Langwathby rally driver Paul Bird looked set to claim a fourth victory on the Manx National Rally this weekend after leading from the start but with three stages to go, he crashed out of the lead in spectacular fashion.
Driving the Mac Tools, Rapid Solicitors, Fuchs Titan, Hager, FBP and Amigos-backed, Pirelli-shod and Dom Buckley Motorsport-prepared Ford Focus WRC07, Bird was on course to follow up his victories in 2009, 2010 and 2013 on The Island until disaster struck a couple of miles into SS12.
A scintillating performance on Friday night saw him and Welsh co-driver Aled Davies master the mixed conditions in the Manx lanes to set fastest time on all six stages and return to the Douglas overnight halt two minutes and 25 seconds ahead of the field.
With another eight stages in the daylight of Saturday, the Cumbrian MotoGP and British Superbike team owner made a relatively cautious start dropping a handful of seconds on the opening two stages before reasserting his authority to hold a two and a half minute lead after SS10 on Marine Drive.
The second run through Parville (SS11) saw him lose 30 seconds so knowing he had to continue pushing in the final three tests, the 2005 National champion lost control at high speed on the infamous Druidale stage, rolling a number of times before coming to a halt, luckily without serious injury.
Paul Bird: "That was the biggest crash I've ever had and I'm a bit sore and think I've broken some ribs but Aled is fine. I'm bitterly disappointed for everyone in the team as it was my fault entirely. I knew if we had a go on that stage it would make the final two a lot easier as we'd been having a few niggling problems with the car and I'd dropped a load of time with stalls and spins but I ran wide on a fast corner and we ended up paying a big price for a small mistake. The good news is Lexi's crocodile emerged unscathed but it's having a couple of events off now! The car is looking a bit sorry for itself too but the cage is OK so the boys will get it sorted and I'm really looking forward to some better luck on Rally Barbados later this month."
Provisional Results (after SS14)
1 Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke Ford Focus WRC 1:54:50.2
2 Oliver Mellors/Ian Windress Proton Millington Satria 1:55:12.6
3 Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh Subaru Impreza WRC 1:55:35.7
4 Arron Newby/Rob Fagg Subaru Impreza 1:57:48.7
5 Daniel McKenna/Arthur Kierans Ford Escort Mk 2 1:57:50.5
6 Steve Colley/Andrew Cowley Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 1:57:55.6
7 John Stone/Carl Williamson Skoda Fabia WRC 1:58:25.7
8 Connor Corkill/Dale Furniss Subaru Impreza 1:59:27.2
9 Quintin Milne/Martin Forrest Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 2:01:54.7
10 Nigel Cannell/Graham Fargher Mitsubishi Evo 9 2:01:56.0
Image courtesy Dave Kneen/ManxPhotosOnline.com: Paul Bird and Aled Davies in action prior to retirement on the 2014 Manx National Rally