Langwathby rally driver Paul Bird looked set to claim a fourth victory on the IMGold Manx National Rally this weekend after leading from the start but for a second year in succession, his hopes were dashed just three stages from home.
Driving the Mac Tools, Hager, Frank Bird Poultry-backed, Pirelli-shod and Dom Buckley Motorsport-prepared Ford Focus WRC07, Bird along with Welsh co driver Aled Davies was on course to follow up his victories in 2009, 2010 and 2013 and in doing so, avenge the big crash he suffered when well in command last year.
However, with a lead of over a minute and a half, the British Superbike Championship team boss suffered a puncture at the very start of the 16.21-mile Cringle stage and by the time they could safely stop and assess the situation, the time loss in changing the offending wheel meant his hopes of victory were dashed so he retired on the spot.
A scintillating performance in dreadful conditions on Friday night saw the 2014 BTRDA Rally Series runner-up master the sodden Manx lanes to set fastest time on five of the six stages and return to the Douglas overnight halt 21 seconds ahead of the field.
With another eight stages in the daylight of Saturday, the Cumbrian continued his relentless pace by setting fastest time on three of the day's opening four stages before disaster struck.
Paul Bird: "It's a bitter pill to have to swallow again over here on the Island but as they say, that's rallying. I knew straight away we'd punctured and that was it, game over, so there was no point in risking the car further, I wanted to save the mileage as it's going to Barbados this week. I felt I was driving well and we bossed the conditions which were awful on Friday night. Our luck will change at some point but it's tough to take, especially with such a commanding lead."
Image: Paul Bird and Aled Davies in action prior to retirement on the 2015 IMGold Manx National Rally (image courtesy James Ward/Chicane Media)