Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

CHRISTMAS CRACKER; Big Guns Gear Up for Croft Neal's on Wheels

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

CHRISTMAS CRACKER; Big Guns Gear Up for Croft Neal's on Wheels

Article excerpt

Byline: Martin Neal

A CAPACITY 90-car entry lines up at Croft Circuit on Sunday for the annual Specsavers Christmas Stages Rally.

And a glance at an impressive-looking entry list suggests any one of around 10 crews must be heading to the North Yorkshire venue with genuine hopes of victory.

In fact, it's being talked of as the best entry in the event's history.

For a start, no fewer than six previous winners will be looking to get their name on the trophy again.

Defending champions John Stone and Lee Carter cross the Pennines from Blackburn to contest the 45-stage mile event in their recently rebuilt MG Metro 6R4.

They took the honours after a titanic battle last year - and competition looks even stiffer this time.

Former MSA National Gravel champion Paul Bird is coming out of retirement to try to win the event for a third year since it has been held at Croft and will be at the wheel of his Subaru WRC alongside Northallerton's Ian Windress.

Scotch Corner's Tony Bardy sampled the winner's champagne in 2005 and will be aiming to do so again with Reg Smith on the maps in their Nissan Sunny GTi-R.

Charlie Payne (Mitsubishi Lancer WRC) makes his Croft debut but is no stranger to Christmas Stages honours - he won in 1992, 1994 and 1999 when the event was held on the military ranges around Catterick.

He teams up with regular co-driver Craig Thorley's grandson, Tom Hughes, who is only 16.

Leeming Bar all-rounder Kevin Procter won the event 10 years ago on the ranges and has seconded fellow rallycrosser Dave Bellerby from Northallerton to navigate in their Subaru WRC.

While not expected to be battling for overall honours, Yuk Hodgson will be out in his Ford Escort Mk1 along with daughter Jemma and completes the list of former winners, having triumphed in 1985.

Darlington's Chris Wise and Tracey Taylor-West (Metro 6R4) know their way round Croft well enough, having won the Jack Frost Stages in 2007 and 2008 so they are expected to be at the business end of proceedings. …

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