Local fans are expected to turn out in force once again for the popular Swift Signs and Shirts Christmas Stages Rally which takes place within the confines of Croft Circuit near Darlington this Sunday (16th December).
Despite being held a little earlier than normal this year, entries for Northallerton Automobile Club’s annual extravaganza rapidly filled and sees one of the strongest fields assembled in recent years with an eclectic mix of cars and drivers set to contest the event which comprises eight stages of varying routes around the North Yorkshire racetrack.
Leading the capacity 90 car entry will be seven times winner Kevin Procter from Scruton who will have Northallerton co-driver Dave Bellerby on the maps. However, the local businessman hasn’t sampled victory for two years at Croft so will be keen to get back to winning ways in his Procters Luxury Coaches-backed Ford Fiesta WRC which saw him win at Oulton Park last month.
Last year’s winners, Simon de Banke and Phil Mills, are sadly not defending their title, so it could well be double Croft winner, Guy Smith, who takes the challenge to Procter. The former Le Mans 24 Hours winner will be behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta R5+ in which he and Welsh co-driver Patrick Walsh took victory at Cadwell Park a couple of weeks ago and as a winner of both the Christmas Stages and the DDMC-organised Jack Frost Stages Rally previously, the Yorkshireman knows his way around Croft.
Teesside businessman Peter Stephenson wheels out his Subaru WRC with Northallerton’s Ian Windress co-driving at number three whilst Scottish visitor Gordon Morrison and co-driver Calum MacPherson could upset the English with victory in their Subaru Impreza.
Scotch Corner preparation expert Tony Bardy along with Mickleton co-driver Tony Walker will be in action in their Ford Focus WRC as Bardy bids to win the event for the first time, whilst the second Smith on the entry list, Peter – Guy’s father – hopes for more family success in his Ford Fiesta WRC he’s sharing with Graham Wild.
The powerful Ford Escort Mk2s of Darlington pair Paul and Jessica Swift along with Malton driver Rob Snowden and co-driver Mark Fisher will be as spectacular as ever with the top ten being rounded out by the Subaru Impreza of Lee and Cole Hastings whilst Catterick autograsser Martyn Tinker makes a welcome return in the Lotus Exige he’s sharing with Iain Peterson.
Others expected to be at the sharp end in the four-wheel drive class include Sun newspaper columnist Rob Gill (Ford Fiesta), Brompton-on-Swale driver Geoff Wright in the Ford Fiesta S2000 he’ll share with Chris Sanderson, whilst Guisborough taxidermist Dave Hornbrook (Mitsubishi), Ingleton brothers Dan/Matt Thompson (Subaru) and comeback drivers Neil Hiorns and Nick Stamper (both Subarus) should also figure well.
Mickleton’s Alistair Hutchinson with Staindrop co-driver St. John Dykes (Renault Clio) and Durham pair Ed Todd/Andy Brown (GTM Coupe) will be battling it out with Tinker in the two-litre class whilst in the strong 1600cc class, Cumbrians Barry Lindsey and Caroline Lodge should be the leading force in their Peugeot 106 but can expect stiff opposition from David/Mathew White (Ford Fiesta) and Scottish duo Des Campbell/Craig Forsyth (Peugeot 206).
In the 1400cc class, the main rivalry is expected to involve Richmond brothers Mark and Andrew Constantine (Vauxhall Corsa) but the dark horse could well be the Coach2.com-backed Vauxhall Corsa of Bedale’s Joe Cunningham, along with Northallerton co-driver Marc Fowler, who have been in tremendous form again this year.
Other local competitors in action include Brompton pairing Darren Grimston/Jake Harvey in their recently acquired ex-Drew Bellerby rallycross Mini Cooper S, Ingleby Barwick’s Martin Peters (Citroen Saxo) and Great Ayton duo Ian Horn/Bob Brown (Vauxhall Nova) whilst late entries include former National champion John Stone (Ford Fiesta WRC) and the ever-popular Mark Jasper in his Ford Escort Mk2. Both cars have local interest with Tyneside co-drivers in the respective shapes of Jack Morton and Don Whyatt.
Northallerton vehicle technician Andrew Chandler (1300cc Ford Escort), Staindrop driver Mark Thompson (Peugeot 206) and the Vauxhalls of Richmond drivers Andy and Stewart Dockray should provide plenty of entertainment, as will the LPG-powered Renault Clio of Mickleton duo Andrew and Joe Hutchinson whilst former top driver Anth Eaton makes a comeback in his Ford Escort Mk2.
Throw in the likes of Stokesley pair Mark Burton and Zoe Wright (Ford Fiesta XR2), Leeming Bar driver Dave Johnstone and Pickhill’s Bruce Lindsay (Peugeot 205) and the 1300cc Morris Mini of Darlington driver Peter Ellerby too. Bill Bates from Sinderby competes with grandson Ewan Bosworth, Northallerton’s Larry Carter and Georgina Smith (Peugeot 206) team up again and keep an eye out too for the likes of Bishop Auckland’s Andrew Grimstone (Honda Civic), Northallerton driver Malcolm Taylor (Peugeot 205) and Kev McPartland from Stockton in his Ford Escort RS1800.
Gates open at 8.00am and the first car starts stage one at 9.00am with action continuing throughout the day with the final stage being run in complete darkness. Advance tickets for posting until Wednesday 12th December or to collect on the gate are available at the reduced price of £8.00 per adult with admission on the day costing £10 for adults with accompanied children under15 being admitted free. Extensive free parking on hard standing is also available with trade stalls, food outlets and commentary available. For further information please visit www.northallerton-ac.co.uk/xmas or www.croftcircuit.co.uk
Swift Signs & Shirts Christmas Stages Rally – Leading Entries
1 Kevin Procter/Dave Bellerby - Ford Fiesta WRC
2 Guy Smith/Patrick Walsh - Ford Fiesta R5+
3 Peter Stephenson/Ian Windress - Subaru P2000 WRC
4 Gordon Morrison/Calum MacPherson - Subaru Impreza
5 Tony Bardy/Tony Walker - Ford Focus WRC
6 Peter Smith/Graham Wild- Ford Fiesta WRC
7 Paul Swift/Jessica Swift - Ford Escort Mk2
8 Rob Snowden/Mark Fisher - Ford Escort Mk2
9 Lee Hastings/Cole Hastings - Subaru Impreza
10 Martyn Tinker/Iain Paterson - Lotus Exige
88 John Stone/Jack Morton - Ford Fiesta WRC
89 Mark Jasper/Don Whyatt - Ford Escort Mk2