NORTH Yorkshire rally driver Ryan Champion overcame extreme weather conditions as well as strong opposition to win the gruelling five-day Roger Albert Clark Rally at the weekend.

Champion, from Castleton, along with York co-driver Craig Thorley, brought their Tuthill Porsche 911 over the finish ramp in Carmarthen late on Monday afternoon to win by more than four minutes and in doing so, became the first non-Ford Escort crew to take victory in the event, which was inaugurated in 2004.

The bi-annual event, which replicates the Lombard RAC Rallies of the 1970s and 1980s, saw 139 crews, mainly in period cars and limited to two-wheel drive, converge on the Carlisle start last Thursday afternoon before four stages in Kielder Forest in darkness. The opening loop claimed a couple of leading names but saw Champion and Thorley return to the overnight halt in fourth overall and leading their class.

Friday’s action returned to the southernmost part of Kielder Forest with eight further stages during the day but the arrival of Storm Arwen caused the event to be temporarily suspended as crews, officials, marshals, and spectators were stranded in the forests. Champion maintained his fourth place overall.

Saturday’s proposed leg into Scotland was cancelled whilst the various rally personnel were extracted from the forests, including many competitors who had to spend the night in their rally cars until snow-covered road and fallen trees could be cleared.

Ryan Champion and Craig Thorley took victory on the Roger Albert Clark (RAC) Rally in their Porsche Picture: ANDY ELLIS PHOTOGRAPHY

Ryan Champion and Craig Thorley took victory on the Roger Albert Clark (RAC) Rally in their Porsche Picture: ANDY ELLIS PHOTOGRAPHY

With the worst of the storm having passed, the organisers restarted the rally on Sunday where the remaining crews tackled six of the classic Welsh forests. There, Champion climbed to third overall when rally leader Jason Pritchard crashed out during the day meaning the Yorkshire crew were hoping to hang on to a podium place on the final leg on Monday.

Five final tests awaited the crews in Walters Arena and Crychan and with a typical sting in the tail, it saw the two leading cars of Osian Price and Paul Barrett retire, which handed the lead to Champion, from where he made no mistakes to claim one of the biggest victories of his and long-term friend and co-driver Thorley’s illustrious careers.

Easingwold’s Richard Spink and Helperby co-driver Nigel Hutchinson had a relatively trouble-free run to finish 19th overall and 13th in class in their Ford Escort whilst Andy Davison from Middlesbrough claimed a class win and 25th overall in his Sunbeam which also secured him second overall in the Open class of the event.

Lealholm driver Nick Cook and Whitby co-driver Dave Raw brought their Ford Escort Mk1 home in 40th overall, second in class and seventh on the Open class despite losing time in Chirdonhead on Friday morning whilst Thirlby’s Terry Cree, co-driven as ever by Richard Shores from Boltby, enjoyed a good run in their BMW 2002 to claim 76th overall of the 100 finishers including 63rd in the Historic category and second in class.

Bolton-on-Swale co-driver Cat Lund guided Adrian Drury to 87th overall, 72nd in the Historics and sixth in class in their Talbot Sunbeam but sadly Barnard Castle driver Tim Metcalfe had to retire his and Ripon co-driver Mark Casey’s Ford Escort after SS11 on Friday afternoon.

Fancied runner and former winner, Matt Robinson from Ripon slid off the road in Kielder Forest late on Friday night and retired the Ford Escort he was sharing with Sam Collis.

Despite the loss of a third of the stage miles due to the inclement weather, the crews covered nearly 227 miles of stages in the forests with Champion’s winning time being four hours, 13 minutes, and ten seconds of competitive rallying. The focus now shifts to the 2023 event where the organisers hope that sufficient allocation of forestry roads will be available in Yorkshire as the region has had to miss out in recent years due to the lack of availability. Hopefully this year’s winner, who lives on the North York Moors, might be able to defend his title partly on home territory.