Matt Edwards and co-driver Rob Fagg enjoyed success on the Rally Isle of Man last weekend as they scored maximum points on both days of the Isle of Man Challenge Rally and took a podium place in the latest round of the Kick Energy Fiesta SportTrophy.

It was the first time Edwards and Fagg competed together, so they made excellent use of the reconnaissance period on Thursday to build a relationship in the car. They also took advantage of the shakedown to get a few valuable pre-start miles under their belt together and to set the car-up for the bumpy nature of the narrow Manx lanes.

The two day Manx event was split into two separate scoring rounds for the BRC Challenge with the first day, Friday, also counting as a round of the Fiesta Championship.

The main bulk of the Fiesta runners had opted to contest the International event and this would enable the High Hill Ford / GPM / Silkolene 710 / backed crew to monitor the progress of their rivals as they ran later on the road.

Dry sunny conditions greeted the crews as they left the start at the TT Grandstand in Douglas with eight demanding stages ahead of them throughout the day.

With Edwards having never competed on a closed road tarmac rally before the plan was to start at a comfortable pace and build on that as the day progressed but with a view of keeping in touch with the tarmac regulars in the series, Craig Breen, Mark Donnelly and Kris Hall.

Prior to contesting the first stage though they received news that two of the leading Fiesta's had hit trouble. Mark Donnelly was forced to retire after a collision with a solid bank and Kris Hall had rolled loosing around 3 minutes.

As a result of Hall's roll and a combination of other factors the organisers awarded Breen's time to the remaining Fiesta runners but as Edwards and Fagg were running in a separate event their time 30 seconds slower would stand and leave the new pairing on the back foot.

Next up was the tricky test through the Kella stage. A controlled, mature drive saw a fourth quickest time behind Breen, Stefan Davis and Ross Forde, both the latter having previous experience of the event unlike Edwards.

With confidence growing Edwards posted a third fastest time on the Ravensdale test, just 1.2 seconds slower than Forde after dropping time with an overshoot. This stage saw the loss of Davis from the Fiesta battle as he left the road and was unable to continue, and also Richard Archer from the lead of the BRC Challenge, due to a gearbox issue onthe start line. This set up a great battle between Edwards and Forde until the end of the day.

Following a routine service is was out for the longest loop of the day totalling 33 miles. An accident in the International field caused the Newtown stage to be voided in the Fiesta event, but not for the Challenge. The 21.4 mile long stage saw the backed pair get into a good rhythm together and post a time 25.4 seconds quicker than Forde and take the Challenge lead. This was extended by a further 10 seconds over the 13.6 mile Cringle stage to give them a 23.6 second lead heading into the second service and full of confidence.

"The rally is going just to plan at the moment and I am growing in confidence each and every stage" commented Edwards. "We are in a good battle with Ross for second in the Fiesta's and for the rally win in the Challenge, and it's going to be a tense last loop."

Forde hit back immediately taking 5.6 seconds from the High Hill Ford crew at Glen Roy, but they struck right back with a stunning time through Maughold, 10.3 seconds quicker than their rival over just 3.3 miles, setting up a thrilling last stage.

With Breen safely through the final stage, Edwards and Fagg knew that they were battling for second place. Forde though flew through the test, 26.6 seconds faster than Edwards to steal the runner up spot. It was not enough though to snatch the Isle of Man Challenge Rally victory which belonged to Edwards and local co-driver Fagg, by just 1.7 seconds.

"We have had a great battle with Ross (Forde) all day long and I have really enjoyed it and the event," commented tarmac novice Edwards. "This is my first taste of tarmac closed road rallying and I have to say I love it. Rob has been great on the notes and his advice on and experience of these roads has really helped my tarmac debut this week. The Fiesta's was our priority and third is better than I expected coming here against the more experienced tarmac drivers"

At the finish Fagg was very impressed with his novice driver's performance throughout the day.

"Matt has done a fantastic job, coming to the island having never competed on closed roads before and showed a committed attitude to learning" explained Rob. "He came here with a game plan and has stuck to it even when the battle with Ross developed, he has been prepared to start slow and learn while remaining competitive, there's plenty more to come."

Victory for Breen sees him pass Edwards in the Fiesta Championship table to lead by the slender margin of just 5 points. The next round sees the crews once again tackle tarmac as they contest the Antrim based Ulster International Rally.

Edwards did though secure maximum points in the Challenge series, with a further opportunity the following day.

The second day saw the pressure off with the Kick Energy Fiesta SportTrophy result decided and clean slates as the Challenge crews ventured out onto the Manx roads for a further eight stages totalling 80 miles.

Main title rival Richard Archer was unable to take the start after his opening day problems, leaving Edwards and Fagg with the opportunity to complete a Challenge double.

The battle would once again be between the two Fiesta's for the rally win but with Forde not eligible for points it would be the chasing pack Edwards and Fagg would have to keep an eye on.

The opening loop of the day consisted of four stages, but due to an incident in the International field the Glen Roy stage was cancelled. Over the remaining three Edwards demonstrated the knowledge learnt the previous day and at first service found himself a slender 2.2 seconds behind Forde with his closest Challenge Championship contender over 40 seconds back.

Next up was a repeat of the big loop from day one where Edwards had driven so well. This time though crews were greeted by wet conditions but this worked to the newcomers' advantage. A clean tidy run saw him turn the deficit into a 18 second lead but Forde responded straight away taking just under 10 seconds back on the 13 mile Cringle stage.

Two left and all to play for, but Edwards and Fagg were now thinking championship points and getting to the finish. Staarvey saw Forde again quickest to reduce the gap to just 2.4 seconds and set up a tense final stage run back to the TT Grandstand.

With over 3 minutes in hand over Neil Matthews in the Challenge Championship it would be silly to throw it all away in a fight for event honours and the crew decided to opt for a slightly more cautious approach and ensure a finish.

The final stage achieved the aim. Although they dropped 8.3 seconds to Forde, surrendering the lead and victory in the Challenge Rally, more important to them were the maximum points for the second day running and set up a championship decided on the final round of the series in October.

"It's been a great two days and to achieve the results we have is just fantastic" commented Edwards, "Rob has done a great job and I can't thank him enough for that. This weekend we have not had to put a spanner on the car it has been perfect. We need to carry this momentum to the next round and hope we can repeat the result."

Next up for Edwards and Fagg is the Ulster International where they will once again contest the Challenge Rally although not be eligible to score points on this occasion. Their focus will be the Kick Energy Fiesta SportTrophy and achieving another good result in the hunt for the 2009 title.


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