Former ANCRO Champion Paul Bird got his 2009 Pirelli MSA Gravel Rally Championship bid underway with a solid third place finish on the Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally.

Driving the, Vent Axia and Kick Energy-backed Ford Focus WRC07, the Penrith driver was hoping to put the disappointments of a non-score on the opening ANCRO round in Bournemouth, and an off in the following weekend's Malcolm Wilson Rally, behind him.

However, Bird failed to find his rhythm on the opening two stages held in darkness on Friday night as he struggled to come to terms with the Kielder stages following a big spin, but Saturday was a different matter and he soon had the car up to speed and challenging main rivals Marcus Dodd and Steve Perez.

Charging back into contention after Dodd had incurred a small penalty and Perez had endured a time-consuming spin, Bird was in with a sniff of victory but his hopes were dashed when he suffered a front puncture on the final stage meaning he was 24 seconds behind eventual winner Dodd and just 19 behind his friend and rival Perez at the Jedburgh finish.

"I seemed to really struggle with my confidence after the Malcolm Wilson crash, especially on Friday night, but as the rally progressed, it soon came back," he said. "I was firing the car into corners in the end like I should have been at the start, but once we had the right tyres, it was a lot easier. I had both Steve and Marcus in my sights but the puncture put paid to any chance I had of catching them but all things considered, after two DNFs, I'm happy enough with third place."

Bird will be in action back in his native Cumbria for the next round of the series which takes place on April 17/18 with the Carlisle-based Pirelli Tour of Cumbria.



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