HEREFORDSHIRE Motor Club pairing Darren and Sue Underwood remain in a string position in the REIS MSA Asphalt Rally Championship after finishing second in their class at the Wilkinson Maintenance Tyneside Stages Rally held over the renowned Otterburn military ranges in Northumberland.

It was the pair's third trip to Otterburn and the course had been varied considerably to previous visits so they faced several miles of uncharted territory.

A strong class battle was on the cards with 13 crews battling for top 1600cc honours, with Barry and Michael Lindsay (Peugeot 106) and Kevin Tappin and Jonathan Hawkins (Escort Mk II) being their strongest rivals.

“Unfortunately we were caught napping on the first loop of three stages on Sunday morning,” said Darren. “Tappin opened a lead of some 42 seconds which was going to be an impossible task to claw back.”

The asphalt roads are notorious for jumps and a couple of heavy landings caused the Crystal Images Awards’ Nova crew a little concern, so a good check over was needed at the service halts.

As the day progressed, the Lindsays slipped further behind and although the Underwoods were stealing a few seconds from Tappin’s times, the Leominster couple decided to preserve second in championship class points rather than risk a non-finish.

Ending the 12 stage event equal 16th, the Underwoods had been just a second slower over the opening test with their joint finisher and so were awarded 17th overall on a “furthest cleanest” regulation.

“Obviously we were hoping to have won the class to consolidate our championship points," said Darren. "But by finishing second and by having three previous class wins in the series, we are still in a very strong position but have to keep an eye on Tappin.”

The Nova pair are currently heading the Front Wheel Drive Challenge of the series too.

Round six of eight in the REIS MSA Asphalt Rally Championship returns to Epynt ranges near Brecon at the end of August, when the Nova crew resume their championship chase.