THIS year’s Paperclix Jersey Rally has been a long time coming for Stewart Le Breton.
For the past seven years the 36-year-old carpenter and builder has been designing, developing and building an Escort Mark II from the ground up.
The 230 bhp Group 4 classic, Stewart’s third Mark II, is now ready for its biggest test yet and the gloves are coming off. He is looking for a top-ten finish this weekend – and after getting to know his car last year, that is more than possible.
Stewart started rallying in 1992 and has switched between racing, navigating and helping to organise and run the event as an official, most recently as a scrutineer for the Motorsport Association. For a number of years he sat on the Jersey Motor Cycle and Light Car Club rally committee, which organises the event, as vice-chairman. This year, due to family commitments and to concentrate on his driving, he is just racing.
Beside him in his latest Escort this weekend will be Scott, his little brother. The 25-year-old is navigating and has had a hand in the seven-year building project. ‘I bought the Escort back in 2000,’ said Stewart. ‘It was a bare body shell. I had built my two previous ones from scratch and took it on as a new project. I got it off a friend who had kept it in storage for ten years. He bought it because it was a very good one and worth hanging on to, so he stored it in a barn. He was just pleased to see it go to a good home.’
He added: ‘It has been built from the ground up to Group 4 specification. We have built it purely for tarmac. It has a normally aspirated 16-valve Cosworth engine that was brought over from the UK. I bought it from Steve Salmon, who had it in a single-seater racing car. It was built by the highly reputable Graham Hickman.’
Other bits came from specialist suppliers in the UK, while Stewart has developed other parts himself or relied on friends to dig around in their garages for the odd spare. ‘We kind of share what we’ve got,’ Stewart said. ‘I suppose it is the stubbornness of a Jerseyman as much as anything – I just don’t want to have to pay for them! Rallying really can be extortionate, so if you can develop stuff yourself, so much the better.
‘For me, the engineering and developing parts by figuring it out myself is a major part of why I love the sport so much. For example, we’ve played around with the distributor and the ignition curve, which gives it a little bit more low-down power.’
Despite all the building and tweaking, Stewart likes to keep his cars true to the period from which they hail. He has painted the Escort gentian blue, the colour of the original Ford works cars when Hannu Mikkola and his contemporaries were the heroes of the day.
So how does he rate their chances this year? ‘We just eased ourselves in last year and gained a bit of confidence with the car,’ he said. ‘It had been a long time since I had driven it and we had to find the pace. There was no point doing anything silly. We got a reasonable finish coming in 14th, and gained some valuable experience. This year we’re hoping for a top 15 finish. Top ten would be wonderful, but then again you never know with the Jersey Rally – anything can happen.’
To show that they mean business, Stewart and Scott came first in class and fourth overall in L’Etacq Attack, a one-stage rally event held on Stewart’s birthday in July.
Stewart would like to thank his sponsors – Havre des Pas Garage, Art and Design Studio, Mike Brooks decorating, Shell Fuel Supplies, Scott Le Breton carpentry, CP Ozard felt roofers, 4Hire and Venco Ltd – and perhaps most of all, his long-suffering wife Fran and his children, who have had to put up with him spending so many long nights in the garage.
Stewart and Scott Le Breton with the Escort Mark II which has been seven years in the making
Picture by Peter Mourant (00593490)