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Mobil 1 British Rally Championship

Julian PorterThe British Championship was to start with a considerably more low-key Ford presence in 1999. The constructors challenge had gone, with only a few entries competing without full manufacturer backing. Julian Porter, who had first appeared on the Manx in an Escort Maxi, was back for a full season in the car. Stuart Egglestone, an up and coming star was in another Escort, this time an earlier kit car that had been used by the Simmonite sisters in 1998. There would be other cars appearing on various events too, but, with Ford’s front wheel drive focus now on the Super 1600 Puma, the Escort was to receive little factory support compared to previous years.

Vauxhall Rally of Wales

The first round was held in the famous stages of north and mid Wales, and saw Julian Porter and Stuart Egglestone make their first assault on the British championship contenders. The fighting was still as fierce as always; with reigning champion Martin Rowe still battling with old rivals Gwyndaf Evans and Mark Higgins, who had been out of the British championship for a year.

Egglestone was running well in the Escort, in sixth place overall, with Porter also adapting well to the gravel in the Escort Maxi, in ninth place by the end of the first day. The two Escorts had also been joined by Petter Akerstrom in another kit car but he sadly retired on stage five. At the front, Rowe finished day one on top, with Laukkanen second and Higgins third.

Day two saw Gwyndaf Evans having problems in the Seat, meaning he was struggling to keep pace with the leaders. Rowe would go on to win the rally, continuing his 1998 form, with Laukkanen and Higgins remaining second and third respectively. Egglestone managed to finish sixth overall, a good start to the championship, with Julian Porter remaining ninth.

Pirelli International Rally

The Pirelli saw another trip to Cumbria and the borders of Scotland. The new MK4 Golf kit car had proven a quick starter, but Laukkanen had pulled into an overall lead, despite the Golf posting quickest times in the Carlisle Airport stages. Evans was again suffering, with power steering issues slowing his charge. Stuart Egglestone was also to struggle in Cumbria, with differential problems sidelining the Escort in stage five. Tapio Laukkanen would go into the overnight halt with the lead, with Martin Rowe second, and Mark Higgins Julian Porter Vauxhall Rally of Walesthird in the VW Golf.

Day two saw Rowe out with gearbox failure, and Gwyndaf Evans recovering, though power steering problems would see him down to fourth. Laukkanen would prove uncatchable, winning the event, with Toni Gardemeister second in an Ibiza Kit Car, and Higgins staying in third place. Julian Porter had a less successful run this time; only managing 32nd overall, though he was ninth of the 2.0 cars.

All this meant that Laukkanen now held the championship lead, with Higgins in second, and Vauxhall’s Jarmo Kytolehto third.

RSAC Scottish Rally

The Scottish Rally, as always, was the last forest round of the year, and Egglestone was hoping to make up for the disappointment of the Pirelli with a good result here. He was clearly trying hard, and performing well, in the top ten for all of the first day, and lying fifth by the end of the day, chasing Gwyndaf Evans hard. He was clearly very pleased with his performance, noting; “The car was absolutely perfect, right to the end.”

The front runners were also pushing hard; Laukkanen was in control again however, with Rowe second and Gardemeister showing his future credentials in third. Julian Porter was also doing well in the Maxi, running in the top ten again.

Day two saw a disaster for Egglestone, crashing out of the event with just three stages left. After the great performance on day one, this was deeply disappointing for Egglestone. Porter was running well still, and would go on to finish in the top ten once again; ninth overall, sixth of the 2.0 cars. The Escort may have lacked the development of the other teams, but it was still proving very capable in the right hands.

Tapio Laukkanen would go on to score another rally win, securing his place at the top of the championship leader board, with Rowe a comfortable second. Volkswagen’s Raimond Baumschlager was now up to third place.

SEAT Jim Clark Memorial Rally

A new event for the 1999 season; the Jim Clark Memorial Rally was to make up the fourth round of the season. It was also the first tarmac round on the British mainland ever to feature in the British Rally Championship. It started wet, but Laukkanen was again to go into an early lead. It was a close contest though, with the Finn trading times with Martin Rowe and Gwyndaf Evans. Julian Porter was back in the Maxi, and had a good result again; ninth in class and 12th overall. Stuart Egglestone was to miss this event, but there was another Escort present, this time with Ryan Champion at the wheel. Sadly for Champion though, he was only to make it as far as stage 13, where he would be forced out with mechanical troubles.

Julian Porter Vauxhall Rally of WalesDay two saw more damp, changeable, conditions. Evans’ bad luck continued, with steering issues yet again, followed by engine trouble, meaning he could only manage third overall. Laukkanen cruised to another victory, with Rowe second; the championship had a very Renault themed podium once again!

The Stena Line Ulster Rally

The tarmac assault continued on the Ulster rally, the penultimate round of the season. Renault were in charge, having won every round so far. Unlike the rain of the Jim Clark, Ulster was to prove dry and very hot, with melting tarmac causing grip problems for the whole event. The weather wasn’t to cause the only drama. Laukkanen had an early incident, losing a wheel on Special Stage 2, giving Rowe a chance to take the title. Unfortunately for the reigning champion, he was to crash out heavily, meaning Laukkanen only had to finish to take the title with a round to spare. Toni Gardemeister also had a big off, hitting a stone wall and injuring four spectators. Gwyndaf Evans was left with the rally lead, but power steering troubles would again plague the unlucky Welshman.

This meant the two Vauxhall Astras were left in the lead, with Neil Weardon and Jarmo Kytolehto trading times. Sadly for the Finn, Kytolehto, he went off and suffered suspension damage, meaning he was to grind to a halt and leave Weardon out in front. In the Ford camp, Julian Porter was doing well, and would end day one in sixth place. Ollie O’Donovan was in another Escort, this time an ex-Kenny McKinstry car, but stage 11 was to prove the end of his rally with mechanical issues.

Leg 2 saw Julian Porter move up to fifth spot, but brake issues meant a junction overshoot, and 20 seconds lost, returning him to sixth. Neil Weardon was to take his first British championship win, with Evans in second spot, having been fastest on every stage of Leg 2. Mark Higgins was in third, with Tapio Laukkanen recovering to fifth place, securing the championship title with one round to go. Julian Porter kept going despite his brake problems and finished in sixth spot overall.

Sony Manx International Rally

The climax of the 1999 championship was on the Isle of Man as always. There was a dry start, but the new British champion was still to go out early, clipping a bank and breaking the right front suspension. The two Seats of Toni Gardemeister and Barbara Armstrong were also to be early casualties, with sheared wheel studs. This meant that Ulster winner, Neil Weardon took an early lead. By the end of the day, though, Evans and Rowe had overhauled the young Yorkshireman.

Julian Porter and Ollie O’Donovan returned in the two Escorts, with Chris Bridson in a third car. On the second day, Rowe took the lead from Evans. Mark Higgins was to roll his Golf, which then caught fire, meaning the stage was cancelled. By this time, Porter was running in sixth place, another good performance. At the end of the day two, Rowe was leading his home event, with Weardon now second and Gwyndaf Evans in third sport in the Ibiza.

Chris Bridson was having a good drive in his Escort, but crashed out in the 21st stage, dropping the number of RS2000s Julian Porter Manx International Rallydown to two. Leg 3 had started with fog, followed by rain, which caused Weardon to retire after an accident in the difficult conditions. Evans was pushing hard, and setting fastest times, but another problem saw him down to sixth. Rowe was to win the rally, with Volkswagen’s Raimond Baumschlager in second spot, and a recovering Evans in third. Porter finished the year with another good result, eighth overall and fifth of the British championship runners. Ollie O’Donovan also did well, finishing 17th overall, and fifth in class.

Despite a lack of factory entries, and much diminished support from Ford, the Escort had still performed well, even without the big names that had been behind the wheel in the past. After 1999, the numbers of cars were to dwindle further, but there were still to be good results for the Escort in private hands.