THOUSANDS of spectators braved the icy conditions to watch the spectacular Grizedale Stages, Coppermines Rally at the weekend.

Around 4,000 fans flocked to Grizedale Forest to watch the 25th rendition of the annual spectacle, with freezing temperatures turning the forest tracks into sheet ice - unwelcome conditions for the 59 competitors.

The passage of marshals into the stages had further polished the tracks, which caught out last year’s winner David Wright from Bentham in his Mitsubishi.

Running at number one, he slid into a ditch after just a quarter of a mile of Stage One. With insufficiant spectators on hand to help extricate the stricken car it was rally over for the defending champion.

Fastest over Stage One was Alex Allingham, who has finished second on the previous two Grizedale rallies and was this time driving a hired Subaru Impreza.

Paul Bird from Penrith was second fastest in his Focus WRC, 15 seconds adrift.

The battle for the win gradually went Bird’s way as he clawed precious seconds back on the second stage which was generally clear of the severe icy conditions.

Competitors then tackled two stages in Broughton Moor. Bird was fastest on both of them, resulting in him taking a 14 second lead into the fith and final stage, the awesome 17-miler in Grizedale West.

But just four miles from the end of the stage Bird made a small mistake over a crest resulting in the car hitting a tree and breaking the steering, which was game over for his prospects.

Allingham, in his hired Subaru, had maintained the pressure with competitive times in the unfamilar car, giving him a popular and comfortable win by more than three minutes over Josh Moffett (Ireland) and the youngster Oliver Mellors (Yorkshire).

Local driver Graham Gaskell came second in class and 25th overall. Steve Head and his father Dave Head both had visits to ditches resulting in a loss of time, but they finished 31st and 40th respectively.

Lancaster Motor Club Members Bryan Gibson of Silverdale and Christopher Paskin of Lancaster finished the Grizedale Rally third in their class in their distinctive yellow David Slater Landscaping MKII escort.

Organisers of Saturday's event commented that to finish was prize enough for many competitors in the treacherous, icy conditions, which claimed many victims.

The race signalled a break in rallying for Gibson after 25 years in stage rallying. The mantle is being passed onto his son Matthew, who will retake his driving seat next to Paskin to capitalise on their third place success on the Pendragon stages rally earlier this year.