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By Richard Batson
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Businessman Simon Webster has revived his rally driving career –behind the wheel of his dream car from 30 years ago.
This weekend the 54-year-old from Hempnall will be powering through the Welsh forests in a classic 1979 Ford Escort whose previous pilots include former world rally champion Hannu Mikkola.
Mr Webster had the rallying seeds sown when he was a 14-year-old schoolboy in Devon and did a Saturday job for a local garage where the owner did motorsport and the youngster began to watch and help out with event servicing.
He first drove in the 1980s, when in his 20s, setting competitive times in low budget Escorts, a Peugeot and a Sunbeam on local and national events before having to drop out because of the cost of the hobby.
Now he is back and driving the kind of car that topped the leaderboard back in the day in the hands of works drivers.
The 260 bhp Escort, which has also been driven by Ford factory driver Malcolm Wilson and competed as far afield as New Zealand, has been prepared by the Suffolk-based Rally X Treme outfit of Grant Shand.
Despite his spell away from the sport, and only tackling a handful of events so far, Mr Webster has lost none of his speed.
On the Severn Valley Stages last year he was setting times in the top two and at one stage on the Colin McRae Stages event in Scotland was 30 seconds quicker than former world champion Stig Blomqvist.
“The car is a replica of the works machine – but better than the original because of advances in technology and reliability,” said Mr Webster, who runs Green Valley Industrial Supplies at Ilketshall St Lawrence, whose products include fuel jerry cans and customers include Mini rallying legend Paddy Hopkirk.
Historic rallying is not the world of old men in flat caps re-living their youth that it might seem.
It was very competitive, very fast and with tremendous camaraderie, said Mr Webster.
“Modern rallying has lost its way a bit. The fans say there is no better sight and sound than an Escort roaring through the forest,” he added.
On Sunday he will be doing exactly that with co-driver Pete Cotton in a car which won the 1979 Scottish rally with Mikkola at the wheel, but has had many rebuilds between then and now.
Also in a RallyXTreme Escort is Chris Parsons from West Norfolk co-driving for Nick Woodman.