OH SO CLOSE FOR FATHER AND SON RALLY ACES

Peter and Chris Heatherington.

A FATHER and son rally team fulfilled a driving ambition at the weekend after going wheel to wheel with the best teamsin the world and they only missed a top 50 finish due to a spot of car trouble. Privateers, Peter and Chris Heatherington from Hartburn near Morpeth, were in South Wales for the Rally of Great Britain, an event at which the world championship was decided in favour of Finland s Marcus Gronholm.

The pair ended up in 53rd place after four gruelling forest stagesbut they still had reason to cheer after coming in as the 16th best British team from 32 entrants.They were languishing in 143rd after the first day but managed to improve on that before being hit by a clutch problem on Friday afternoon.

However, just being there to take on the best was reward enough for Peter, 51, who did all of the driving at the event. He said: "This is our first time in the GB Rally and it s a once in a lifetime ambition for us; it was great to be in the pit garages rubbing shoulders with likes of Colin McRae and Richard Burns. Everybody is so helpful and it s like being in a club, there is a camaraderie among the drivers. But the really nice aspect was having my son as co-driver."

The 19-year-old, who is currently studying engineering at Durham University, was on hand to support his Dad by reading out the vital pace notes that allow rally drivers to speed through narrow dirt tracks as fast as possible.

Both were frustrated by the mechanical problems which hit their 16 valve, 250 break horse power Mitsubishi Lancer. Peter explained: "We had to take the car in for repairs during the 45 minute service period and it was a big operation as we had to change the gear box. It was a tremendous team effort and we did it in 55 minutes which limited our time penalty.

"This lost us half a dozen places on that day so we had to push the car harder on Saturday s stage, but we managed to get back up to 61st. The final day was the Margam run which was televised and that is where we drove our way into 53rd."

He added: "This stage was exhilarating and hair raising with so many spectators turning up but some of the tracks had frightening drops off the side. It is a disadvantage being privateers in rallies like this as the cars require a huge amount of back up, but this is like the British Grand Prix to us and it was exciting to go up against these guys."

They certainly had the right preparation for the race warming up on some of the toughest forest stages in Scotland and Kielder forest in May, where they were denied a top 20 finish through a burst tyre. The pair also had a very good showing in August s Colin McRae Rally, finishing in 19th place to secure their qualification for the Great Britain event.

Peter, who is a former accountant with Ernst and Young but now running his own business advisory service, intends to take a break in the close season in preparation for more rallies next year.