CURPHEY TITLE HIGHLIGHTS NEW TALENT
In becoming the 2007 Eurocars Motorsport Manx Rally Champion, 26 year old Richard Curphey leads a new generation of rising talent within the sport.
In an era where four-wheel drive, turbo-charged Subaru’s and Mitsubishi’s threaten to dominate, it shows that much humbler machinery can still come out on top given the right talent behind the wheel. Rob Watson continues to prove the point; so too now does a flying green Vauxhall Nova.
Victory on the opening round of the series, February’s Black Horse Finance Conrhenny Stages, came as a surprise to many. Not though to Curphey and co-driver Andrew Holmes. ‘Right from the end of last year the championship was the aim’, admits Richard.
‘Recruiting Andrew to co-drive was a big part of that plan. He’s worth 40 horse power with his knowledge and drive, which gave me the belief that I could win. We honestly thought going into the rally that we could do it, even allowing for all the more powerful machinery.’
The rally initially developed into an all-Mitsubishi battle with Andy Glaister (who would later go on to put things right with his own victory at the venue on June’s non-championship Trade Distribution Stages), Noel Kelly and Donny Gill filling the top three until they were all sidelined in the space of two stages, defending champion Kelly in the most dramatic manner after a substantial roll.
Watson took the Jaks Bar/Porsche Centre Chester-sponsored closed roads event in March after a frenetic second day scrap with visitor John Cope, but in championship terms the leaders seventh place finish was enough to extend their advantage. Kex Walker and Danni Matthews finished just one place back to add to their fourth place a month earlier, marking the BMW 325 crew as the principle opponents.
‘That was Andrew and my first closed roads event together and everything clicked straight away’, says Richard. ‘We had a big tussle on the Saturday with Adrian Kermode which we lost on the final stage, but even so that result meant as much if not more to me than the forest win.’
The Isle of Man Government’s decision to close the uplands in response to a limited foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey meant that the Duke Stages became the only rally in the entire British Isles to be affected, postponed until December.
The Riverside Furniture Jurby Stages was switched into its September slot and a controversial finish saw the results amended an hour after the final stage. Dave Corris and Mark Perryman retained honours in their Escort WRC, with the Mitsubishi of Mark Cubbon cruelly denied.
Curphey meanwhile suffered a scare when steam began streaming from the engine bay on the penultimate stage. ‘By now we were thinking seriously of the title bid and I over-reacted and backed off too much’. They lost a final stage shoot-out to Matt Bettridge’s Peugeot 206 by just one second. As ever Walker was at close quarters, just five seconds behind to keep the championship pressure on.
When Curphey and Holmes crashed out of November’s Black Horse Finance Stages on Marine Drive it looked like that pressure had come to bear. While Watson continued his amazing victory run on closed roads, the series lead switched to the BMW pair and it was all set up for a final round decider. ‘Fair play to Kex, he is a hugely under-rated driver and he was eating time out of us on the longer stages on Saturday morning. It forced us onto the offensive, Andrew told me I couldn’t afford to lose any more time, and the mistake came.’
‘We quickly realised the car wasn’t going to be ready for the Duke Stages, so I’d lined up Nigel Cannell’s night rally car for the event. We knew we were behind in the standings but there was no way we were going to give up on it.’
However a further twist came when the Duke Stages was ultimately cancelled on its revised date. Instead the championship reverted to best three scores of the four rounds held, negating the crash and throwing the crown back to Curphey and Holmes.
‘I was, and still am, a bit numb about it really. You want to win it on an event, not on the end of a telephone. I have the maximum respect for Kex and it is cruel, but it has been great to fight for a title with a friend all year. I thought when I won the Colin Shimell award for young competitor of 2006 that it was the best thing. To then go on and win my first rally and the championship, and be the youngest driver since Rob Watson to do that, you just couldn’t ask for any more.’
Other championship category winners:
Team: Team Pukka (Richard Curphey/ Andrew Holmes & Carine Walker/Danni Matthews)