It was a mixed day for the local crews who ventured north for the Kielder Forest Stages, writes Paul Willetts.

The Hexham-based event was Round Four of the BTRDA Rally Championship and Round Three of the English series, Mini Challenge.

Three stages on the Eastern side of the massive Kielder complex with two loops of Falstone, Bower and Shepardshield interspersed with a lunchtime service back at the Hexham Livestock Mart.

The stages were incredibly fast but grip was very inconsistent and it was easy to get caught out in the changeable conditions.

In the Mini Challenge section 11 cars lined up but the challenge crews only did the opening loop of three stages totalling some 21 miles.

Hesketh Banks Jack Birch had the experienced Coleford-based co-driver Mike Jode alongside in the Tarleton Tyres-backed Mini 

The duo were stepping up from the Junior 1000 series last year to give the youngster much-needed gravel experience.

They had a trouble free run to fifth overall and second in class.

In the main event, veteran campaigners Jeremy Easson and Mike Reynolds had a trouble ree run the Colin Easson Motors Escort RS1600 to finish 24th and sixth in class.

Cliffy Simmons teamed up once more with Yorkshireman John Lowe in the immaculate Philliskirk & Lowe Escort RS1800.

After gaining much-needed mileage on the recent Border Counties it was more of the same here and apart from issues with rear brakes binding on stage five which cost them some time, they were happy enough with 28th overall & seventh in class.

Luke Watts who had Ryan Taylor along this weekend debuting his new MG Rover stepping up to the top 1400S class in the 1400 category.

The event was just about getting mileage and a feel for the Ian Watts & Son, NJ Autos-backed car ahead of doing the remaining rounds of the BTRDA series and the duo finished 42nd and fifth in class. 

"Today was about mileage and learning the new car as I'm so rusty, the first loop I was braking way to early but second loop was much better and I'm gradually getting to terms with the new car,” said Luke.

“I'm going to use the remaining rallies this year now to build my speed. Tthanks to Ryan who did a great job in with me today, so it's  onwards and upwards."

Unfortunately it was a day to forget for the current 1400 championship leaders Nigel and Karen Jenkins after opening up a comfortable lead on the opening two stages despite a huge spin costing some 10 seconds, disaster struck on the next test when engine problems brought their event to a premature end.

Despite the retirement they still lead the way in the 1400 series.

For Geoff Phelps with Colin Jenkins calling the notes in the Hartpury Farms Escort RS1800 had a very short event sliding off in the opening stage and getting beached.

Yet again the organisers had put on an excellent event and it's a shame they didn't get a full entry.