Penrith rally driver Paul Bird saw his hopes of a record breaking fourth win on the Malcolm Wilson Rally cruelly snatched from his grasp when he was forced to retire on the penultimate stage in his native Lake District today.
Along with Scottish co-driver Kirsty Riddick, the Rockstar Energy, Vent Axia and www.supercasino.com backed pairing were well in command with a 22-second lead after four stages in their Ford Focus WRC08 as they headed for the pair of tough stages in Grizedale Forest near Coniston.
Grizedale North saw Bird extend his lead to 41 seconds but on the penultimate test in Grizedale South, the pair suffered a puncture very early on in the ten-mile stage and not long after, a second puncture proved terminal meaning the 2005 National Champion had to limp out of the stage and into retirement.
His situation was compounded even further as he caught one of the previous 2WD competitors meaning even more time loss, but it turned out to be irrelevant anyway and for the second year in succession, the three-times winner, who could have become the first man to have won the event four times thus making history, didn't see the Cockermouth finish ramp.
"I'm absolutely spewing and I just can't believe my luck at present,” said Bird. “To have one puncture is bad enough but to have two and then catch a slower car, it's just unbelievable.
“The conditions were very tricky what with the ice and snow but we were bossing it only for this to happen. I really thought it was my day today but obviously not so I'm off to drown my sorrows with the boys and come back next year to try to get that elusive fourth win."