Anyone visiting the Fylde Coast on the first weekend of February would probably have expected a true winter, North Western welcome. They were not to be disappointed, strong winds, high tides and heavy rain for large parts of the rally made driving conditions for the entrants treacherous.
2016 saw 19th running of the now “Legendary” North West Stages Rally, run along the Fylde Coast, from Fleetwood in the North to Lytham in the South. Five venues were used for stages, with Blackpool North Shore Promenade and Fleetwood Waterfront being used for full spectator stages, Fleetwood docks being used for a closed stage with perimeter viewing through the fence and stages closed to the public taking place at Lytham Hall and Weston Army Barracks.
Main sponsor of the event, for the 13th year were Legend Fires and owner, John Stone was as usual a front runner in his newly built Ford Fiesta S2500. Unfortunately the 2.5 litre Fiesta suffered a failed alternator after the first stage and was forced to retire. At least John and co-driver Carl Williamson could enjoy the entertainment on Saturday.
This years event featured a very varied entry list, with a selection of ultra quick Ford Focus WRC, Subaru Impreza WRC, Escort Cosworths and Mitsubishi EVO’s, through to Ford Escort RS2000’s and a Sunbeam Imp. There were even a number of Land Rover Wolf XD’s entered by the Armed Forces Rally Teams.
The 2016 prize for the most courageous drive must surely have been given to Richmond based brothers, Mark and Andrew Constantine who during the 2015 event crashed at high speed into the sea wall on the Blackpool promenade stage. Despite both of them being hospitalised after the accident, they competed again in 2016 finishing an incredible 7th place overall in their diminutive Vauxhall Corsa, beating many crews in much quicker Imprezza’s and EVO’s on the way. On the first stage at Lytham Hall, the Constantine Brothers posted the joint fastest time of all 91 competitors,.
The main rally was dominated by the usual front runners, with eventual overall winners Simon Bowen and Richard Robinson in the ex Petter Holberg 2003 Rally GB winning Subaru Impreza WRC finishing 32 seconds ahead of Arron Newby’s Impreza and a further 55 seconds behind was twice previous event winner Tony Bardy in his Martini liveried Ford Focus WRC. Not a bad result for the Focus crew overall, the engine on the car was only refitted in the final few hours before the event. Throughout the stages on Saturday, the top five places changed hands regularly with the top three podium places only being decided on the final stage at Weston camp. To put in context how impressive the Constantine brothers drive was, they finished the event only seven minutes and six seconds behind the winner, sometimes tarmac rallies and local knowledge can be a real leveller. As a measure of the weather conditions, of the 91 cars that started the event, only 50 finished.
The Rally is based at the Norbreck Castle Hotel and for the duration of the rally, there is an exhibition of many sorts of motorsport , as well as interviews, rally start and finish, and the rally scrutineering all on site.