Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge - Round 1
Paul Alexander and his co-driver, Jakes Kelly, started the season how they mean to continue, by winning the first round of the 2003 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge on Saturday's (22nd February) Rallye Sunseeker.
Now into its third year and with full backing from Mitsubishi UK, the Evolution Challenge attracted five returning 2002 teams and 12 new teams for its season opener, 18 being the largest ever field for this Group N one-makes series.
The event comprised 16 stages totalling 75 competitive miles over a mixture of asphalt and gravel surfaced roads, mainly over military land and in the forests north of Bournemouth. As has now become traditional with the first round of the Kumho National Rally Championship, the first and last stages were a short, but spectacular blast through the town's Botanical Gardens and along the sea front.
Setting the fastest time straight out of the box were Brendan Crealey/Steve Harris, albeit less than a second separating the next five Evo Challenge crews, the scene now set for what was to become an intense day-long battle.
As cars came into service after the first three tests to change from slicks on to forest tyres, it was Alexander/Kelly who were out in front, two seconds ahead of the initial leaders. They were in turn followed closely by James Edwards/Si Brown, Kevin Stevens/Stuart Foley and Richard Davis/Dylan Jones.
With four stages in Ringwood Forest to follow, it was now the turn of the gravel specialists. Although Alexander/Kelly retained their advantage, Davis/Jones spearheaded the attack on the leaders. Less than a second behind them Anthony Willmington/Andy White were getting back some of their 2002 form and rose from 13th to 3rd when the cars returned to service after SS7.
Crealey reported he was finding it difficult to get around the tight corners with his car's handbrake not functioning when he needed it most, whilst others losing time were top Evo Challenge seeds, Mike Brown/Aled Davies, last year's runners-up, Mark I'Anson/Graeme Walker and the hard charging Stevens/Foley, all crews finding that their car's engine's were either misfiring or down on power.