Paul Bird saw his quest to reclaim the Pirelli MSA Gravel Rally Championship start in the worst possible way when he was forced to retire from the opening round of the season.

Bird went into the Bournemouth-based Rallye Sunseeker armed with his new Supercasino.com-backed Ford Focus and, having settled in well to his new surroundings, had moved into the lead of the event by the half-way point.

However, a heavy landing towards the end of the short tenth-stage saw the Focus cut out, with spectators helping to push the car 200m to the stage finish.

The problem was eventually traced to an issue in the wiring loom, but by the time it had been fixed, Bird and co-driver Ian Windress were out of time and were forced to retire.

"Despite it being the first time I've driven the car I was delighted with my pace and was taking quite a lot of time out of the other drivers," Bird reflected. "But then we hit this bump, the car cut out and I coasted to a halt. I reckon it was looking good and I was increasing my lead so obviously I'm devastated, so I'll just have to make amends next weekend by winning the Malcolm Wilson Rally."

The only plus point for Bird was that both Steve Perez and Marcus Dodd were also forced to retire, with Sean Devine taking maximum ANCRO points for third place overall.

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