By John Atkinson.

It's been a while coming, but no-one - least of all legendary rally manager Timo Jouhki - has ever doubted that 18-year old Finnish sensation Jari-Matti Latvala is a potential winner at the highest level. Now an emphatic victory on the Tempest has firmly set him on the road to the top.

Equally happy was Neil Buckley who finally clinched the 2003 PBRC Production class title after a season-long battle with Ireland's Roy White.

Latvala has certainly been a sensation on this year's Pirelli British Rally Championship, and anyone who's been fortunate enough to see him in action in the forests or on tarmac could tell that he was visibly more committed and visibly more on the edge than even his most experienced rivals. It's only been his lack of experience that has postponed his first-ever victory until now.

Emphatic hardly describes his win. Fastest on 12 of the event's 14 stages, he finished over a minute ahead of second place driver Ryan Champion - not a bad margin after only 52 total stage miles. However, we mustn't underestimate Champion's performance. He had stepped up from his usual S16 Puma into a Group A Subaru Impreza and drove brilliantly, setting a string of second fastest times. Next up was multiple Irish champion Austin McHale, having another typically good result in his Impreza WRC.

The remainder of the top 10 consisted of Julian Reynolds (Toyota Corolla WRC); last year's winner Phil Morgan (Impreza WRC); almost-local Isle of Wight driver Will Nicholls (Impreza WRC); Roy White - winner of the Production class in his Evo; John Lloyd (Impreza WRC); Neil Buckley - whose second in class won him the Production Cup; and Mark l'Anson (GpN Evo 6).

Leon Pesticcio (Hi-Tec Fiat Punto), won the Super 1600 category after Garry Jennings (works Peugeot 206) had a couple of costly excursions whilst in the lead.

Based for the second year running at the excellent Rushmoor Arena between Aldershot and Farnborough, Sunday's South of England Tempest Rally once again marked the end of the 2003 British Rally Championship season. With most of the Championship titles having already been decided at last month's Trackrod, it was not surprising that the Tempest was a little short of a full complement of the usual BRC suspects, but this didn't prevent Barry Guess and his Sutton and Cheam, Middlesex County and Hart Motor club team putting on an excellent event.

There were some changes to the usual order. Jonny Milner's familiar Team Dynamics Toyota was certainly in evidence, for instance, but with an unfamiliar face behind the wheel sporting a Welsh dragon on his helmet. Julian Reynolds had hired the car for the event, and the 2003 British Rally Champion and Champion co-driver Nicky Beech were not only flagging the competitors away from the starting ramp but also carrying out team manager and team co-ordinator duties.

Then there was young Gareth Jones in the Asquith Citroen Saxo S1600 last seen in the hands of Aki Teiskonen on the Trackrod, and Phil Morgan at the wheel of Tapio Laukkanen's Trackrod winning Subaru Impreza. And as already mentioned, Ryan Champion had forsaken his S16 Puma for a four-wheel drive Group A Impreza.

There was a slight glitch at the start. Some over-enthusiastic paintballers decided to stage their own battle on the first stage, and although the gallant Tempest marshals managed to subdue them in short order, there was a half-hour delay before the stage finally got underway.

As we now know, Latvala had left the traps like a greyhound, setting fastest times on all the morning stages, and pulling out a one-minute advantage from Reynolds, Champion and McHale before lunch. At that stage Garry Jennings led the Super 1600 class from Leon Pesticcio and Jones's Saxo, and Roy White had got the upper hand over Robert Swann (Lancer E7) in the Production class, with Championship rival Neil Buckley back in third.

Poor Steve Hill had another wretched event. His Super 1600 Alfa Romeo 147 suffered a broken drive-shaft on stage 3 and was lucky to make it back to service. The shaft was repaired, though, and Steve and stalwart co-driver Joanne Lockwood were set for at least a finish before a blown engine on stage 7 once again put paid to their chances. They certainly deserve a medal for perseverance.

So that's the end of the 2003 Pirelli British Rally Championship. Now the powers that be will be trying to tie up the loose ends of next year's series. We can only hope that they make a decent fist of the changes that are in the pipeline and that the BRC manages to survive the uncertainty that seems to be gripping all levels of the sport...

For more on the Pirelli British Rally Championship go to: www.brcweb.co.uk

 

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