Paul Bird and Aled Davies put in a dominant Wyedean Forest Rally performance; winning five of the eight stages to claim victory on the opening round of the BTRDA rally championship season.
A huge entry had been assembled for the 40th anniversary Wyedean Forest Rally including 4 previous winners. However with both the 2013 and 2014 victors missing from the list it was last years BTRDA championship runner up Paul Bird, together with title winning Co-driver Aled Davies, who lead the crews away from the Chepstow rally base. The organisers had done a great job in finding an 8 stage, 43 mile competitive route with zero double usage.
Speech House and Serridge were our destinations for the day; leaving extra time for the journey turned out to be a wise decision as the car parks filled quickly. The early start also allowing time to reach the very entertaining open 90 left at junction 16 of stage 2.
While a ‘suspect’ time for Charlie Payne saw the previous winner take an 11 second margin into stage 2, it was Paul Bird who emerged from Speech House with a 15 second overall lead; the Cumbrian registering a time on the longest stage of the event that was 12 and 22 seconds faster than the chasing WRC imprezas of David Weston and Hugh Hunter respectively.
The Focus WRC pilot continued his early domination with another fastest time in stage 3 before David Weston, with Kirsty Riddick on the notes, was able to match him in Chepstow Park, pegging the lead at 21 seconds as the crews arrived at the halfway service halt. The Scotsman’s time also quick enough to leapfrog Charlie Payne into second position overall.
The trends of the morning appeared to be carrying on after lunch as Bird and Davies were quickest again in the short Yorkley stage. However, unlike earlier in the day, Weston struck back straight away and claimed his first outright stage victory with a good run through Sallowvallets.
Hugh Hunter and Andy Marchbank meanwhile, in their Melvyn Evans Motorsport S11, were gradually re-acclimatising to the gravel; their increased speed as the day went on rewarded with fastest time on stage 7 by a full 6 seconds. In fact they were 19 seconds quicker than Payne and Williamson in the Focus engined Fiesta which moved them up to 3rd overall, just 41 seconds off the overall lead.
After 2 stages without victory normality was then restored as Bird took the rally win in style by registering his 5th fastest time of the day on the Mailscot finale. The winning margin ending up at 34 seconds after Weston lost 12 seconds in Serridge and a further 1 in Mailscot. The Subaru man was however still quick enough to maintain second overall from the slightly older specification machine of Hunter and Marchbank.
Charlie Payne and Carl Williamson were the second Blue Oval crew home in 4th. The Yorkshireman had started well but gradually slipped back as the day progressed, ending the event 1 minute and 6 seconds behind the eventual winners.
Nik Elsmore and Matt Edwards had a great run to claim B13 victory in the Matt’s ME Rallysport Evo. The previous event winner was never outside the top ten in terms of stage times and claimed a mammoth 2 minute and 29 second class victory; moving ahead of Damian Cole and Jack Morton on stage 6 to end the day in a fantastic fifth overall.
The immense group N battle of 2014 continued across the first 4 stages of the day with Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy trading times with the similar Evo 9 of Thomas Naughton and Andi Mort. However a damaged crank sensor in Yorkley ended the latter crews day, leaving Thompson and and Murphy to claim a 45 second class victory over Pat Naylor and Ian Lawrence.
Nick Elliott and Dave Price were in top form on their local event to take an incredible 12th overall, beating 4 WRC cars in the process! The Cheltenham duo claimed both the Historic and Silver Star victories whilst even more impressively setting the 9th quickest time overall on stage 1!
Just as impressive were David Bennett and Alistair McNeil in their 1400 Corsa. After a difficult 2014, the Yorkshire crew started the year in the best possible manner; registering category victory and ending the day in an excellent 18th overall. Ian Evans and Justin Brooks had been keeping them on their toes until Bennett went 12th fastest overall in both Serridge and Mailscot to claim top spot by a whopping 58 seconds.
19th overall represented a great return to the event for 3 time overall winner Graham Elsmore. Together with Stuart Harrold on the notes they ensured that the Elsmore family would need plenty of room in the trophy cabinet after claiming class B11 victory in their Rob Smith Rallying prepared MK2 Escort.
Fellow local crew, Mark Griffiths and Will Rogers, were actually quicker on 5 of the 8 stages, however slow times in Speech House and Chepstow Park cost them a shot at class victory but still came home in a more than respectable 24th position overall.
While Elliott took overall Historic and H4 victory, further back, Jeremy Easson and Mike Reynolds claimed H2 with a brilliant 27th position and Peter Lewis took class H1 in his Mini. The 240Z of Easson and Reynolds seems to be getting quicker and quicker with this result representing a great follow up to their 7th overall on last years RAC.
H3 meanwhile turned into a good battle between the Ford Escorts of David Dobson and David Lloyd Roberts and the RX-7 of Jake Scannell with just 4 seconds separating Scannell and Dobson at the half way point. However the unique sounding Mazda was able to ease away over the afternoon stages to take class victory with 42nd position overall.
Elsewhere, B10 was a good old front wheel drive vs rear wheel drive battle with the Ford Escort of Robert Smith and Frankie Hillman leading the Peugeot 205 of Thomas Lloyd and Sherryn Roberts at the halfway mark following quick times in Trelleck Common and Chepstow Park. However Lloyd and Roberts dominated the afternoon leg to take class victory by 24 seconds with 48th position overall.
N3 was not a well represented class on the Wyedean but Geno Cook and Daniel Robinson put in a solid performance to claim class victory with 53rd overall.
Tim Phelps and Elwyn Manuel were the first B12 crew home in 55th position aboard their MK2 Escort, while Keith and Mairi Riddick claimed 1400C victory with 56th.
And finally the 3 Rally First categories were claimed by Mick Quinn and Neill Carman, Morgan Handford and Richard Davies and Mick Smith and Calvin Houldsworth.
I have to say that this was probably the most enjoyable Wyedean Rally of recent years with committed crews throughout the running order, reasonable weather and for once good choice of locations. Masses of fans flocked to this 40th anniversary event, in fact I have never seen so many people lining the stages of a national rally, which given some of the places onlookers were stood could be seen as both a positive and a negative! And although the overall fight for victory was not as close as we have become accustomed to in recent years, the driving talent on display made this celebration event a more than worthy spectacle.
Next up is the Malcolm Wilson Rally in early March where Cumbrian, Paul Bird, will be looking to increase his Gold Star championship lead. The 2014 winner will be a clear favourite for the win and the other crews will need to be on top form to beat the Focus pilot in his own back yard. If the Malcolm Wilson and the remaining 2015 BTRDA championship events can attract an entry somewhere near the quality of the Wyedean then we are in for one hell of a national rallying year!
1. Paul Bird / Aled Davies | Ford Focus 07 WRC (B14) | 0:42:25
2. David Weston / Kirsty Riddick | Impreza WRC (B14) | +00:34
3. Hugh Hunter / Andy Marchbank | Impreza WRC (B14) | +00:43
4. Charles Payne / Carl Williamson | Ford Fiesta (B14) | +01:06
5. Nik Elsmore / Matt Edwards | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (B13) | +01:36
6. Damian Cole / Jack Morton | Ford Focus WRC (B14) | +01:49
7. Stephen Petch / Ian Windress | Ford Fiesta R5+ (B14) | +02:01
8. Peter Taylor / Andrew Roughead | Fiesta S2400 (B14) | +02:12
9. Bob Ceen / Andy Bull | Subaru Impreza WRC (B14) | +02:29
10. Russ Thompson / Andy Murphy | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (N4) | +02:36
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