Cumbrian rally driver Paul Bird was in action in round three of the Silverstone Tyres BTRDA Rally Series when he ventured to the Somerset Stages Rally where he came away with a battling fourth place finish to keep his title hopes well and truly alive.
Making his debut on the Minehead-based event and with new co-driver Daniel Barritt in the Frank Bird Poultry-sponsored Ford Focus WRC08, the Langwathby man struggled in the opening pair of stages to hold eighth position, some 30 seconds down on the leader and although he clawed some time back on the next two tests, the Dom Buckley Motorsport crew were left scratching their heads as Bird returned to service in seventh over 40 seconds off the lead.
Radical thinking was needed and a major set up change was initiated as Bird headed for the infamous Porlock Toll Road tests whereby he stopped the clocks second fastest on the first run up the hill and went quickest on the second run to move into sixth.
From then on, the Kawasaki World Superbike Team boss continued his assault on the leaderboard with a much improved car and set fastest time on the next four gravel stages to hold fourth place going into the penultimate stage, but still 30 seconds adrift of the podium.
Nevertheless, a final push was had on the last 3.73-mile stage in Knowle whereby Bird again set fastest time and at the finish, had pulled the gap back to just 14 seconds on championship rival Andy Burton.
The result sees Bird hold third place in the title chase just one point behind second placed Roger Chilman and six behind Burton going into the Plains Rally in Wales on May 14th.
Speaking before he boarded a flight to Holland where his team is in action at the Assen round of World Superbikes, Bird commented:
“The car just hasn’t been right these past couple of events and we couldn’t put our finger on it so when I dropped a load of time early on, we had to do something about it. We decided to radically alter the whole set up of the car which could have been disastrous but straight away, it felt so much better which was borne out by us setting fastest stage times in five out of the last seven stages and second fastest in the other two. It feels like I have my car back again and can’t wait to get back into it for the Plains Rally next month and push for that first victory of the season.”
1 Hugh Hunter/Andy Marchbank Ford Focus WRC 42:55
2 Roger Chilman/Andrew Sankey Subaru Impreza 43:01
3 Andrew Burton/Robin Kellard Peugeot Cosworth 43:12
4 Paul Bird/Daniel Barritt Ford Focus WRC 43:26
5 Michael O’Brien/Paul Spooner Ford Focus WRC 44:09
6 Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley Ford Focus WRC 44:23
7 Tom Cave/Craig Parry Subaru Impreza 44:43
8 David Wright/Michael Wilkinson Mitsubishi EVO 9 44:45
9 Patrick Naylor/Ian Lawrence Mitsubishi EVO 9 45:53
10 James Grint/Steve Greenhill Mitsubishi EVO 9 45:59