While early front runners Nick Elliott and Matthew Robinson both hit trouble late on, Richard Hill and Iwan Jones judged their pace to perfection to take the Severn Valley spoils.
Round 4 of the British Historic Rally Championship saw the crews head to Mid Wales for the Builth Wells based Severn Valley Stages, with the 97 car field facing 8 classic stages within the Crychan and Halfway forest complex.
Pleasant Spring sunshine greeted the cars as they headed for the morning loop of stages and it was Nick Elliott and Dave Price who picked up where they left on the Pirelli, stealing 4 seconds from their rivals over the relatively short Cefn opener. As was the case in Kielder, Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis would again face the tough challenge of chasing down the traditionally fast starting Cheltenham crew.
Indeed, while Robinson was able to fight back in Crychan to half the deficit, Elliott went on to take three seconds back in Halfway. The Ford duo then tied the final stage of the morning loop, leaving the lead battle poised at 5 seconds in favour of the current RAC champions by the mid rally service halt.
Behind the leading two, Ben Llewellin and Ross Whittock had had a very good morning and were lying just 5 seconds behind Robinson in third. Meanwhile, Pirelli giant killers, Paul Barrett and Dai Roberts were at it again, defying the odds to sit fourth; 1 second up on Hill and Jones and 8 in front of Pritchard and Clarke courtesy of some very impressive stage times.
Other leading contenders coming into the Severn Valley did not fare so well however. Joe Price and Chris Brooks had been expected to feature but unfortunately fell foul of the infamous ‘Bell Hairpin’ in Crychan, while Meirion and Steffan Evans were again out of luck, retiring with Engine problems in Halfway.
The afternoon loop was an exact replica of the morning with a further 22 competitive stage miles providing ample opportunity for the aforementioned top 6 to shuffle positions. With no interim service, and potentially rougher stage conditions on the second pass, the podium positions were far from settled.
By stage 6, it was clear that the afternoon tests were suiting both Hill and Pritchard as each recorded a fastest time to move up to third and fourth respectively. This in part due to Ben Llewellin’s unfortunate demise in Crychan; the young Welshman forced to retire having bent a steering arm at junction 12. Whilst not quickest Historic, Elliott was getting the better of Robinson; he and Price managing to increase the lead gap to 12 seconds. With just two stages remaining the championship leaders appeared on course for a third straight victory …
Nothing is certain in rallying though and the second running of Halfway was where it all began to unravel for the 3 time Severn Valley victors; the glorious red, white and blue Escort developing a clutch problem which caused them to lose four seconds and make a rolling start to the Gwibedog finale …
But cruelly, just as Robinson and Collis could sense their maiden 2015 BHRC victory the pendulum had swung back in favour of Elliott and Price as the chasing Escort was forced to retire with alternator failure just three miles from the finish. Thoughts of Elliott making it three in a row were over less than a mile later however as the pre event championship leaders joined them on the retirements list courtesy of a heavy roll after clipping a bank. In one stage the shape of the event had changed completely!
Lying fifth at the halfway point, Hill was much quicker over the afternoon loop of stages but couldn’t ever have imagined that 3 of the cars in front would all fail to make it to the finish. As the old adage goes, “to finish first, first you have to finish” but it was not as though Hill was taking it steady as he and Jones fought off the fast charging Jason Pritchard to take BHRC victory by 10 clear seconds.
Second place in the National A Historic Rally for Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke was rewarded with class F2 honours; the Red Kite winners finishing 48 seconds clear of Tomas and Eurig Davies in their similar MK2 Escort.
Paul Barrett and Dai Roberts were yet again in a class of their own. For the second rally in succession they were amongst the BDA machines, finishing the National A Historic event in a fantastic third position overall to claim class D3 by an enormous 1 minute and 40 seconds! The mind wonders what could be achieved in a D5 specification machine …
Chris Skill and Captain Colin Thompson may have been the only crew to complete the event in class D2, however, 21st National A Historic home represented a good result for the 1600 MK2 pairing.
David Stokes and Guy Weaver went into the Severn Valley Stages looking for their fourth straight category victory and leapt into an early 9 second lead after the first 2 stages of the event. John Perrott and Keaton Williams however, having run Stokes close on the Pirelli, were soon up to speed and had cut the gap to 5 seconds by the Builth Wells service halt.
Whilst the morning belonged to Stokes and Weaver, the afternoon sunshine was certainly shining on Perrott and Williams; Crychan being the pivotal stage as the orange MK1 Escort turned a 5 second deficit into a 5 second lead. A gap which turned out to be the winning margin for the Hereford man, bringing an end to Stokes’ and Weaver’s fantastic run of class C5 victories.
James Slaughter and Keegan Rees were again dominant in class C3, ending up just 1 win short of a second successive clean sweep of class stage victories. The MK1 Escort crew finished the National A Historic event in a very creditable 16th position overall to record a 55 second class victory.
Class C2 turned out to be a duel between the MK1 Escort crews of Dave Watkins and Tom Jordan and Robin Shuttleworth and Ronnie Roughead. And while Watkins jumped into a 5 second lead on the opening Cefn stage it was Shuttleworth who seemed to have the greater pace throughout the day; taking the class lead on the opening stage of the afternoon loop and ultimately taking class victory by 18 seconds.
The MSA’s running order regulations seem to be having more of a negative impact on the category 1 machines with each passing event, with just 6 cars appearing on the Severn Valley Historic Stages entry list.
Bob and Dale Gibbons in their MK2 Cortina GT had been quickest on stage 1, but Paul Mankin and Malcolm Rich in their respective MK1 Cortina and Ford Anglia were the front runners by the halfway point; Gibbons forced to retire with a blown engine at the start of stage 4.
Paul Mankin and Desmond Bell held the category lead in the early part of the afternoon, but the Halfway stage proved decisive as Malcolm Rich and Jonathan Hawkins registered a time which was 20 seconds quicker. The Anglia pairing were then fastest again on the final stage to claim category honours by 21 seconds, taking class B3 in the process.
Class B4 victory the consolation prize for Mankin and Bell …
Meanwhile Phil Harris, this time aided by Paul Price, was the third category 1 car home; the Morris Mini Cooper crew ending the day 33rd overall in the National A Historic event and top of class B2.
Phil Burton and Mal Capstick were again amongst the National A front runners before losing over four minutes on the second running of Crychan. Thus paving the way for James Potter and Bob Duck to claim class BD2 and the overall National B Historic victory; themselves setting a strong pace to defeat the stunning Lotus Sunbeam of Gary Cooper and Jon Riley by over 1 minute.
Graeme Standen and Jane Edgington were the third crew home in the National B event, taking class BD1 in the process; a great result in their 1600cc Escort.
Elsewhere, Vince Bristow and Tim Sayer made up for their off on the Pirelli to record victory in class BC1 while ex Volvo Amazon pilot Graham Waite, with Mike Reynolds on the notes, took the BH1 win in his Toyota Corolla.
Following Burton’s time loss, Barry Stevenson-Wheeler and John Pickavance looked odds on for BH2 victory, however they too suffered a significant time loss on the very next stage which put them back behind the Lancastrian crew.
Meanwhile Robert Rook and Miles Cartwright claimed class BC2 with 8th position overall in the National B Historic event.
Whilst on paper Bob Ceen and Andy Bull may have had the faster machinery, many would have expected the rapid pairing of Luke Francis and John H Roberts to bring home the bacon in their B13 specification Evo 9. However Ceen and Bull put in a stellar performance in the aging WRC Subaru to register overall rally victory by 24 seconds and claim maximum points in the Welsh Championship. Meanwhile Dylan Davies and Llion Williams rounded out the podium positions in their Subaru Impreza.
1. Bob Ceen / Andy Bull | Subaru Impreza WRC (M6) | 0:47:35
2. Luke Francis / John H Roberts | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (M5) | +00:24
3. Dylan Davies / Llion Williams | Subaru Impreza (M5) | +01:10
4. Roland Llewellin / Jamie Edwards | Mitsubishi Evo 9 (M6) | +01:45
5. Paul Davy / Roger Allan | Subaru Impreza (M6) | +01:55
6. Andy Davies / Dale Bowen | Subaru Impreza (M6) | +02:30
7. Richard Hill / Iwan Jones | Ford Escort MK2 (D5) | +02:42
8. Jason Pritchard / Phil Clarke | Ford Escort MK2 (F2) | +02:52
9. Paul Barrett / Dai Roberts | Ford Escort MK2 (D3) | +03:00
10. Rudi lancaster / George Gwynn | Escort MK2 (D5) | +03:22
Leading BHRC Championship Contenders after Round 4
Stokes / Weaver – 225
Pritchard / Clarke – 203
Elliott / Price – 188
Robinson / Collis – 182
Perrott / Williams – 170
Barrett / Roberts – 168
Hill / Jones – 145
Will Elliott and Price live to regret that off on the final stage? With six scores from the eight BHRC rounds counting towards the end of year standings, the Cheltenham duo now have two scores that they would prefer to dispense with, meaning another non finish would seriously hamper their title challenge.
With 3 of the remaining 4 rounds being fought out on the black stuff, arguably asphalt expert Jason Pritchard may now be favourite for the title. The cancellation of the Neath Valley Stages combined with Elliott’s lack of tarmac experience potentially swinging the pendulum away from the current RAC champions.
Pre dropped scores, it is David Stokes and Guy Weaver who now lead the championship chase and they cannot be ruled out. Nor should Robinson, Barrett or Hill, although the Severn Valley Stages winner will need to approach the remaining events with caution having effectively already registered two non scores. It is therefore with much anticipation that we look forward to round 5, The Harry Flatters Rally, on the undulating and unforgiving tarmac military roads of Epynt. See you there in late July.
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