Torquay rally driver Chris Wheeler put in a powerful performance at last weekend’s Bovington Stages Rally in Dorset, running sixth overall and outpacing a number of local expert crews until an electrical problem caused his early retirement. Despite the disappointment, he came away from Bovington confident that the raft of upgrades he made to his Citroen DS3 R3T over the winter will make his turbocharged machine extremely competitive in this year’s Motorsport UK National Asphalt Rally Championship.
The Bovington Stages, run on military land near the famous Tank Museum consisted of 80 stage miles spread over two days. Despite a treacherously wet track Wheeler pushed the Citroen to its limit from the opening stage. The upgraded machine performed superbly in the challenging conditions, with the engine’s wider powerband giving much greater speed than before, letting him slot into sixth overall and first in class, chasing multi-times Bovington Rally winner Andy Vey’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4.
By stage five Wheeler was strongly positioned to take fifth overall when the Citroen suddenly stopped in-stage. Undeterred at the setback, he returned to the service area where his mechanics found a broken crankshaft sensor. With the problem fixed, he returned on Sunday and set several class-leading times in the Trophy event, for competitors who retire on day one.
At the finish, Wheeler enthused that the car had come through a testing weekend with flying colours. “The engine ECU upgrades and the larger turbo restrictor made the car more responsive, with far better acceleration and our new high-grade racing fuel made a massive difference to the engine’s smoothness. If we maintain that pace throughout the coming National Asphalt Championship season I’m sure we can be in with a shout for class honours.”
Wheeler and co-driver Shaun Layland begin their national series campaign at the North West Stages Rally in Garstang, Lancashire, on 21st / 22nd March.
Writer: Ian Harden