Seventeen years after his father Paul took the second of his two victories, Cumbrian Frank Bird added his name to the winners’ trophy when he took a resounding victory as Northallerton AC hosted the annual Swift Signs & Shirts Christmas Stages Rally at Croft Circuit last Sunday.
Driving the PBM Ford Focus WRC 07 and fresh from winning at Knockhill the previous weekend, the 20-year-old from Penrith along with Hexham co-driver Jack Morton saw off the challenge of eight-times winner Kevin Procter from nearby Leeming Bar and Welsh co-driver Patrick Walsh (Procter’s Luxury Coaches Ford Fiesta) with Scottish marauders Gordon Morrison and Ed Kelly (Ford Fiesta R5) taking third.
Not that it was all plain sailing for Bird as he was one of a number of crews hit with a ten second penalty for a chicane infringement on the icy opening stage but from SS2 onwards, aided by a spin from Procter, he was never headed, winning all the remaining stages with ease. Local hero Procter valiantly chased but had no answer in the tricky conditions which saw bright sunshine supersede the morning frost.
After two stages, Bird led Procter by eight seconds and by half distance, his lead was 21 seconds. The part-time single seater racer continued to stamp his authority into the afternoon and by SS6, his advantage was at 39 seconds but rather than ease off, he pressed home his superiority as darkness fell to cross the finish ramp 52 seconds ahead of a magnanimous runner-up Procter, who in turn saw off Morrison – third for a second successive year - by almost another minute.
The top six was completed by Scotch Corner’s Tony Bardy and Richmond co-driver Reg Smith (Ford Focus WRC), Darlington husband and wife Paul/Jessica Swift (Ford Escort) and comeback driver David Henderson from Durham with co-driver Ian Forgan (Ford Escort). Former MSN MSVR champions Ian Woodhouse/Paul Rowland from Hutton Rudby (Ford Escort Mk2) took seventh ahead of Martin Hodgson/Tony Jones (Ford Escort Mk2).
With a near capacity entry, the classes were again hard fought with Witton Gilbert’s Andy Fawcett (Vauxhall Nova) clinching the 1400cc title and Scotsman Des Campbell (Peugeot 206) doing likewise in the 1600cc class. The two-litre class went the way of Catterick Village driver Martyn Tinker (Lotus Exige) with classes four and five being won by Swift and Bardy respectively.
The festive atmosphere was enhanced by a visit from Father Christmas organised by the Rotary Club of Northallerton Mowbray who helped raise funds for local hospices with a collection and raffle of prizes supplied by Croft Circuit as well as Northallerton Silver Band playing festive music. All crews carried tribute stickers to title sponsor Alan Cooper from Gilling West who ran Leeming-based Swift Signs and who died suddenly in October.
Swift Signs & Shirts Christmas Stages Rally Results
1 Frank Bird/Jack Morton (Ford Focus WRC07) 54m 06s; 2 Kevin Procter/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta) 54m 58s; 3 Gordon Morrison/Ed Kelly (Ford Fiesta R5); 4 Tony Bardy/Reg Smith (Ford Focus WRC); 5 Paul Swift/Jessica Swift (Ford Escort); 6 David Henderson/Ian Forgan (Ford Escort); 7 Ian Woodhouse/Paul Rowland (Ford Escort Mk2); 8 Martin Hodgson/Tony Jones (Ford Escort Mk2); 9 Daniel Hiorns/Daniel May (Subaru Impreza); 10 John Griffiths/Nigel Wetton (Subaru).