Cunningham extends lead as rivals hit trouble.

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Championship leader Jonny Cunningham extended his lead in the 2010 Kick Energy Fiesta SportChallenge with an impressive drive on round four, the Jim Clark Challenge Rally.  Championship returnee Rory Hall took second with youngster Alex Laffey third.

The shorter challenge event took in the same stages as the international rally but with crews only contesting each stage once.  Pirelli Challenge winners Damien Smith, 28 from Silsden and Frazer Hutchinson, drew first blood winning the opening one and a quarter mile stage through Duns town centre despite missing the recce and never having driven the car in anger on Tarmac.  26-year-old Galwayman Cunningham was next, with brother Patrick sitting in for regular co-driver Richard Millener.  Cunningham had also never driven his ST on Tarmac prior to the opening test, but put his experience competing in Ireland to good use posting a time less than a second behind Smith.  Championship returnee Rory Hall, 27, from Goodwick and co-driver Lee Burgess were third just ahead of Alex Laffey and Peter Martin.  17-year-old Dan O’Brien from St Albans was next through the short opening test with new co-driver Paul Morris in the passenger seat.  Championship contenders Richard Parry-Jones and John Pritchard suffered a trying start to the opening stage posting the sixth and seventh fastest times respectively.  Jamie Brown and Craig Burgess were next less than one second behind Pritchard.

Smith continued his impressive start to the event on stage two, Abbey St Bathans to increase his advantage over Cunningham to 16 seconds.  Parry-Jones recovered from his slow start to post the third fastest time and climb to fourth overall, less than three seconds behind Hall.  Pritchard also started climbing up the leader, passing O’Brien for sixth.  Cunningham started his fight-back on the final stage of Friday night posting a time four and half seconds quicker than Smith and closing the ga to eleven seconds.  Hall posted the second fastest time on the stage less than two seconds behind Cunningham.  Parry-Jones from Abermaw and co-driver Sara Price continued their recovery posting the fourth fastest time just three tenths of a second ahead of Laffey, 20 from Market Harborough.  Pritchard and O’Brien posted exactly the same time through the stage as darkness fell with Brown, 18 from Foulsham a further five seconds behind.

As the crews return to service at Kelso Race Course at the end of day they were all raving about the stages and how much they enjoyed driving them.  O’Brien summed it up perfectly saying “Rallying on Tarmac is great, you get to drive how you wish you could on the open road.”

It was all change at the top of the leader board after the opening test of day two, Cunningham posted the fastest time to overhaul Smith and open out a ten second advantage.  Laffey claimed his best stage result so far posting the second fastest time six seconds ahead of Smith in third.  Parry-Jones continued his climb up the leader board with the fourth fastest time to pass Hall for third.  Pritchard and co-driver Chris Williams were more comfortable on the morning of day two, posting the fifth fastest time and increasing their advantage over O’Brien to over 30 seconds.  With SS5 cancelled due to an accident in the International event, the crews had just two final stages to tackle before the end of the event.  Cunningham continued to stamp his authority over the event winning the stage by seven seconds from Rory Hall.  Hall was promoted into second after Smith hit trouble and dropped over seven minutes.  Laffey continued to improve posting the third fastest time less than half a second behind Hall. More importantly he closed to within three seconds of third placed man Parry-Jones.

Cunningham took his tally of stage wins to five on the final stage of the event to increase his winning margin to just over a minute ahead of Rory Hall who made an excellent return to the series.  Cunningham claimed his third win of the year in fine style winning all but the first two stages and gain some valuable Tarmac experience ahead of the Manx Challenge Rally.  Laffey posted a time ten seconds up on Parry-Jones to overhaul the more experienced competitor and claim the final spot on the podium, his best result of the season so far.  Smith recovered from his problems on the penultimate stage to post the second fastest time, he had lost too much on the previous stage for this make an impact on the leader however.  Pritchard’s confidence continued to grow as the event went on and he recorded the fourth fastest time on the final test, less than 15seconds behind winner Cunningham.

The Kick Energy Fiesta SportChallenge championship heads halfway across the Irish Sea next, to the Manx Challenge Rally around the challenging Isle of Man roads.

Event Winner – Jonny Cunningham said:
“It’s great to come here and score our first win in the ST on Tarmac.  We had a good fight with Damien today and it’s a shame it ended prematurely.  I have to thank my brother Patrick for doing a great job standing in for Rich.  I can’t wait for the next round to try and secure the championship victory.