Article By John Williams

The ŠKODA Fabia R5 rally car made an event-leading UK debut at the weekend, when Neil Simpson drove the stunning ŠKODA Motorsport-built car on the Neil Howard Stages Rally at Oulton Park.

Even though it was Neil’s first rally for twelve months, he powered the new ŠKODA Fabia R5 to its first UK stage victory on the very first speed test.

The Simpsons ŠKODA dealer principal had collected the car himself from ŠKODA Motorsport’s headquarters in Mladá Boleslav two weeks before, where Neil was given a detailed technical ‘roll out’ by the factory team. Saturday’s event was then selected as the car’s UK rally debut, as the opening round of the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship was fairly local to Simpsons’ two ŠKODA dealerships in Preston and Colne and it was a predominantly Tarmac event, with only a few sections of gravel. With a very large crowd of spectators braving the wet and windy conditions, Simpsons ŠKODA also unveiled its new fully branded service area and hospitality facility.

Despite this being Neil’s first rally since he drove a Simpsons ŠKODA Fabia S2000 on the Rallye du Condroz-Huy in Belgium exactly a year ago, he set the fastest time on the opening stage to take an early lead. Against more powerful World Rally Car opposition, Neil then fought back after a spin and being delayed behind slower cars to retake the lead after SS6. However, when a stone cruelly punctured a hole in the radiator, the Simpsons ŠKODA car was forced out of the event, with just three stages remaining.

Neil Simpson said: “We’re absolutely delighted, and feel very privileged, to have given the ŠKODA Fabia R5 its UK rally debut. It’s one of the best rally cars I have ever driven. In terms of its performance and balance, the overall handling of the chassis and the tractability of the engine, the Fabia R5 is a really great package.“We came to Oulton Park because the event is ideal to launch a car like this, because there were thousands of spectators who saw the ŠKODA Fabia R5 in action for the first time in the UK, and it was a great way to promote the ŠKODA brand. It’s also very good for our business, because Simpsons ŠKODA hosted sixty corporate guests at the event, which included our commercial rally partners, customers and potential customers, so the whole thing made an awful lot of business, as well as sporting, sense.

“The Fabia R5 ran faultlessly until we caught a slower car in stage six, and we sat behind it for a few hundred metres down a gravel section of road. Unfortunately, a stone came up from the back of that car and went straight through our radiator. It was just incredibly unlucky and there was nothing we could do about it. The Fabia R5 is so new, we haven’t had the opportunity to build a complete spares package up yet, and this is why we didn’t have a spare radiator, so we had to stop. I’d have loved to have tried to win the event, but retiring from the lead shows the car’s enormous potential.”

Neil Simpson’s rally programme is supported by Pirelli, Techron Fuel System Cleaners, Texaco Havoline, MIS insurance, Speedline Corse and Xpression Event Solutions.