Cumbrian driver Paul Bird made it three wins in as many years when he emphatically defended his Legend Fires North West Stages Rally crown, taking the victory by over two minutes and adding to his 2013 and 2014 victories on the Blackpool-based event.
With cool but dry conditions for the opening loop on Friday night, Bird made a wrong tyre choice and had to give second best to the Subaru of Simon Bowen on the opening couple of stages around Weeton Camp before hitting the front on the opening run down Blackpool promenade where he was to remain for the remainder of the event.
Along with Newcastle co driver Andrew Roughead, the Frank Bird Poultry, Fuchs Titan Race and Mac Tools-backed Dom Buckley-prepared Ford Focus WRC07 pair held a slender nine second advantage overnight but following the opening loop on Saturday morning, the advantage was immediately increased to 35 seconds.
However, a poor run through the couple of Docks tests, one of which saw him gain a stage maximum, saw the lead slashed to just six seconds but with five fastest times in the next seven stages; the former ANCRO National Champion had his lead up to over a minute going into the final loop of stages.
From there, the British Superbike team boss continued to build his lead, winning all six of the final stages to arrive back at the finish ramp two minutes and 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Tony Bardy in his Nissan.
Although he couldn't quite match the dominance of his 2014 victory, he added another 17 stage wins from this year to 18 of last year proving him to be the man to beat on one of the toughest multi-venue asphalt rallies in the country.
Paul Bird: "That was hard work but to come away with a third win on the trot is fantastic and I'm pleased with how I drove. It was forecast below freezing on Friday night so we went with ice tyres on the opening stages which proved to be a wrong choice as I should have been on inters. Saturday was fine, it was a bit of a stop and start day and I made it hard work for myself when I wrong slotted on SS10 and lost a big chunk of my lead, but I hold my hands up to that. From there, I knew we had the pace to win the event so it was a case of being fast but careful. I'm feeling confident after today so will do a test in mid week before next weekend's Wyedean Rally. It's about time I won one of these championships as I'm fed up of being the bridesmaid!”
Having finished runner-up in the 2013 MSA Asphalt Rally Championship and also runner-up in the 2014 REIS BTRDA Rally Series, Bird plans to go one better as he contests the opening round of the 2015 BTRDA Rally Series which kicks off with the Weir Engineering Wyedean Forest Rally next weekend.
Provisional Results - 2015 Legend Fires North West Stages Rally
1 Paul Bird/Andrew Roughead - Ford Focus 07 WRC - 1 hr 29min 58sec
2 Tony Bardy/Neil Colman - Nissan Sunny GTi-R - + 2min 16sec
3 Nigel Feeney/Phil Sandham - Subaru Impreza - + 3:25
4 Jim McDowall/Jamie McDowall - Subaru Impreza - + 5:13
5 Jack Darbyshire/Matthew Kendall - Ford Focus - + 5:22
6 John Rintoul/Ross Hynd - Hyundai Accent WRC - + 5:24
7 David Longfellow/Vaughan Graham - Subaru Impreza - + 5:40
8 Adrian Atkinson/Dave Riley - Mitsubishi Evo 6 - + 6:15
9 Andrew Varley/Paul Wild - Ford Escort Cosworth - + 6:17
10 Bob Grant/Vicky Grant - Subaru Impreza - + 8:01
Image: Paul Bird in action on the 2015 Legend Fires North West Stages Rally (pictures courtesy of James Ward / www.chicanemedia.co.uk and Marcus Andrews)