Daniel Barry and co-driver Martin Brady got their bid for the 2009 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge title off to a flying start when they won the opening round of the season on the Bournemouth-based Rallye Sunseeker, finishing just 2.8 seconds ahead of series newcomer Simon Hughes.
As is traditional with the Rallye Sunseeker, the event began with two runs through the host town's botanical gardens and along the sea front. However, an accident meant that these popular spectator stages had to be abandoned and therefore, the competition began in earnest on Saturday morning.
The day was to feature eleven stages in Ringwood and Wareham Forests and first to set the pace was Barry. However, an intermittent problem with the car's anti-lag system saw him lose time during the first four stages and, when crews arrived at the first service halt, time sheets showed Nik Elsmore in the lead, albeit just half a second ahead of Barry.
Only a further 0.9 seconds back was Hughes, who was making an impressive Evo Challenge debut. Andreas Magnusson was next and admitted he was off to steady start, having not driven his Evo since the final round of the Swedish series in September. Switching from the Irish series to the UK for this season, Owen Murphy was in fifth, but hampered by a car that was handling as if it were rear-wheel rather than four-wheel drive.
Next was Hans-Erik Weng, who also stared cautiously, this being the first event in his brand new Evo X – and the first time Mitsubishi's latest version of the Lancer had been seen rallying in the UK. Another ex-Irish Evo Challenge front-runner Alan Carmichael was disappointed to find himself seventh, but knew that most of his time had been lost when his intercom had failed during the morning's stages.
Barbados driver Neil Armstrong was eighth of the Evo runners at this point and was clearly enjoying his first ever rally on British soil – albeit quite different to the conditions he is used to when rallying in the Caribbean.
More unfortunate was Evo Challenge regular Jonathan Sparks, who retired after exceeding his maximum lateness during the road section on the way to service. But by far the worst luck of the day was reserved for Daniel Sigurdarson, when his car's rear differential broke just a few 100 yards into the first stage of the day.
Four of the next loop of five stages took place in Wareham Forest and saw Elsmore drop back, last year's runner-up putting his loss of pace down to pushing too hard on what was a softer surface. Seeing his rival's speed reduce, Barry edged ahead on stage seven, but admitted he had taken his eye off Hughes' times and on stage nine the series debutant took the lead.
Surprised not to be in front Barry fought back, but a repeat of the earlier anti-lag issues - plus an overshoot - in the final two stages meant that it was a neck-and-neck battle to the finish between him and Hughes. Just behind the leading pair a fight was also going on for third. Magnusson had now found his feet and was flying, recording the fastest Evo Challenge times in both SS12 and SS13, which was enough to nudge him ahead of Elsmore by 4.4 seconds.