For the second year in succession, Clive Wheeler and Ken Bartram are the Castrol Polo Challenge champions. The West Sussex duo were crowned on Saturday after driving their Group N Volkswagen Polo to a resounding victory on the penultimate round of the championship, the Trackrod Rally Yorkshire.

Wheeler and Bartram win a brand new road-going Volkswagen Polo to go with their championship title - and the accolades of their fellow competitors.

Their Yorkshire win was their third class victory of the season and one of their most convincing. Wheeler and Bartram crossed the Malton town centre finish ramp nearly 45 seconds ahead of their closest rivals, Finns Jari Laakso and Kari Hytonen.

"We wanted to win in Yorkshire and settle the championship and we did everything in our power to focus on that," said Albourne-based Wheeler. "I think the stages didn't really suit Jari that well and we took some time from him early on and that demoralised him a bit.

"Obviously we're delighted to have won the championship for the second year. Both seasons were tough and were very satisfying."

Wheeler established a lead on the second of the event's nine stages and had pulled out a 26-second advantage by mid-distance, a blow to which Laakso had no answer. "We were struggling to keep up with Clive all day," said Laakso. "He is a worthy winner."

Wheeler set fastest time on five stages, Laakso on only one. The only other driver who could have threatened for victory was Lancashire's Kenny Brown, but his rally was blighted by problems.

Brown, co-driven by his uncle, Alan Brown, went into the third stage just 1.9 seconds adrift of Wheeler but came out of it a minute-and-a-half in arrears, the result of a puncture and a damaged brake line.

With those problems fixed at service, Brown stormed through stage four to win it by 13 seconds. "Our aim was to try to set fastest time on the remaining stages," said Brown, "but we had a bad landing after a jump on stage five and then broke a driveshaft on the next stage. All credit to Clive and Ken - they have driven brilliantly all year."

Chelmsford's Paul Green set a strong early pace, leading the Polo class after the event's opening spectator stage at Pickering Showground, but rolled his Lindvale-backed car out of the rally two stages later. That left championship returnee Fin McCaul [Burscough] to collect third place.

Even with one round remaining - the 25/26 October Tempest South of England Rally - Wheeler's tally of 169 points cannot be beaten. Laakso is safe in second position overall, with Brown and Sophie Robinson left to fight it out between them for third in the standings.

Provisional championship placings: 1 Wheeler (Albourne), 169 points; 2 Laakso, 132; 3 Kenny Brown (Heywood), 95; 4 Sophie Robinson (Moreton Morrell), 80; 5 Mark Annand (Aberdeen), 67; 6 Anders Fredricsson (Sweden), 56; 7 Paul Green (Chelmsford), 36, etc.

 

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