After a steady start Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke set a blistering pace over the second half of the event to claim victory on the Red Kite Historic Stages.
The opening round of the British Historic Rally championship saw the crews head to Llandovery for the Red Kite Stages. A fantastic entry list had been assembled with over 100 crews across the modern, historic and RAC categories set to take on 6 tests within Crychan and Caeo forests. The condition of the stages was a big talking point prior the event with the usually super smooth route likely to have a covering of snow and ice!
The weather forecast was indeed correct and just driving in through the spectator entrance in Crychan was challenging enough with several cars struggling up the hills; this would definitely be a day for the brave to shine. Having been caught out by the cancellation of Crychan South, a fast retreat to stage 1 meant very little of the action was missed. Daniel Jones was visibly quicker than most through Crychan North and therefore it was no surprise to see him at the top of the times. Perhaps benefitting from his lowly seeding, Mark Holmes put in a sensational time in his category 2 Mk1 to go second quickest while the flamboyant Meirion Evans was third.
With snow and Ice defeating stage 2, the crews made their first visit of the day to Caeo forest following a service halt in Llandovery. Fastest time on this 12.5 mile test sent Meirion and Steffan Evans to the top of the time sheets while consistency was the key for David Stokes and Guy Weaver who moved into second overall in front of Daniel Jones and Kevin Lewis. The conditions were really mixing up the field with several much fancied crews further back than expected. Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke were 10th, 2014 RAC Rally winners Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis were 17th while last years RAC Champions, Nick Elliott and Dave Price were lying in 27th position overall!
The effects of a sunny day and a full field of cars passing through the morning loop of stages had lead to much of the snow and ice melting; thus providing the opportunity for struggling crews to drag back some time.
In fact the leaderboard changed dramatically after stage 4 with Meirion Evans being the first to hit trouble. A 90 left after junction 13 of Crychan North catching the Welshman out and with no chance of retrieving the damaged car from its deep ditch resting place his good run was over. Stage 4 was not a good stage for the team, with the sister car of Daniel Jones and Kevin Lewis retiring with a seized gearbox just one junction before! It was instead Jason Pritchard who set the fastest time; 5 seconds quicker than anyone else enough to lift himself and Phil Clarke up 6 places to fourth overall. The number 5 seeds now just 14 seconds behind surprise new leaders David Stokes and Guy Weaver.
The current BHRC champions in turn holding a 7 second lead over Terry Brown and Den Golding, with last years Red Kite winner, Richard Hill, just 1 second further back.
Hill, with Iwan Jones on the notes, was now a strong candidate for victory and a quick time in the dramatically shortened running of Crychan South moved them up to second overall. With several other high seeds also regaining lost ground it really was all to play for over the 12.5 mile Caeo finale.
It would have been great to see Stokes and Weaver take the overall victory but it was just too much to ask of the category 2 machine. A whole host of top spec MK2s were chasing them down including Robinson and Pritchard who both clocked a time of 8 minutes 45 for the final stage. The time fast enough for Pritchard and Clarke to leapfrog Stokes, Hill and Brown to take and excellent 4 second victory. Hill and Jones would have been many peoples favourites heading into Caeo and while a time of 8:56 moved them in front of Stokes it was not enough to keep the rapid F2 spec MK2 of Pritchard at bay; a consolation being the maximum D5 class points bagged for the championship cause. Joint fastest time was also enough to salvage 5th place for Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis; a great effort given they were 17th at the halfway point.
Stokes and Weaver dropped back to 4th in the end but this still represented an incredible result given the cars they were up against. They also took the category 2 and class C5 honours with a winning margin of 40 seconds. Terry Brown and Den Golding quietly went about their business in their D5 spec Ford. Lying 7th at the halfway mark, a quick time in stage 4 saw the vastly experienced crew leap into second place, only dropping back to 3rd as Hill and Pritchard turned up the heat. An overall podium was just reward for an excellent performance in the tricky conditions.
Behind the leading crews Ben Llewellin and Ross Whittock claimed the D3 class victory with 8th; another fantastic comeback after a difficult morning left them lying in 23rd overall at the halfway service halt.
Peter Smith and Patrick Walsh looked at home in the slippery conditions in their Opel Kadett and were rewarded with top spot in class C3. They also had the honour of being the first non Ford crew home in 10th place overall.
Further back Dave Watkins and Thomas Jordan ended the event on top of class C2 in 47th position while Chris Skill, with Gary Middleton alongside, claimed class D2 victory with 42nd.
A nice variety of cars turned out in category 1, several of which were running in the national B event. National A category honours however went the way of Rikki Proffitt and Graham Wild in their Porsche 911, claiming class B5 victory in the process with 39th position. The very well driven Ford Anglia of Malcolm Rich and Jonathan Hawkins however kept them on their toes all day and topped class B3 with 40th position overall.
Phillip Harris and Alan Walker finished 53rd and claimed the class B2 honours in their Mini Cooper while Paul Mankin and Desmond Bell took the class B4 victory with 56th position.
National B and BH2 victory went the way of Phil Burton and Mal Capstick with 11th place overall in their MK2 Escort. They were certainly one of the most impressive crews through this 90 left!
Category 1 top spot was claimed by Aziz Tejpar and Yasser Slatch with 34th overall; unusual that it was to see a MK1 Escort entered in this class.
Elsewhere, 50th overall saw Bob Bean and Malcolm Smithson claim victory in class B1.
Meanwhile in the modern event, a rare appearance for tarmac expert Melvyn Evans was rewarded with victory. The Impreza S11 pilot, with Mark Glennerster on the notes, taking top spot by 16 seconds from the Focus WRC engined Fiesta of Charlie Payne and Carl Williamson.
Photography wise my plans were scuppered by the cancellation of stage 2 which left me on the back foot all day due to the compact nature of the event. However the main reason we all head out to the forests is to witness the incredible battle of man and machine against the best Mother Nature can throw at them. And witnessing Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke’s monumental efforts to come out on top of a battle that saw the top 5 crews covered by just 15 seconds was worth the long trip alone. The duo will now have the honour of topping the prestigious British Historic Rally Championship table heading into next months Mid Wales stages. This could be the closest title fight in years. And as daft as it may sound, with driver-less cars not too far away in the distant future this could indeed be the future of British Rallying!
1. Jason Pritchard / Phil Clarke | Ford Escort RS (F2) | 00:40.39
2. Richard Hill / Iwan Jones | Ford Escort (D5) | +00.04
3. Terry Brown / Den Golding | Ford Escort MK2 (D5) | +00.07
4. David Stokes / Guy Weaver | Ford Escort RS (C5) | +00.12
5. Matthew Robinson / Sam Collis | Ford Escort MK2 (D5) | +00.15
6. Rudi Lancaster / George Gwynn | Ford Escort (D5) | +00.39
7. Nick Elliott / Dave Price | Ford Escort MK2 (D5) | +00.42
8. Ben Llewellin / Ross Whittock | Ford Escort (D3) | +00.51
9. Rupert Lomax / Rich Jones | Ford Escort MK1 (C5) | +00.52
10. Peter Smith / Patrick Walsh | Opel Kadett (C3) | +01.08
Full results here
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