LEEMING rally driver Joe Cunningham was the talk of the town following an impressive performance when contesting the Neil Howard Rally at Oulton Park on Bank Holiday Monday.

The event at the Cheshire racetrack formed the opening round of the British Rally Championship, and saw a top-quality entry in the 150-car field including 25-year-old Cunningham and Aiskew co-driver Josh Beer.

Seeded at number 52 and first time out in a Ford Fiesta R5+, the pair gradually climbed the leaderboard throughout the day and became embroiled in a battle with fellow Leeming driver Kevin Procter in his Ford Fiesta for their class honours.

What made the clash even more interesting is that Cunningham is Procter’s nephew and works for his uncle’s firm as a coach salesman, and Kevin played a major part in helping procure Cunningham's car after his own Subaru Impreza was not ready for the event.

Showing superb talent, Cunningham eventually saw off the challenge of his Uncle Kevin and many other top British Championship drivers to come home in seventh overall and, with it, claim second place in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship class.

Cunningham's achievements were impressive enough, but things could have been even better had he not collected a notional time on the opening stage, which was stopped due to an accident.

The 20 seconds he lost there could have elevated him as high as fourth in the overall standings, right in amongst the British Rally Championship regulars.

Procter, along with Durham co-driver Derrick Fawcett finished in ninth overall, just nine seconds down on Cunningham.

There were a number of other local crews in action at Oulton Park, with Durham duo Stephen Petch and Michael Wilkinson coming home in 21st position overall.

Ripon’s Charlie Payne was one place and four seconds ahead, with both drivers competing in Ford Fiestas.

Crook driver David Henderson won his class en route to 17th position overall, and was able to celebrate as the first two-wheel drive car home.

The British Rally Championship continues with round two at the Nicky Grist Stages at Builth Wells in the Welsh forests on July 10.

This year's series will feature seven stages, culminating in the Today's Ulster Rally in Northern Ireland on November 20.