JOHN Stone’s challenge for the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship got off to an unfortunate start on Sunday as he was forced to retire from the Tour of Epynt.

Car problems denied the Blackburn businessman the title in 2012 after he led the series earlier in the year and major investment in his Skoda Fabia WRC over the past six months was not enough to get him to the finish in south Wales at the weekend.

Stone was fifth fastest in stage one and then 10th in stage two alongside co-driver Rob Dagg, but was already suffering clutch issues and was forced to retire.

A warm dry day led to a high retirement rate on the rally, with more than 40 per cent of the start list of 109 failing to make it to the end of the event.

Melvyn Evans was the winner of the rally in his Subaru Impreza.