IT was a mixed day for local crews who ventured North for the Kielder Forest Stages Rally, reports PAUL WILLETTS.

The Hexham-based event was Round 4 of the BTRDA Rally Championship and Round 3 of the English series, Mini Challenge, plus a few regional championships.

Three stages on the Eastern side of the massive Kielder complex had two loops of Falstone, Bower and Shepardshield interspersed with a lunchtime service back at the Hexham Livestock Mart.

The stages were incredibly fast but grip was very inconsistent and it was easy to get caught out in the changeable conditions.

In the Mini Challenge section, 11 cars lined up, and the challenge crews only did the opening loop of three stages totalling some 21 miles.

Hesketh Bank’s Jack Birch had experienced Coleford based co-driver Mike Jode alongside in the Tarleton Tyres-backed Mini, with the duo stepping up from the Junior 1000 series last year to give the youngster much needed gravel experience.

And the duo had a trouble-free run to fifth overall and second in class.

In the main event, veteran campaigners Jeremy Easson and Mike Reynolds had a trouble-free run in the Colin Easson Motors Escort RS1600 to finish 24th and sixth in class.

Cliffy Simmons from Monmouth teamed up once more with Yorkshireman John Lowe in the immaculate Philliskirk & Lowe Escort RS1800.

After gaining much needed mileage on the recent Border Counties, it was more of the same here, and apart from issues with rear brakes binding on stage 5 which cost them some time, they were happy enough with 28th overall and seventh in class.

Luke Watts and Ryan Taylor put the new MG Rover through its paces
Luke Watts and Ryan Taylor put the new MG Rover through its paces (Kevin Money)

The Forest of Dean’s Luke Watts with Ryan Taylor alongside debuted the new MG Rover, stepping up to the top 1400S class in the 1400 category.

The event was just about getting mileage and a feel for the Ian Watts & Son, NJ Autos-backed car ahead of doing the remaining rounds of the BTRDA series, and the duo finished 42nd and fifth in class.

"Today was about mileage and learning the new car as I'm so rusty. The first loop I was braking way to early but second loop was much better and I'm gradually getting to terms with the new car," said Luke

"I'm going to use the remaining rallies this year now to build my speed. Thanks to Ryan who did a great job in with me today, so it's onwards and upwards."

Unfortunately it was a day to forget for the current 1400 championship leaders Nigel and Karen Jenkins from Coleford after opening up a comfortable lead on the opening two stages, despite a huge spin costing some 10 seconds.

Nigel and Karen Jenkins rev up in the Dixies Challenge
Nigel and Karen Jenkins had a frustrating day. File photo: Kevin Money (Kevin Money)

But disaster struck on the next test when engine problems brought their event to a premature end, although they still lead the way in the 1400 series.

For Geoff Phelps from Newent with coleford’s Colin Jenkins calling the notes in the Hartpury Farms Escort RS1800 it proved a very short event, sliding off in the opening stage and getting beached.

Yet again the organisers put on an excellent event and it's a shame they didn't get a full entry to repay them for all their hard work in providing competitors with a quality rally.