One of the most exciting top ten in recent history will head a 130 strong field away from Minehead this weekend, as the Somerset Stages rally returns once again to the seaside resort on Saturday 16 April. Competitors across the country will descend on the town as crews contest almost 40 miles of competitive stages in the North of the county.
Organised by Burnham-on-Sea Motor Club and Minehead Motor Club, the event forms the third round of the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series and the Maxxis Tyres MSA English Rally Championship. Coupled with competitors from the ASWMC Loose Surface Rally Championship, rally fans and casual spectators are guaranteed a full day of action in the Exmoor forests.
Charlie Payne, partnered by Carl Williamson in their Ford Fiesta, will head the field away from the Minehead seafront as number one seed this year. The Yorkshireman currently tops the BTRDA Rally Series standing after a maximum points haul at last month’s Malcolm Wilson Rally.
Luke Francis from Rhuddlan and John H. Roberts are second on the road in their rapid Mitsubishi E9 and will undoubtedly take the fight to Payne throughout the 13 stages during the day. Durham ace Steve Petch partnered by Michael Wilkinson will start at number four in their Ford Fiesta R5+ and Paul Benn makes an outing in his Ford Focus 02 WRC with Richard Cooke alongside at number five. Welsh duo Steven Clarke and Steve Pugh are at six in their Mitsubishi E6.
Eyes will be firmly on Thomas Preston at car seven, as he debuts his brand new Skoda Fabia R5 on the event, along with co-driver Jack Morton. The Skoda is a rare sight on UK events and more akin to the British Rally Championship, but the Lancashire man has chosen the Somerset Stages Rally to get acclimatised to loose surface rallying in the machine.
Leading local crew Tristan Bailey and James How, both from Taunton, will bring their stunning Mitsubishi WRC 04 to the event. They will be hoping to better their seventh overall on the event achieved back in 2010, making a rare appearance in the car.
Another crew to debut the car on gravel are Martyn and Dawn England from Illminster who will take their brand new Ford Fiesta R5+ into the forests for the first time this weekend. They, too, will aim to better a ninth overall in 2015 with their new machine.
There have also been several entries lodged over the past week which could make an appearance towards the top of the leader board on Saturday, despite not being early enough to make the final seeded entry list. Mark Donnelly could make the trip from Ireland in his Impreza WRC and Steve Simpson is waiting for a spare part for his Fiesta before he makes the trip to Minehead.
Two-wheel-drive front runner Julian Wilkes from Taunton returns to the event in his Vauxhall Nova with co-driver Will Rutherford-Child in a bid to keep the regular contenders from the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400cc at bay.
The bulk of the event mileage takes place in the Exmoor forests but the now traditional Porlock Toll Road stage will also provide a challenge for the predominately loose surface contenders. Once again The Beach Hotel will play host to Rally Headquarters during the event and the teams will base themselves along the Minehead seafront for the scheduled services throughout the day.
There will be plenty of opportunities for fans to get a slice of the action or even up close and personal with the cars throughout the day. The field will be flagged away from the ceremonial start on Warren Road Seafront bright and early at 8am on Saturday. Crews will be returning to the seafront service area throughout the day for routine maintenance and repairs.
For something a bit more fast paced, the spectator stage in the Kennisham orest complex is the place to go, offering the chance to see the action twice during the day. The first run through the stage kicks off at around 9.30am and provides over two hours of action. The second run of the stage sees crews returning just after lunch at 1.40pm.
Those fortunate enough to complete the event will get the chance to celebrate at 3.30pm with the ceremonial finish on the Minehead Seafront (Warren Road), with the winning crews spraying champagne to celebrate victory.
More spectator information is available at www.somersetstagesrally.com and you can keep up to date with all the latest news on the event Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Here’s some footage from last year…
2015 BTRDA Rally Series Round 3 - Somerset Stages
PHOTO: A great mix of cars will be present at the event, including the spectators’ favourite, many Ford Escort Mk2s. Pictured are Boyd Kershaw and Bryan Hull – two-wheel-drive frontrunners. Photo courtesy RalliPhotos Wales.