Mark Donnelly On His Way To Rallye Sunseeker Glory In His Renault Clio R3 - Photo Credit: Stuart Paice

 

Northern Irishman Mark Donnelly has taken a hard fought victory in the opening round of the 2012 MSA British Rally Championship, the Rallye Sunseeker International.

While on paper, Donnelly's winning margin of 1 minute and 49 seconds over second placed Desi Henry could hint at an easy victory, that couldn't be further from the truth. Throughout the event, Donnelly was in a titanic duel with BRC returnee Jarkko Nikara, the duo trading fastest stage times and the event lead throughout the day, before an unfortunate retirement for the Finn on the penultimate stage gave Donnelly a clear run to the win.

Donnelly and Nikara were never split by more than 3.5 seconds during the event and were remarkably equal on times after 48 stage miles at the end of SS9. Nikara had taken the rally lead for a second time on SS10 and they were getting set for a nail-biting finish, but then Nikara’s car ground to a halt on the penultimate stage and his event was over. This gave Donnelly the victory in his Renault Clio R3, moving him into the early championship lead and giving Renault the lead in the Manufacturers Championship.

Jarkko Nikara Suffered A Disappointing Retirement In His Citroen DS3 R3 - Photo Credit: Vive La Images

 

As the front two stormed away, the next group of cars behind enjoyed a close battle for a podium place, with the rest of the top ten regularly split by under twenty seconds and places switching after every stage. Osian Pryce held third for the first five stages, the Welshman adapting well to his new Citroen DS3 R3, but he was overhauled by Pirelli Star Driver Jukka Korhonen.

Korhonen, driving a Pirelli TEG Sport-prepared Skoda Fabia R2, was third for the next trio of stages, but was eventually overtaken by his predecessor as the star driver Elfyn Evans, before going on to retire with mechanical problems on the final stage.

Evans held the spot for most the afternoon, before benefitting from Nikara's retirement to move into second. On the final stage though, Evans slipped back to third behind Henry, but the Welshman still claimed the R2 class victory and some vital championship points for the drivers' championship.

Irishman Henry made a steady start to the rally and stayed within the top seven throughout, keeping himself in the hunt. As his rivals started to slip up, Henry was able to benefit and moved into the podium places, before a superb fastest time on the final stage gave him second place by just 0.2s from Evans, finishing as the top Citroen runner.

Desi Henry Took A Great Podium Finish In His Citroen - Photo Credit: Vive La Images

 

Pryce took a strong fourth, while Peter Taylor recovered from some early set up woes to take fifth place in his Renault Clio R3. The rally didn't prove to be successful for the Finnish contingent taking part, as alongside the retirements of Nikara and Korhonen, Ford Junior Team Finland driver Niko Nieminen was unable to finish the event when his driveshaft broke on the penultimate stage. Fortunately restoring national pride was Jussi Kumpumaki, Nieminen's team-mate bringing home his Ford Fiesta R2 in sixth, after running as high as fourth at one point.

Kumpumaki led home a group of Ford Fiesta's, with the R2's of Tom Cave, Matthew Cathcart and Ruary MacLeod and the ST of Gethin Jones completing the top ten. Nick Allen finished eleventh, the American hugely enjoying the event in his Renault Twingo R2 ,with the final three finishers being Matt Cotton in his AVS Motorsport Ford Fiesta ST, Arron Newby in his Pirelli TEG Sport Skoda Fabia and Gary Pearson in his Renault Twingo R1, the R1 class winner.

The R1 class looked to be going the way of Irishman Keith Cronin all day. The former double champion, returning to the series in a one-off appearance for Renault Sport, led throughout the day in his Twingo R1, but a puncture on SS9 slowed him up, before a broken driveshaft on the next stage ended his rally, giving Pearson the win.

Keith Cronin Looked Set For The R1 Class Win Before A Late Retirement - Photo Credit: Vive La Images

 

Other drivers who suffered the disappointment of retirements included Alastair Fisher, the WRC Academy star retiring at the end of SS10 when he Ford Fiesta R2 got stuck in second gear. The similar machine of Jack Rowe was also unable to complete the event when the teenager went off the road on SS9.

Arguably suffering the worst retirement of all was Callum Black. His event started badly in the morning with some disappointing stage times, but it went from bad to worse on SS8 when he rolled his Suzuki Swift 1600, the car then setting on fire, causing extensive damage.

Rallye Sunseeker International 2012 Results:

Position

Driver

Co-Driver

Car

Time

Difference

1

Mark Donnelly

Dai Roberts

Renault Clio R3

1:07:06.0

2

Desi Henry

Niall Burns

Citroen DS3 R3

1:08:55.5

+ 0:01:49.5

3

Elfyn Evans

Andrew Edwards

Ford Fiesta R2

1:08:55.7

+ 0:01:49.7

4

Osian Pryce

Iestyn Williams

Citroen DS3 R3

1:09:28.4

+ 0:02:22.4

5

Peter Taylor

Andrew Roughead

Renault Clio R3

1:09:29.1

+ 0:02:23.1

6

Jussi Kumpumaki

Jani Salo

Ford Fiesta R2

1:09:32.5

+ 0:02:26.5

7

Tom Cave

Craig Parry

Ford Fiesta R2

1:10:27.2

+ 0:03:21.2

8

Matthew Cathcart

James Morgan

Ford Fiesta R2

1:10:30.3

+ 0:03:24.3

9

Ruary McLeod

Ford Fiesta R2

1:12:24.5

+ 0:05:18.5

10

Gethin Jones

Kevin Devine

Ford Fiesta ST

1:14:21.8

+ 0:07:15.8

11

Nick Allen

Andy Bull

Renault Twingo R2

1:14:45.6

+0:07:39.6

12

Matt Cotton

Glyn Thomas

Ford Fiesta ST

1:15:06.1

+ 0:08:00.1

13

Arron Newby

Julian Wilkinson

Skoda Fabia R2

1:16:00.6

+ 0:08:54.6

14

Garry Pearson

Craig Wallace

Renault Twingo R1

1:23:10.8

+ 0:16:04.8

Elfyn Evans Sits Third In The Championship Standings After A Strong Sunseeker Performance - Photo Credit: Stuart Paice

 

British Rally Championship Driver Standings (After Rd.1):

  1. Mark Donnelly – 20 points
  2. Desi Henry – 18 points
  3. Elfyn Evans – 16 points

British Rally Championship Manufacturer Standings (After Rd.1):

  1. Renault UK – 34 points
  2. Citroen UK – 33 points
  3. Ford Motor Company – 29 points

British Rally Championship Team Standings (After Rd.1):

  1. M-Sport Ford – 20 points
  2. Ford Junior Team Finland – 18 points
  3. AVS Motorsport -16 points

Jussi Kumpumaki Pushed Hard On His Way To A Top Six Finish, Putting The Ford Junior Team Finland Second In The Teams Standings - Photo Credit: Vive La Images