Wilson: win is sweetest feeling

After narrowly missing out in 2004, Ford WRC boss Malcolm Wilson dominated this year’s Roger Albert Clark Rally to honour his childhood hero
By Paul Lawrence

For one weekend, Ford’s world rally team boss Malcolm Wilson turned his attention away from state-of-the-art WRC cars to climb back behind the wheel of a Ford Escort. The result was a resounding victory on the Roger Albert Clark Rally.

In 2004, on the first running of the event that honours the memory of one of Britain’s greatest ever rally drivers, Wilson was battling for victory with Stig Blomqvist when he was caught out by slippery conditions in Kielder forest early on the final day.

Fast-forward four years and Wilson headed into the same forest complex with victory in his grasp and a lead of nearly five minutes. “I’m glad I’m not in a battle for the lead,” said Wilson as the cars arrived at Kielder Water for service, with rain in the air and mist swirling over the vast reservoir.

But this time there were no slips and Wilson and co-driver John Millington emerged from the final 18-mile stage in Broomylinn with an even bigger lead to score an emotional victory. “It’s so sweet to win my hero’s rally,” said Wilson, who was an ambitious teenager when Clark was at the top of the game.

Once again, the Roger Albert Clark had been a massive hit with competitors and fans alike. This is an event that turns the clock back to the RAC Rallies of the late 1960s and ’70s, with a tough three days of competition in the forests of Yorkshire, Northumberland and southern Scotland. It brings fans out in their thousands, many reliving their own memories of a golden era of rallying.

Although he went into the final day of the event with a handy lead, life had not been so simple for Wilson on day two as the crews tacked classic stages in the forest of Ae, Twiglees, Castle O’er, Newcastleton and Craik. A stunning charge from young Irishman Martin McCormack in his Ford Escort Mk2 had eaten into Wilson’s lead. Starting the leg with a deficit of 1min 42sec after two offs on day one, McCormack pulled back 50sec before a deceptive right-hander in Craik ended his rally when he slid into a ditch and bent the back axle.

Instead it was David Stokes, a rival to Wilson 30 years ago, who moved into a superb second place with co-driver Guy Weaver in their Ford Escort Mk1. Having just had his car re-shelled after a major accident in Belgium, Stokes drove with both commitment and restraint to lead the chase of Wilson.

Into the top 10 overall and a resounding category one victory came 70-year-old Bob Bean after a stunning drive in his Lotus Cortina, with Malcolm Smithson alongside. Even having to run most of the final stage stuck in second gear failed to remove the grin from Bean’s face.

It’s that sort of rally.