The Mini Sport Rally Team were in rallying action again last weekend with three of the teams Cooper ‘S’ BMW Minis over on the Isle of Man for the first round of the Manx Rally Championship.

Daniel Harper, this time partnered by co-driver Paula Swinscoe, John Cressey with co-driver Stan Quirk and Martin Page and Martin Cressey.

This year there were 9 night time stages on the Friday night followed by a further 6 daylight stages on the Saturday. The stages are all held on closed public roads and are a rally enthusiasts dream taking in classic stages such as Druidale and parts of the famous TT Mountain Course.

The crews were going to have to be quick from the outset as they were surrounded by a quality entry of local drivers and others campaigning fourwheel drive turbo and World Rally Cars. A tall order in the 1600cc Cooper S’s but the crews are used to mixing it with the ‘big lads!’.

Conditions remained dry on the night stages but with temperatures below zero, ice had formed on some surfaces making driving a little tricky in places. The two Martins  overshot a hairpin at speed on Special Stage 5 giving the marshalls there an opportunity to take to their heels….which they did!

Daniel and Paula were unfortunate early on when having taken time out of one of the World Rally Cars…and just about everyone else, they suffered engine damage which disapointingly put them out of the event.

John and Stan were working well and were 4th overall after stage 3. They continued this storming drive in the dark and with no damage caused, routine maintainance was carried out at second service to both remaining cars by the frozen but extremely dedicated Mini Sport mechanics. 

All was prounounced well with just one damaged tyre for the Martins to be wary of on the next stages. 

Stage 7 was cancelled due to an off by another competitor and both crews went straight on to Special Stage 8.

The two Martins had a great run through without problems and were really getting into their new pace note system and revelling in some minor changes to the handling of their Mini.

John and Stan however had to stop mid stage when their lamp pod came loose. Stopping to secure it again cost them 30 seconds.

By the end of the last stage, the two Martins had climbed to 16th overall, putting them in a good position for an attack the following day, while John and Stan had gone on a charge of their own and set 3rd fastest time overall.

The crew of the Hyundai World Rally Car who followed them through the stage were quoted as saying “we were then entertained by Mr Cressy who pulled back onto the stage after a lamp pod problem, we followed him for 4 miles at a distance of about 1 metre and from our view he does very well to keep it on the road !!”

A fitting compliment to John and Stan who were really giving it some on the raggedy edge !

At the start of Saturdays stages, the organisers warned all competitors that the first few stages were effected by ice. Low sun was also a problem making it difficult to spot where the ice was lying and a few cars were caught out, crashing out under braking.

The first stage of the day was the very slippery Curraghs stage. A strip of very narrow, broken and very bumpy tarmac leading to an offset crossroads and then a more smoother second half.

John and Stan were well up for it from the word go and set 4th fastest time through here and through Druidale which no doubt left many of the four wheel drive turbo crews scratching their heads.

The Martins had a just one minor scare on the black ice on the first run through the famous Druidale stage with driver Martin admitting to being probably a little too cautious in this stage. So following final service, the intention was to step up the speed on the remaining stages which were mostly free of ice .

Back into Special Stage 12, a repeat of Curraghs and John and Stans’ Cooper S split its exhaust manifold which meant the car was almost unbearably noisy but more crucially John could only use half throttle and only 3500 rpm to avoid engine damage. This cost them a good 30 seconds but the car had to be looked after to get repairs made at service after the second run through Druidale.

The Mini Sport mechanics did a great job of the repair at service and sent John and Stan back out penalty free and to hopefully make up some time having now dropped to 6th place overall.

The last stages were dispatched in good form with both cars running well through the narrow twisty lanes with the Martins 19th overall , 1minute 38 seconds ahead of the next car, a chasing Subaru crew. John and Stan came home a superb 6th overall and 2nd in class, also claiming the best ‘overseas’ crew award.

In a class which comprises all the fourwheel drive turbo cars the Mini Sport Rally Team did an excellent job and the crews would like to thank all the mechanics and supporters for their unwavering enthusiasm and commitment.

Its sometimes said that those in the mechanics overalls have to be at their best when things are at their worst. They are a superb bunch and do a superb job.