Dealer principal returns to rallying hotseat

Former works rally driver Neil Simpson will return to rallying this year after a 12 year sabbatical, driving an ex-Skoda Motorsport Fabia S2000 entered by his own Simpsons of Preston and Colne Skoda dealerships.

Neil Simpson SkodaThe 41-year old dealer principal from Clitheroe will rally the same Fabia S2000 in which Freddy Loix (Belgium) won the 2013 Ypres Rally. The car has only ever done three events, as it was also driven by Esapekka Lappi (Finland) at last year’s Barum Czech Rally Zlín and Sanremo Rally.

After an initial shakedown test at Fulbeck Airfield in Lincolnshire before Christmas, Neil tested the car at rally speed for the first time in February, with his new co-driver Claire Mole, over the Trawsfynydd military range in Wales.

After an excellent test session, Neil is looking forward to making his competition debut in the Fabia S2000 on this weekend’s North West Stages. Although Neil can see one of the stages from his Simpsons Skoda showroom, it’s the first time he has contested his local multi-single venue event.

Neil’s last full rally season was in 2001, when he drove a works Volkswagen Polo S1600 in the MSA British Rally Championship. Back then he was also an official test driver for Volkswagen Motorsport, spending up to four days a week in Germany working on rally projects. The ending of that three-year contract coincided with his father wishing to take a back seat in the family business, and thus Neil decided to stop rallying and concentrate on building the business.

Since then, Neil has developed Simpsons Skoda into one of the UK’s top retailers, winning Skoda UK Retailer of the Year Awards in the Aftersales, Used Car Sales and Fleet Sales categories last year.

Nei saodl: “I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t rally while I developed the business, and whilst I’ve kept to it there has always been a motorsport culture at Simpsons Skoda. After twelve years, we felt the time was right to return to rallying.

“Initially we thought about just going out and having some fun, but there again if you’re going to return you might as well do it properly. The idea has come on in leaps and bounds since then, and everyone at Simpsons Skoda is involved and excited about the eight all-Tarmac rally programme that we’ve put together, as we’ve created a great project that links our passion for motorsport and business.

“The test in Trawsfynydd went really well. We had all sorts of weather in one day – hail, torrential rain, sunshine – so we were able to test a variety of roll bar settings, dampers and tyres on both wet and dry roads; it couldn’t have been better. It was also the first time Claire and I had sat in a rally car together and we got on really well from the word go.

“The Skoda Fabia S2000 is a cracking piece of kit and without doubt the best rally car I’ve ever driven. I feel very honoured to be able to rally it, and I’m really looking forward to the year ahead.” 2014 planned programme of events 7-8 February - North West Stages (Blackpool) 14-15 March - Le Touquet Rallye (France) 17-19 April - Circuit of Ireland 30-31 May - Jim Clark Rally (Scotland) 19-20 June - Geko Ypres Rally (Belgium) 15-16 August - Ulster Rally 13-14 September - Wexford (Ireland) 31 October-2 November - Condroz Rally (Belgium)