HAMSTERLEY rally driver Stephen Petch and his Northallerton co-driver Ian Windress battled a strong field of the season as well as the dry and dusty conditions to take a fourth place finish on last Saturday’s Nick Grist Stages Rally in Wales.

Contesting round six of the REIS BTRDA Rally Series which they came so close to winning last year, the pair were out in the new SGP Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5+ after contesting the earlier rounds in the Ford Focus WRC.

Despite not having as much power as the WRCs, the latest World Championship version of the Ford saw Petch fifth fastest on the opening stage which he held into SS2 before upping the pace on the first runs through Crychan and Halfway to reach the midpoint service in fourth overall.

The second stages saw dust as a major problem due to the scorching conditions but with third fastest time on SS5, Petch closed the gap on the leaders before settling for safe points and arrived at the Royal Welsh Showground at Llandrindod Wells in fourth to maintain his title bid.

Also in action was Ripon driver Matthew Robinson and co-driver Sam Collis whereby once again, they were in action in their venerable Ford Escort Mk 2 and maintained their charge for an unprecedented third BTRDA Silver Star crown with yet another class victory.

Setting impressive times all day long, the pair reached the finish in 14th overall as first two wheel drive car and in doing so, netted sixth place championship points to lead the BTRDA Series overall.

With three rounds to go, the pair still need to drop a couple of scores but if they maintain their run of results to the end of the season, the destiny of the 2014 crown will be in doubt right up until October’s Cambrian Rally.

Sadly for the third of the region’s hopes of lifting championship silverware this season, retirement saw Thirsk’s Mat Smith and Barnard Castle co-driver Giles Dykes’ hopes severely dented. The pair were leading the 1400cc class in their Ford Ka when clutch failure ended their rally on SS4.

AFTER a successful day in Wales, it was straight to the P&R Benn Greystoke Stages Rally for Ripon’s Matthew Robinson and co-driver Sam Collis where once again, they emerged with a class win and fourth overall on the annual event just outside Penrith.

There were a number of other local crews in action on the fast and dusty stages of the privately owned forest complex including Northallerton’s Charlie Taylor and Malton co-driver Steve Bielby who came away with 11th overall and fourth in class in their CTMS Ford Escort Mk 2.

Former Birkby brothers now living in Scotland, Carl and Rob Tuer, brought their MGZR home in 13th place, winning the 1600cc class in the process while Ripon’s Andrew Robinson and Easingwold co-driver Graham Wilcox claimed 20th overall and seventh in class in their Ford Escort.

Brompton shopkeeper Darren Grimston and West Tanfield co-driver Richie Ross took third in class in their historic-specification Electrocare - sponsored Ford Escort Mk1 Mexico en route to 24th overall, three places ahead of the Proton Satria of County Durham pairing Michael Davison and Pete Gibson who took fourth in class.

Northallerton brothers Andrew and Richard Chandler took a hard fought 30th overall and second in class in their 1400cc RWS Bodyworks- backed Ford Escort Mk2 just once place and two seconds ahead of Billingham’s Michael Thornton and Guisborough codriver Dave Scrimgour in their Ford Escort Mexico.

Boroughbridge driver Graham Haigh and Pickhill co-driver Kari Bates bounced back from a first stage problem to take 32nd overall and tenth in class in their Ford Escort whereas Faceby’s Alun Pearson and co-driver Simon Brook finished 37th overall and 14th in class in their tompee.com-sponsored Peugeot 205. Sadly for the Pickhill pairing of Tom Hewick and Mick Johnson, they retired their Ford Escort on the second stage.

The local rally community was saddened to hear of the passing of Graham Harper last week following a lengthy spell of illness.

From Stillington near York, Graham was an integral part of the local rallying scene as a competitor and organiser of repute who was the driving force behind the popular Malton Forest Rally.

He leaves a wife Linda and daughters Donna and Nicola, all of whom still regularly compete.

l AS IT celebrates its halfcentury in 2014, Croft is revving up to roll back the years at its retro-flavoured nostalgia weekend next month with a winning blend of thrilling on-track duels, vintage vehicles and period music, dress and entertainment.

Last chance to order discounted advance tickets is today at croftcircuit.co.uk or by calling 01325 721815.

Prices begin at £10 for Saturday entry, rising to £23 for a weekend pass.