Sunny side up for rally ace Butcher
Life is always Sunny for rally ace Chris Butcher – especially as his racy chariot of choice is a high-revving Nissan Sunny GTI.
Once a very popular competition car – there was even a works Nissan Motorsport Europe team contesting the FIA World Rally Championship – you don’t see many Sunny GTIs on rallies anymore.
Although that will change this year, as Chris tackles the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship in his.
Known for his fast, brave, determined driving style, Chris will be vying for victory in the hotly contested 2-litre B11 class.
The Newport, Gwent-based man made the decision to move up to the national series late in 2020, having competed regularly in single venue rallies for several years. This is not the first time Chris has competed in the National Asphalt Championship, although it is his debut as a driver.
“I contested some national-level rounds in the past, as [former champion] Simon Mauger’s co-driver,” says Chris. “However, I have always wanted to try top-level asphalt rallies from the other seat, and I feel the time is right to step up.”
Class B11 is populated mainly by Ford Escort Mk2s, so Chris’s ‘rice rocket’ and its distinctive raucous exhaust note will make a welcome rival to the ‘Boreham battalion’.
Built to Group A regulations for Irish driver Seamus Leonard, this particular Sunny was converted to Kit Car specification in the early 2000s. With additional updates by Chris and former Nissan Motorsports Europe team mechanic Andy Dawe it now has over 260bhp, a six-speed sequential gearbox and Proflex suspension. The car’s four-square styling and aggressive stance attracts a lot of attention.
“It reminds many people of arguably the British Rally Championship’s best era, in the mid to late 1990s. Added to that it’s noisy and has to be driven on the limit. Mark Higgins, a rallying hero of mine, certainly knew how to chuck one of these around,” adds Chris.
The introduction of mainland UK closed roads rallies was the clincher that turned Chris towards the Protyre Asphalt Championship.
“Competing on closed roads with pace notes is what I personally think rallying is all about,” admits Chris.
“It's the best chance to pit yourself against the fastest asphalt drivers in the country and the line-up of events this year is excellent.”
He is particularly looking forward to round two, the Hills Ford Three Shires Stages on Sunday 5 September. Having grown up in Gloucestershire, he knows the terrain and feels it will play to the Nissan’s strengths of plentiful power, excellent braking and predictable handling.
“It’s going to be extremely close and combative, right throughout the field,” concludes Chris.
“People are itching to get back out and compete and judging by how quickly entries have been filling up, I expect every round to be full to bursting.
“We are here to learn, but not in it just to make up the numbers. It would be great to come away with a good class position and set times close to the top crews. Also, hopefully, the Nissan will bring some good memories of the F2 glory days back to the stages.”
Chris is usually co-driven by Andy Hollingham. However, on The Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally (Sunday 29 August) he will be partnered by Jaime-Lee Fox, whilst Ryan Jones will step into the hot seat for the Hills Ford Three Shires Stages Rally (Sunday 5 September).
Picture by Nick Adams / eWRC.
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