MOTORSPORT: THE RallyAction Promenade Stages drew in its biggest attendance of all time with an estimated 10,000 plus spectators visiting New Brighton's promenade to catch 90 of the country's top rally cars in action.
The action on the Wallasey Motor Club and Wirral Council promoted event was fast and furious but despite some stiff competition, Hereford's John & Caroline Price gave a commanding performance and secured a record 10th rally win and also became the first to achieve a hat-trick of successive victories in their four-wheel drive 300plus horsepower Metro 6R4.
Entertaining the many spectators and providing the main competition to the Prices were five other similar Metros, an ex-Subaru World Rally Team Impreza S8 valued at over £350,000, plus a couple of Darrian rally cars driven by Damian Cole and Chris Davis.
Price rose to the challenge accordingly, blitzing the others with a succession of quickest stage times.
Price's main opposition was expected to come from the current Welsh Rally Champion Damian Cole, but his Darrian T90 GTR was slowed by traction difficulties leaving him 10 seconds down on Price after only the first 4.5 miles.
Other main rivals were the Stojanov brothers and Somerset's Karl Broad but the Stojanovs broke their 6R4's gearbox and Broad seemed off-song in another Metro 6R4.
It was North Western Championship frontrunner John Stone & Lee Carter in another Metro that took up the chase, hotly pursued by Manchester's Mike Oates's Subaru in the early stages.
In addition to taking the challenge to Price, second placed John Stone's team had managed to claim another record even before the rally had started having laid claim to having the furthest travelled member of the team.
Ex-rally driver and now team advisor Tony Jannetta had made the three-day round trip from his hometown Philadelphia especially to catch John in action and to offer advice.
It must have been working as Stone was in a strong second overall position as the rally headed to the halfway point.
Price still held a 16 second lead over Stone as the cars entered stage five just as a heavy shower hit New Brighton.
A storming drive by Stone through the wet stage saw him claw back three seconds on the leaders and also stretch his advantage to the others. Chris Davis was also quick in the wet and held onto a strong looking placing to try and catch Stone.
Despite a brave challenge with only three gears the Stojanovs finally called it a day after a spin resulted in them clipping a curb and suffering bent suspension.
Rally leader Price too had a similar drama on the same corner, caused by the damp road conditions, but managed to collect the car and continued to seal another Promenade win.
Bury's John Stone took a well-deserved second and Davis finished third taking the top two wheel drive spot also. Another of the teams to suffer mechanical problems that forced a disappointing retirement from the rally, after such a promising start, were local Wallasey crew Kevin Charles and Anna Marchbank in their Sapphire Cosworth.
Anna was co-driving on only her second rally and at only 16 was also the youngest competitor on the rally.
By the 8th of the rally's 10 stages South Wirral based Anna disappointingly confirmed they were out.
"We had been in the top 15 and I was really enjoying it and I was also pleased with my co-driving, but unfortunately the clutch has gone on our car and we're out now," she said.
Damian Cole and Mike Oates finished level on times, with Oates claiming fifth overall, a second in the over two litre class thanks to the quicker stage time ruling at the start of the rally, leaving Cole to take sixth and third in the category, which was topped by fourth highest overall finisher Karl Broad.
In the remaining classes Peter & Rick Tweedle headed the 1400cc cars, Evan Jones & Kath Curzon were the quickest 1600cc car after a close battle with Liverpool's Dave Burns and Matt Speed's rapid Nissan Micra secured the up to two litre class.
Wigan's Kim & Yvonne Mather finished as highest Mixed Crew and Leigh Pratt & Sabrina Shaw were highest placed novices. Geoff Roberts' immaculate 30-year-old Mk1 Ford Escort won the Best Presented Car and Wirral's Mark Skillicorn and Karl Hughes took the John Price Rallying Star Drive Award for their determined efforts in keeping their Escort Cosworth going after a series of mechanical problems.
Commenting at the finish, Clerk of the Course Andy Macdonald made note that the 23rd annual running of the rally had been a great success and the many spectators and competing teams had enjoyed the event immensely.
Andy was also quick to point out the significant boost to the local trade, in particular the hotels in the area that had been fully booked across the Wirral.
"It's been a great day and I would like to thank the whole of my 200 strong team of officials and marshals for making it all happen on the day," he said. "It gets bigger and better each year and makes the last six months of planning and hard all worthwhile"
Top 10 Finishers: 1st John Price/Caroline Price: MG Metro 6R4 - 38 min 18 sec; 2nd John Stone/Lee Carter: MG Metro 6R4 - 38 min 39 sec; 3rd Chris Davis/Brandon Parker: Darrian T90 - 38 min 46 sec; 4th Karl Broad/Roger Grant: MG Metro 6R4 - 38 min 57 sec; 5th Mike Oates/Lisa Addy: Impreza WRC S8 - 39 min; 6th Damian Cole/Mark James: Darrian T90 GTR - 39 min; 7th Phil Gallagher/Mick Gallagher: MG Metro 6R4 - 40 min seven sec; 8th Steve Simpson/Mark Booth: Impreza WRC - 40 min 23 sec; 9th Martin Parkinson/Steve Bishop: Escort Cosworth - 40 min 33 sec; 10th Rob Dick/Barry Green: Darrian T9 - 40 min 36 sec.