by Geoff Mayes
Stephen Petch Jr overcame a catalogue of minor mishaps to take a class podium on the Bulldog Rally last weekend, the final round of the 2008 Pirelli MSA National Gravel Rally Championship, as he drove his SG Petch Motorsport-run Hyundai Accent WRC car to seventh overall and second in class B13.
The opening stage saw the County Durham based driver's rhythm disrupted when he slowed to pass the stricken car of Mark Higgins. He was also slowed by a small moment which dented his confidence, resulting in the 2007 Evo Challenge Junior Champion languishing down in fifteenth position overall at the end of that opening test.
With Stephen still adjusting to the new paddle shift gear change on his Hyundai he lost more time with a spin and stall on the second test. More time was haemorrhaged on the third stage too when the brakes began to fade mid way through 'Big Ray'.
Clean runs on both stage four and five however, allowed him to break into the top ten overall and despite losing hydraulic pressure in the final stage Petch Jr and co-driver Michael Wilkinson returned to Oswestry in P7 overall and second in class.
“This rally really sums up my year. Flashes of promise and character building,” he stated. “On the whole I'm happy with how everything has gone, but am annoyed at myself for not getting my head into gear in the morning.
“We lost a lot of time because I made some silly mistakes. Then in the afternoon I struggled with smoke coming into the car, which was caused by something to do with the transmission.
“Still, we showed that he have the most reliable world rally car out there, as we finished more rallies than anyone above us in the standings - that has to count for something!”
In the overall championship standings, as a result of a strong run of reliability on his SG Petch Motorsport-run Hyundai, which saw Stephen finish all but one of the rallies he contested in the series, the 24 year old takes third in class B13 in the series in his first year in the top class.
As of yet Petch Jr has not finalised his plans for 2009 but he will be out in action next weekend when he appears at Croft for the Get Connected SG Petch Rallycross Superprix to run demonstration laps in his Hyundai. A week later he will be joined by his father on the Malton Forest Stages in North Yorkshire.