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Nichol triumphs in Dramatic Pirelli International Rally

Nichol triumphs in Dramatic Pirelli International Rally  
Filed under:
Motorsport, Suzuki
on 04/21/2008




Scot Gordon Nichol and co driver Jane Nicol won the inaugural round of the Swift Sport Cup through the stages of Kershop and Kielder Forests on the Pirelli International Rally over the weekend of 18th and 19th April. They won despite having incurred penalties on the first leg when they stopped to help a fellow Swift Sport Cup runner change a puncture.


Six Swift Sport R1 cars started the rally on the Friday evening with the first four stages being run in the dark through Kershop Forest. With prevailing high winds and rain showers the crews needed maximum concentration in order to survive conditions described by many seasoned drivers as the roughest they had ever encountered on the event.

Young Nick Rowland was the first car to hit trouble when he arrived at the end of stage 1 with an over-heating engine and no battery charge having lost his alternator belt. They were forced to retire and to re enter under Super rally rules the next day.

Meanwhile Danish Junior Champion Niki Bjerg was setting some stunning times and leading the pack despite never having driven on gravel or at night previously. He was closely followed by the trio of Ross Forde, Gordon Nichol and late entry Mark Gamble who was driving a left hand drive car for the very first time. Niki eventually fell back on the last of the night’s stages when he suffered a double puncture, leaving Mark as the overnight leader.

Bringing up the rear was Evo Magazine journalist Henry Catchpole who gained some respectable times despite taking up rallying only three months ago. He was a very relieved man to reach the service area near Carlisle on only his fifth rally.

Saturday saw all six teams ready to tackle the remaining 10 stages some of which were now becoming very rutted with large rocks appearing through the surface. By mid-morning a fierce battle was ensuing between Bjerg, Forde, Gamble and Nichol with only 30 seconds separating the crews. Mark Gamble had maintained his lead and some impressive stage times only to be cruelly forced out at the first service of the day with a damaged fuel tank and fuel pump.

Henry Catchpole meanwhile was making good progress and enjoying the long flowing daylight stages when his car cut out after a heavy landing and was unable to trace the problem and retired. Back at service he was very circumspect about his plight and commented: 'That's rallying. I only started this year and it's been a very steep learning curve, but it's great fun.'

The battle for honours continued into the afternoon stages between Niki Bjerg, Ross Forde and Gordon Nichol with 19-year old Nick Rowland posting some good times and showing a great deal of maturity in gaining valuable experience without taking too many risks.

Stage 11 saw the demise of Niki Bjerg when he went off the road and finished up in one of Kielder’s infamous deep ditches. The car was virtually undamaged, but it was stuck fast and they thought their chance of a podium finish was gone. This elevated Ross Forde to 1st position followed by Gordon Nichol and the fast improving Nick Rowland.

On the last loop of stages the cars were taking a pounding on the heavily rutted tracks and on unlucky stage 13 Ross Forde suffered the same fate as Mark Gamble and retired. This left Gordon Nichol with a comfortable lead and he was able to nurse his car home to win the Rally with a surprised but delighted Nick Rowland taking second position and Niki Berg third despite his car being in parc ferme after his crash. To add to Ross Forde's woes, he was unable to get his car back to the parc ferme on time and therefore was classed as a non-finisher and collected no points, moving Bjerg into third place.

An ecstatic Nichol said at the finish: 'That was one of the hardest rallies I've ever done. We were a bit disheartened earlier having lost some time, but we can't believe we've won. Thanks to all of our service crew, friends and family that helped us get here – it's amazing.'

Ian Phillipson Championship Manager commented: 'It's been a tough event to start our championship, but the crews have been fantastic and the competition fierce. Congratulations to Gordon and Jane on a well-judged run and on being our first winners. I'm sure the other crews will be gunning for them on the next round.'

The next round is the Scottish Borders-based Jim Clark Rally which runs from Friday 23rd - Sunday 25th May.



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