After a 2015 REIS-RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Championship season devoid of luck in recent rounds, Cumbrian rally driver Paul Bird returned to his winning ways by claiming victory on today's Nicky Grist Stages Rally for a second successive year and in doing so, thrust himself back into contention for the title.
After a win on the opening Wyedean Rally followed by a second place on his local Malcolm Wilson Rally, the British Superbike team boss from Langwathby near Penrith was hoping to bounce back after a run of bad luck on both the Somerset Stages and last month's Carlisle Stages Rally seemed to have put paid to his chances for last season's vice champion.
With one of the best quality entries of the season so far, Bird and Welsh co driver Aled Davies started well with third fastest time on SS1 in their Frank Bird Poultry, Hager, Rubis Petroleum, Cockspur Rum, Fuchs Titan Race and Mac Tools-backed and Dom Buckley Motorsport-prepared Ford Focus WRC07.
Using the classic mid-Welsh stages favoured by Wales Rally GB in recent years and considering his lack of experience on them, Bird started cautiously on the opening test in Monument to hold fifth before climbing to third on the Route 60 stage just two seconds off the lead.
A storming run through Halfway 1 saw the 2005 National champion set fastest time to lead by seven seconds and he increased that advantage in Crychan 1 to 19 seconds as the cars headed back to Service at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells.
Second fastest time on the second pass through Monument was followed by another fastest time in Route 60 to up his advantage to 21 seconds which he held through the penultimate stage on Halfway and the final test in Crychan saw Bird ease the pace to bring the car home safely to a 14 second win.
The victory sees Bird move up to fourth overall in the championship table but when dropped scores are taken into account, Bird holds second place behind Scotsman David Weston meaning it's still wide open going into next month's Woodpecker Stages.
Paul Bird: "We've not enjoyed the best of fortunes on recent events so it was all the more sweet to get back to winning ways this weekend. I don't have the knowledge of these forests like most of the other drivers but I was delighted with the way I drove and it was just a case of controlling the lead. If we can keep this momentum going, we still have an outside chance of winning the title we just missed out on last year so the plan is to keep the pressure on for the final three rounds."
1 Paul Bird/Aled Davies Ford Focus 07 WRC 46:14
2 David Weston Kirsty Riddick Subaru Impreza WRC 46:28
3 Euan Thorburn/Richard Cooke Ford Focus WR02 46:41
4 Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson Ford Fiesta 46:55
5 Stephen Petch/Ian Windress Ford Fiesta R5+ 47:15
6 Jamie Anderson/Jon Scott Mitsubishi WRC 47:15
7 Dave Wright/Michael Wilkinson Ford Focus WRC 47:33
8 Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan Skoda Fabia S2000 47:40
9 Bob Ceen/Andy Bull Subaru Impreza WRC 47:41
10 Dylan Davies/Llion Williams Subaru Impreza 48:21
Provisional Championship Positions (dropped score total in brackets)
1 D Weston 173 (118)
2 S Petch 141 (102)
3 D Davies 122 (86)
4 P Bird 107 (106)
5 C Payne 105 (103)
6 P Naylor 99 (82)
7 R Thompson 87 (86)
8 E Thorburn 86 (86)
9 T Naughton 84 (83)
10 L Francis 82 (82)
J Anderson 82 (81)