarily curtailed when a stone split a rear brake pipe, causing him a heart-stopping moment when he found he had no brakes! This left Bogie to record the fastest time through SS5 and Sigurdarsson to do likewise in SS6 - the popular spectator stage through the grounds of Somerley Park.

At the first service halt, the Evo Challenge leader board showed Bogie eight seconds ahead of Elsmore, with Neil McCance a further eight seconds behind in third. The top trio were followed by Ling, Simon Harraway, Daniel Barry and Sigurdarsson, all separated by just three seconds! A little further back was the young Irishman and another series newcomer Keith Cronin, who admitted to be over-driving his new Evo IX, a trait which was causing him to overshoot junctions and lose time,

First to leave the Mitsubishi pack in the initial loop of Saturday’s stages was Tom Naughton, when his car’s transmission brought him to a stand-sill at the end of SS3. Initially being slowed by a blown turbo pipe, a similar fate befell David Meredith, when his inaugural Evo Challenge outing came to a halt at the start of SS5.

Also suffering transmission troubles was another series debutant, Jonny Greer and, although his gearbox was changed in service, the job over-ran the allotted time, forcing him to retire from the event before the next stage.

Now running with only three operational brakes, Cathcart defied his handicap by setting fastest times on stages seven and eight. Barry, who now had the bit between his teeth, took the honours on SS9, but not to be outdone, Cathcart did it again on SS10.

Although a relatively short run of just under three miles over Bere Heath, stage 10 saw two of the Evo Challenge front-runners leave the fray: Sigurdarsson succumbed to a slipping clutch and had no choice but to retire, whilst Harraway exited in more spectacular style, when a wheel caught an inconspicuous hole on the inside of a fast right hander, launching his car off the road and into a watery marsh on the outside of the bend. A disappointing end to his first ever Evo Challenge event.

Although not entirely comfortable driving on the soft gravel stages, Ling recorded the fastest time in SS11, the second run through Somerley, following which the times at second service showed Bogie now 18 seconds ahead of Barry and Elsmore a further five seconds behind in third - after revealing he had made a brief excursion into a ditch on stage nine,

After borrowing a rear brake caliper from Greer’s side-lined car, Cathcart was back to a full compliment of stopping power following the service halt and he proceeded to set fastest times on final two stages of the day. His efforts were enough to see him finish fifth in the Evo Challenge standings and win the Sunoco Spirit and Walkinshaw Performance best Rookie awards,

Bogie, on the other hand, took a cautious approach to the final pair of stages, judging his pace to perfection to get back to the finish in Bournemouth town centre to record his maiden Evolution Challenge victory, claim an overall position of sixth, win Group N and scoop the PIAA Junior Award for under 25-year old drivers.

“I’m delighted to have won my very first Evo Challenge round”, said Bogie at the finish. “This has been a tough rally because of the quality of the competition, so I went flat out where I could and, having pulled-out a lead, I just backed off when I wasn’t too sure about the conditions. This result is a great way to start my Evo Challenge campaign!”

Barry was more than pleased to finish second, whilst a final push by Ling saw him overhaul Elsmore by just 1.4 seconds. With Cathcart fifth, it was McCance who claimed sixth place in his brand new Evo IX, although admitting that a loss of pace mid-way through the afternoon had spoilt his possibility of a podium finish.

Having proved that when it all went well he was on the pace of the leading group, Cronin was relieved to get to the finish in seventh after a character-building day. Miles Johnston had spent the rally acclimatising to his newly acquired Evo VIII to finish eighth, with Jonathan Sparks embarking on his third year in the Mitsubishi series and finishing ninth - both drivers satisfied with their day’s work.

Evolution Challenge teams now prepare for round two, the Border Counties Rally, which takes place in the infamous Kielder Forest on 5th April.

The 2008 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge is backed by Mitsubishi Motors UK and Ralliart, with support from its associate sponsors: Pirelli tyres, PIAA lights, Speedline Corse wheels, Sparco racewear, Performance Friction Brakes, Sunoco Race Fuels, ADR Motorsport and Walkinshaw Performance.

Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge – Round 1 Results
1 David Bogie (Dumfries)/Kevin Rae (Hawick) 1:01:21.3
2 Daniel Barry (Enniskerry)/Mark Bowens (Cork) 1:01:30.3
3 Sebastian Ling (Llandysul)/Aled Rees (Crymych) 1:01:35.3
4 Nik Elsmore (Coleford)/Paul Wakeley (Llanelli) 1:01:36.7
5 Richard Cathcart (Enniskillen)/Martin Brady (Navan) 1:01:43.7
6 Neil McCance (Coomber)/Graham Hopewell (Worcester) 1:01:49.9
7 Keith Cronin (Bantry)/Anthony O’Conaill (Ballymakeera) 1:03:54.0
8 Miles Johnston (York)/Ian Bevan (Holywell) 1:04:16.6
9 Jonathan Sparks (Glastonbury)/Chris Davies (Abergavenny) 1:08:23.1

Retirements
SS3 Thomas Naughton (Bury)/Horace Saville (Bury) Transmission
SS5 David Meredith (Dolgellau)/Dai Roberts (Carmarthen) Transmission
SS7 Jonathan Greer (Carryduff)/Jonny Hart (Moneyrea) Transmission
SS10 Simon Harraway (Weston-super-Mare)/Craig Drew (Bream) Off road
SS10 Daniel Siguardarson (Iceland)/Isak Gudjonsson (Iceland) Clutch

Championship Positions
Drivers
1 David Bogie 12
2 Daniel Barry 10
3 Seb Ling 8
4 Nik Elsmore 7
5 Richard Cathcart 6
6 Neil McCance 5
7 Keith Cronin 4
8 Miles Johnston 3
9 Jonathan Sparks 2

Co-drivers
1 Kevin Rae 12
2 Mark Bowens 10
3 Aled Rees 8
4 Paul Wakely 7
5 Martin Brady 6
6 Graham Hopewell 5
7 Anthony O’Connaill 4
8 Ian Bevan 3
9 Chris Davies 2
 
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