Last week’s 138.com Rally Isle of Man proved to be a testing event for local Isle of Man rally codriver Rob Fagg as he looked to add a strong result to his Manx National victory back in May and complete a historic double. The rally, the islands longest and probably toughest event, run over two and a half days with 21 stages totalling 150 miles, was the latest round of the Motor Mall (IOM) Manx Rally Championship and as a double point scoring opportunity offered the opportunity to secure the Co-Drivers title.
Contesting the islands premier event alongside Welshman Hugh Hunter in the Dom Buckley RSC prepared R.S. Hunter Tarmac Ford Fiesta R5, Robert Graham & Co Chartered Quantity Surveyors backed Fagg was looking forward to mixing it with the leading crews from the Prestone British Rally Championship for whom the event was the final round.
The Lewis and Hunter Contracting pairing, with local backing from the island Ford, Kia and Citroen dealership Ocean Motor Village, got off to a troubled start on Thursday afternoon with an incorrect tyre choice hampering them and showing in the stage times, sitting in sixth place as crews reached the first service. With the Douglas Promenade Super Special and runs around King Edward Bay and the tricky Baldhoon stages bringing the evening to a close, Hunter and Burger Man Catering sponsored Fagg survived to hold onto their top six position although already a good margin behind the event leader and eventual British Champion, Irishman Keith Cronin in a similar Fiesta.
As Friday’s second leg got underway Hunter and JR Hinchliffe Plumbing and Heating / MC Locksmiths backed Fagg were keen to build confidence and close the gap to BRC regular Alex Laffey (Fiesta), which they did over the day’s opening test but in turn they were being
caught by reigning Manx Champion Dan Harper (Mini WRC). Laffey reacted over the 13mile Kella stage to set the gap at 20 seconds while Harper remained five back.
Only a handful of seconds would separate them over each of the legs remaining three live stages but Harper did enough to snatch sixth as crews returned to the TT Grandstand in Douglas to complete leg 2 and subsequently Round 4 of the Manx Championship. This meaning Harper and co-driver Campbell would take top points but with Organic Construction Solutions Fagg picking up second placed points and putting himself in a position to secure this year’s title.
“The event has proved tough for us so far, a wrong tyre choice early on dented confidence and the conditions have compounded that and were just struggling to commit” explained Rob as crews enjoyed the midday break between legs, “We will go again this evening and continue to try and address the problems and get to the finish.”
In terms of Manx Championship the clocks were reset as Round 5 began, but for the overall rally there was still a top five to chase as crews headed out for five stages including two Castletown runs, Marine Drive, Rhenab and Tholt-y-Will bring the evening to an end. With the confidence not coming back as quickly as needed the gap grew over the stages to Harper, 34 seconds now separating the Mini and Fiesta crews, Laffey a further eight in front holding onto fifth.
The final day of competition would comprise of another five stages and the first drama of the day would come on the second of those, Kella. Laffey pushed hard as he looked to regain fifth from Harper which he had snatched on the previous test, subsequently having a spin in the tight roads and damaging his Ford putting him out the event. But Harper was also in trouble, breaking a driveshaft on Kella and handing 27 second back to Hunter/Fagg and a further 17 on Sand Quarry before they could get to service and resolve the issue, the fight would be on over the final two stages.
But with an incident on the penultimate stages leading to it being cancelled for the entire field, it would come down to the Classic to decide the outcome. Hunter and Fagg would enjoy the stage and describe it as probably their best of the event but Harper hit further trouble picking up a puncture and ending the event 3.8 seconds down handing fifth to the Welsh and Manx crew, a result the pair would have taken had they been offered it at the start of the event, their Dom Buckley RSC prepared Fiesta not missing a beat through the event.
“To come away with fifth this weekend in amongst the competition is certainly a result we are happy with, although we don’t feel we have shown the true pace we are capable off and hopefully we will get the chance to show that” commented Rob at the finish, “We made some wrong tyre choices, struggled with the high gear rations and we know where we can improve so come away positive.”
As a consequence of moving up on the final stage ahead of Harper/Campbell, Fagg takes maximum points in the Motor Mall (IOM) Championship this being enough to secure him the 2017 title and make it a total of six for the 38 year old.
“It’s always special to win a title at the end of a season, but to win the Manx for a sixth time is very special and is just a big thank you to all those who have helped me during the year, without them competing would be a lot harder” explained a jubilant Fagg.
Rob is supported in 2017 by Robert Graham & Co Chartered Quantity Surveyors, JR Hinchliffe Plumbing and Heating, Burger Man Catering, MC Locksmiths and Organic Construction Solutions.
Photo - Manx rally co-driver Rob secure sixth Manx Championship on Rally Isle of Man. Photo courtesy of Stanislav Kucera