A storming drive in the Pirelli Tour of Cumbria by Simon Hughes, together with co-driver Craig Parry, netted him his first win in the Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge, crossing the line 37 seconds ahead of Daniel Barry/Martin Brady, who's second place sees them continue as championship leaders.

Starting and finishing at Carlisle Racecourse and utilising the demanding gravel roads of Kielder Forest, the event featured four stages followed by a service halt and then a repeat of the same four stages. The route then returned to the host venue after covering a scheduled competitive distance of just under 70 miles.

Barry/Brady assumed their usual position at the front of the Evo Challenge field following the first stage, albeit by a slim four-tenths of a second from Hughes/Parry. However, with Barry suffering from a cold, he predicted that his performance was likely to be under par and, on stage two, Hughes/Parry went into the Evo Challenge lead by six seconds.

The margin between first and second continued to increase in the remaining two stages of the first loop, but for a moment Hughes/Parry thought their day was over when a large rock in the middle of the stage smashed into the gearbox, bending part of the casing and causing oil to leak out. Unable to anything about it they continued, but before the end of the stage Hughes found the car was jumping out of fifth gear.

Although there was a long road section between the stages and Carlisle, fortunately for Hughes/Parry a service halt followed and the problem was rectified. Barry/Brady were now 26 seconds behind and reported that they were not running at 100% and only pushing when Barry felt he could do so.

For Nik Elsmore/Craig Drew in third place it was a difficult weekend, as this was the first event since their team's chief engineer Rex Paddock was tragically killed in a Microlite crash two weeks beforehand. Although the car was not set up as well as it would have usually been, they made some adjustments at the service halt and were able to pick up their pace in the afternoon.

Most frustrated Mitsubishi crew of the day were Owen Murphy/Dai Roberts, who were having to cope with the return of a recurring electrical fault causing an intermittent loss of power to their car's ECU. Murphy recalled that the car must have cut out 20 - 30 times during the morning's four stages and he had no faith that the problem would be fixed for the second loop.

Debuting their new Evo IX in the forests were fifth-placed Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont and, with no time to test on a gravel surface, they were another crew to adjust their car's set-up at the service halt.

Due to Guy Wilks' car catching fire, stage six was cancelled.

Although listening out for the slightest noise or vibration, much to his relief, the gearbox in Hughes's car performed faultlessly for the rest of the day and he recorded the fastest Mitsubishi times on two the three remaining stages. Even though Kielder Forest was living up to its reputation of being hard on cars and crews, all Evo Challenge crews made it back to Carlisle in the positions they held at the halfway halt.

At the finish, the time sheets showed Hughes/Parry had won by a margin of 37 seconds ahead of Barry/Brady, who had opted for a safe final leg in order to ensure they got a good points score.

Elsmore/Drew found their car handling more to their liking and held on to third, whilst Murphy/Roberts continued their stop-start progress and finished fourth. Although relieved to make it to the finish, without the problems there was no doubt that the young Irishman's speed would have seen him and Roberts battling for the Evo Challenge lead.

Carmichal/Lamont were also pleased to get back to Carlisle and philosophically put the day down to good experience and an excellent test for their car on gravel.

"We pushed as hard as we could for the final loop of stages without taking any risks," said Hughes. "It's great to get our first Evo Challenge win as it keeps our title hopes on track and I'm now looking forward to getting onto tarmac for the first time this year at the next round."



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