OVER 90 high-revving rally cars battled through twisting gravel tracks at the weekend as Kielder Forest Rally made its return.

The rally, on Saturday (June 18), was the fourth round of the MRF Tyres/BTRDA Rally Series and the Motorsport UK English Rally Championship.

‘Killer Kielder’ is one of the most famous rallying locations in the world and is a favourite amongst both drivers and spectators, with the event itself being one of the most popular on the sport’s calendar.

Elliot Payne and Patrick Walsh won the event, with the Ford Fiesta Rally2 crew having to fight hard to fend off the challenge from some of the country's leading rally drivers.

Their winning margin was a mere 18 seconds as they survived a late comeback from the young Welsh driver, Tom Llewellin, who fought back from a slight off-road incident to close in on the rally leaders and narrowly failed to overhaul them.

The rally was based at Hexham Auction Mart. From there, cars headed for a ceremonial start in front of the historic, Jacobean façade of Chipchase Castle before moving up the North Tyne to Kielder Forest for six high-speed stages.

The recent dry weather meant that the tracks were extremely slippery with drivers describing the surface as like driving on a sea of ball bearings.

It wasn’t long before the rally claimed its first victims with one of the leading crews, Charlie Payne and Carl Williamson, putting their Ford Fiesta very firmly into one of Kielder’s many ditches. They were soon joined by several others.

The pace and the warm weather took its toll and by the time the crews arrived back at Hexham for the service halt, the field had been much reduced with some 20 cars retiring.

The second half of the rally saw the crews repeat the morning's three stages and the pace again was unrelenting.

While Payne/Walsh held on to their lead they were constantly looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack as Llewellin/Whittock's hard-charging fight back was matched by strong performances from Bishop Auckland crew Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson and Perry Gardener/Jack Bowen from Ludlow.

At the finish, less than a minute covered the top five crews.

There was a troubled debut for Prudhoe-based driver Carl Robson who made his first attempt at a gravel rally on the Kielder Forest event.

His recently acquired Toyota Yaris suffered all day from a fuel pressure problem which meant the young driver never really got the opportunity to test himself against the rest of the country's up-and-coming drivers in the 'Rally First' section of the event although he did manage to nurse the car to the finish and gain valuable experience.