PEUGEOT Super 106 Cup front-runner Ryan Champion saw his hopes of winning this year's championship dashed when he was beset by gearbox problems on the final round of the series on the recent Banbury Rally in Oxfordshire.

The 26-year-old from Castleton, co-driven as usual by Cliff Simmons, was one of three drivers able to win the title going into the event. Despite an early spin, he was up to second place and catching leader Rory Galligan at halfway.

But a cracked gearbox casing left the service crew with a lot of work to do just to keep them in the event.

It was to prove a losing battle and the part-time rally instructor said: "The team did a great job to patch the gearbox up, but from then on there was no way we could challenge for the win we needed to take the title.

"We did quite a few miles with virtually no oil in the gearbox at all so how it held together we'll never know. It made some nasty noises by the end as well as jumping out of gear as fast as I could put it in."

The crew still managed to take third place in the 106 Cup on the event, which put them third in the championship after six podium finishes from seven starts. The event and the series was won by Irishman Galligan.

"It's obviously disappointing not to win," said Champion. "I'm not too sure what we will do next year, we will have to see what sponsorship we can put together over the winter and go from there. But, we'll be back."

l The final round of the FIA World Rally Championship got underway last night as 120 cars left the start of the Network Q Rally of Great Britain in Cardiff bound for the 1,000-mile route around South Wales.

Among them were a number of local crews aiming for amateur glory in the four-day event, including Scorton's Steve Petch and his co-driver John Richardson from Northallerton in their Hyundai Accent WRC.

Kepwick driver Peter Stephenson (Subaru) and Charlie Payne from Ripon in a Mitsubishi will be battling for Group N honours, while D&S Times correspondent Larry Carter is hoping for success with MonsterMob Ducati team owner Paul Bird from Penrith in their SGP Subaru.

The battle for the world driver's championship will be resolved on the event and, with British hopes split between Colin McRae's Ford and Richard Burns' Subaru, record crowds are expected to line the route.

l Planning is at an advanced stage for the Northallerton Auto Club's Christmas Stages Rally, which will take place exclusively at Croft Circuit near Darlington on Saturday, December 29.

With the army ranges around Richmond still out of bounds due to foot-and-mouth concerns, the organisers have decided to proceed with the event on the traditional date rather than scrap plans altogether.

Regulations have been circulated and entries are steadily coming in, with a number of top crews already down to compete in the 37-mile rally which forms part of three regional championships.

Sponsored jointly by Anth Eaton of Autotest and Dave Craven of Northern Site Supplies, the rally organisers have set a strict limit on the minimum number of entries and local competitors are urged to secure an entry before the closing date of December 10 or the event will be cancelled.

The entry fee is just £145 and details are available from Ian Jackson on 07977 565559.

It is hoped to run another rally at Easter using the traditional gravel stages around the ranges once the foot-and-mouth restrictions have been lifted.