Cumbrian driver Paul Bird made it two wins in as many years when he emphatically defended his Legend Fires North West Stages Rally crown, taking the victory by over five minutes, before admitting he owed it all to his daughter's toy!
Just as he did last year, the Langwathby driver took the lead after the opening stage on Friday night and was never headed over the next 25 stages but along with Welsh co driver Aled Davies in the Frank Bird Poultry, Fuchs Titan, Rapid Solicitors and Mac Tools-backed Ford Focus WRC07, he had another passenger.
His daughter, Lexi, who he dedicated his win to last year, gave him her toy crocodile as a good luck charm this year and it accompanied the 2005 ANCRO National Champion to 18 stage victories and second fastest time on seven of the remaining eight tests as he was never challenged.
Despite the tricky weather conditions, Bird won all five stages on Friday night to hold a massive 53 second lead at the overnight halt in Blackpool before starting off where he finished on Saturday's remaining 21 stages.
The MotoGP and British Superbike Team boss extended his lead to over one and a half minutes by half distance despite a clash with ex winner Tony Bardy before continuing his relentless pace into the afternoon.
Bird's advantage was over two and a half minutes over Dom Buckley Motorsport team-mate John Stone when the event sponsor retired his Skoda Fabia late on and despite a spin on the penultimate stage, his only mistake of the event, Bird crossed the Blackpool finish ramp five minutes and eight seconds to the good over the Skoda of Neil Simpson.
Paul Bird: "I dedicated the win last year to my daughter Lexi so this year she gave me her toy crocodile as a good luck charm and it worked! I've been called some names in my time and it's probably the first time a reptile has won this event but joking aside, we had a good solid run. The car was faultless, Aled is a fantastic co-driver and I have a wonderful team around me which makes my job easy and now I'm back in training and focussed, we showed again what we could do. I had a clash with Tony Bardy this morning and then a spin on SS25 when we aquaplaned but other than that, we had no problems and I felt really sharp in the car. It was a shame Kevin Procter went out early as I was looking forward to a battle with him and the challenge didn't materialise from one or two others as I expected. This is one of the toughest rallies in the UK with such a strong entry so to win it for a second time was fantastic. It sets us up nicely for next weekend where I'm going to have to be on the top of my game again. "
Now the runner-up in the 2013 MSA Asphalt Rally Championship plans to return to gravel and will be contesting the 2014 BTRDA Rally Series which kicks off with the Weir Engineering Wyedean Forest Rally next weekend.
Results - 2014 Legend Fires North West Stages Rally
1 Paul Bird/Aled Davies - Ford Focus 07 WRC - 1hr 37m 48s
2 Neil Simpson/Claire Mole - Skoda Fabia S2000 - + 5m: 08s
3 Darren Doherty/Andrew Falconer - Subaru Impreza - + 6m:44s
4 Bob Grant/Vicky Grant - Subaru Impreza - + 8m:52s
5 Damian Cole/Elliott Edmondson - Ford Escort RS Mk2 - + 10m:20s
6 Alan Kirby/Lawrence Kirby - Subaru Impreza - + 10m:30s
7 Chris Ford/Steve Hartley - Subaru Impreza - + 10m:49s
8 Howard Chopping/Jon Turnbull - Subaru Impreza555 - + 10m:51s
9 David Benson/Steven Benson - Honda Civic - + 11m:31s
10 Mathew Roberts/Richard Bestwick - Citroen Saxo VTS - + 12m:24s
Image courtesy of Marcus Andrews: Paul Bird in action on the 2014 Legend Fires North West Stages Rally