The event was due to start on Friday evening but due to delays experienced by the other rallies running ahead of the Challenge the opening stage was cancelled, with the 16-mile Abbey St Bathans test now kicking things off on Saturday morning.
Sykes was quickly on the pace in his Bathams Brewery, G I Sykes Ltd, Boroughbridge Marina and Silverstone Tyres-supported Citroën C2 R2 Max, catching and passing Richard Archer in the car in front after 7 miles of the stage. However, he then picked up a puncture which cost a lot of time and meant he was only fifth fastest. It could have been worse though as the puncture damaged the wing and bumper with the wheel arch liner catching fire. Fortunately the fire was put out with one of the fire extinguishers at the finish control.
Sykes and co-driver Simon Taylor were able to change the tyre before the next stage but with the car running slicks on the front and intermediates on the rear and only wet weather tyres as spares the handling was all over the place.
“With the changeable weather we wanted to cover the possibility of rain with our choice of spare,” said Sykes. “Getting the puncture meant we had to put one of the intermediates on the front and a wet weather tyre on the back, running three different compounds certainly made the handling interesting!”
Despite his tyre woes Sykes pushed hard and set some excellent times, including fastest time on the Fogo stage, a time which would’ve put him in the top five had he been contesting the International rally that was running at the same time. By mid-event service he was up to second-place on the leaderboard, 25 seconds behind the rally leader.
Another run of the long Abbey St Bathans stage was next and, with the tight and twisty stage suiting Sykes’ car, he flew through the lanes 22 seconds quicker than anyone, pulling the gap to first back to three seconds.
Two super-fast stages remained. On the first of these Sykes made a small error and dropped to 14 seconds off the lead. With championship points being vital he decided to settle for second place rather than risk an accident in the last stage.
“Second overall and first in class is a great result and it puts me in second place in the championship battle. It’s a little disappointing that our second run of the Abbey stage showed that the puncture cost us around 48 seconds so it looks like without it we would’ve won. Our aim for the rally was to get a good haul of points though so we’ve definitely achieved that.”
Sykes will continue his BRC Challenge season with the Ulster Challenge rally in August.
Image courtesy Colin Smith