by Geoff Mayes

Stuart Jones was more than happy with sixth overall and third in class on the Pirelli International Rally last weekend in his MSD-run MG S2000 Sport.

Jones and his co-driver Andy Bull were making a welcome return to the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship, after a year away contesting the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship and although he had only ever tackled the Pirelli once before, back in 2006, the 23-year-old was confident of a good run.

Friday night featured four slippery stages in the Kershope forests north of Carlisle and with the rally being identical to last year's event, one which he missed, he knew he was at an immediate disadvantage.

Although he had contested the Red Dragon Rally as a warm-up, Jones had not been in active competition since Wales Rally GB at the end of November last year.

A cautious start to the rally saw him only 13th fastest through the opening stage. But with confidence building he upped his pace and showing a remarkable level of consistency was seventh fastest on each of the next three stages to end the opening leg in seventh position.

Overnight changes to the car helped balance the handling and Jones was able to comfortably increase his pace.

After a run of top six times all morning more changes at the mid-morning halt brought another improvement in form. Fourth fastest overall on SS10 was immediately followed by third fastest on the very next stage. By now the MG runner was up to sixth position, but with three stages still to go a mature headed Stuart had his eye on a finish, rather than heroics.

Maintaining a constant rhythm through the final loop of stages Jones and Bull successfully fulfilled their main aim - a solid finish, well inside the points on the opening round with the new car.

"Although sixth position is a really good result for a car so early in its development the positive thing is that I feel there is so much more to come," he reflected.

"I'm still adapting my driving style to suit the MG and at each service we are making small changes which are moving us forward.

"I must give a big mention to Matt Beebe who helped us out when we broke our recce car on Friday morning. Without his help we would have really had problems!"

MSD and Jones will now begin developing the tarmac set-up ahead of the first tarmac rally of the year, the Kelso-based Jim Clark International Rally, which runs from May 24-25.