Whilst Damian Cole and Jack Morton claimed overall Harry Flatters Rally victory for the second year in succession, Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke revelled in the wet conditions to claim the BHRC honours.
Rain, of biblical proportions and sideways in nature, greeted the 100+ Harry Flatters Rally entrants as they set off on the first of five stages across the infamous Epynt military ranges, where a slightly disappointing BHRC entry of just 38 was more than made up for by a whopping 79 in the modern event.
Stage 1 was particularly treacherous with standing water leaving the possibility of aquaplaning at any given location. And being first on the road in Damian’s new WRC Fiesta, Cole and Morton may well have encountered the worst of these conditions. Whilst it therefore may not have been too much of a surprise to see the #1 seeds only register third quickest time through stage 1, few would have anticipated the pace of Mark Jones and Terry Martin.
In just over 14 stage miles the rear wheel driven BMW M3 crew had managed to set a time that was 18 seconds quicker than the 4WD Ford of Cole; a simply incredible stage time from a crew who must surely have had their Weetabix on Sunday morning! In fact, such was their level of performance, that it wasn’t until the slightly less damp stage 3 that Jones would inevitably relinquish the lead to the Get Connected liveried machine.
Intercom problems had slowed Cole and Morton on stage 1 but once fixed the Epynt masters managed to set a time which was almost 1 minute quicker over the identical, if not slightly drier, stage 2. And whilst Simon Chapman and Paul Wakely in the Proton and Eian Pritchard and Stephen McPhee in their Focus WRC were more competitive over the remaining stages, Cole and Morton would go on to set fastest time on three of the events five stages to take rally victory by 49 seconds; the Hereford man’s 4th Harry Flatters win in 5 years.
Meanwhile, Mark Jones and Terry Martin drove the wheels off their very powerful M3 to consistently record top six times, the fastest 2WD machine on every single test. Whilst not able to match the outright pace of their 4WD rivals in the afternoon, they had built a margin significant enough over the morning tests to ensure the runner up spot remained firmly in their hands by the Brecon finish; capping off what must be one of the truly great Epynt performances of recent times.
Nick Elliott and Dave Price’s final stage exit from the Severn Valley Stages had blown the British Historic Rally Championship wide open as the crews headed to the unforgiving tarmac roads of Epynt. And with tarmac expert Jason Pritchard managing to snatch second place on the Mid Wales gravel, many would consider the Welshman title favourite over the asphalt biased second half of the season.
Rain can sometimes be a leveller but it was clear from the start that the battle for historic honours on the Harry Flatters Rally would be between the MK2 Escort of Pritchard and Clarke and the similar machine of historic interloper and tarmac legend, Melvyn Evans, co driven by the vastly experienced Patrick Walsh.
In fact it was Evans and Walsh who were quickest out of the blocks, setting a time 3 seconds quicker than their rivals over the very tricky stage 1. However, this would be the rally car preparation man’s only stage victory of the day as Pritchard and Clarke went on to better the time of the #8 machine on all four of the remaining stages, taking the lead on stage 3 and establishing a 27 second winning margin by the end of the day. This had been some drive by Pritchard, taking historic victory is one thing but beating Melvyn Evans in equal machinery is one hell of an achievement!
Rounding out the podium positions, was another F2 specification MK2 in the hands of Neil Williams and Peter James who ended the day just 58 seconds down on the rally victors; A great result for the Welsh crew, who registered their best BHRC result of the season by some margin.
Behind, a titanic battle for class D5 was taking place between historic heavyweights Nick Elliott and Richard Hill. While both are more comfortable on the loose, Hill has more experience on the black stuff and it was he and Iwan Jones who held an early advantage after stage 1. Elliott and Price meanwhile were holding their own and would gain the class lead with equal fifth quickest time on stage 2.
Hill’s experience would come to the fore over the second half of the event though as he and Jones reclaimed the class lead on stage 3 before going on to record a 29 second class victory. 6th overall however is a more than respectable result for the Cheltenham based reigning RAC champs, who will be looking to build on their Epynt performance when the championship moves to the Isle of Man in mid September.
Meanwhile, third in Category 3, just 1 minute and 1 second behind Elliott in 7th position overall was the D3 specification Ford duo of Ian Jones and Iestyn Williams. The pinto powered MK2 Escort crew put in a consistent performance on the Welsh tarmac to take class honours by over 6 minutes!
Category 2 stalwarts David Stokes and Guy Weaver looked to be heading for yet another victory as they held the category lead by a massive 1 minute and 23 seconds after just 3 stages. A slower time in stage 4 however signalled problems; the crew having to retire from the event shortly after the stage with Stokes not well enough to carry on.
The unfortunate demise of Stokes and Weaver therefore left the way clear for Jimmy McRae and Pauline Gullick to take category victory in the awesome Vauxhall Firenza. But with the multiple British champion not registered for points it was Ernie and Will Graham who came away with the maximum class C5 and Category 2 tally ahead of Class C3 winners Neal James and Kevin Jones in a similar MK1 Escort.
In line with recent trends, category 1 entries dwindled to just 5 for the Harry Flatters Rally, where only 2 managed to reach the finish. That said, another strong performance by Malcolm Rich and Jonathan Hawkins saw the Ford Anglia duo claim the category 1 honours with 23rd position overall.
Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride were the only other category finishes and were rewarded for a trying day on Epynt with class B5 victory, albeit some way down on the Category victors, finishing the event in 27th position overall.
Phil Burton and Mal Capstick were back to winning ways on the Harry Flatters Rally, recording their third RAC Championship victory of the season by over 3 minutes from the MK2 Escort of Barry Stevenson-Wheeler and John Pickavance. The 2.4 litre Millington powered Escort looked at home on the Welsh tarmac and 9th overall in the ‘Modern’ event represented a great performance against some very strong Epynt regulars.
LEADING BHRC CREWS AFTER RD5
Pritchard – 278 (275 from 4)
Elliott – 241 (238 from 4)
Stokes – 230 (225 from 4)
Perrott – 220 (220 from 5)
Hill – 204 ( 199 from 3)
Robinson – 182 ( 178 from 3)
*Brackets indicate current likely dropped scores position.
Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke are now sitting pretty at the top of the BHRC points table, their tally of 278 points being derived from 2 victories, 1 runner up position and a 4th place on the Mid Wales Stages. And in theory, a good result on the Manx double header in September could see them take the title prior to the final round in Yorkshire.
Richard Hill, Nick Elliott, Matthew Robinson and David Stokes are all likely to have something to say about that however, where Hill and Stokes, having previously gone well on tarmac, could find themselves as biggest challengers to Pritchard’s crown. Hill has also effectively used his drop scores already meaning any points picked up on the Manx and Trackrod would count towards his final championship score.
Meanwhile Elliott and Robinson are both likely to feature at the sharp end of the Trackrod leader-board, and so any bonus points gained on the narrow roads of the Isle of Man could keep them in the title fight. And should Pritchard and Clarke encounter trouble on the Manx, the concluding round in the Yorkshire forests would not be one to miss!
Whilst short on BHRC numbers and despite the horrific July weather, this had been one of my better days on the tarmac roads of Epynt. The commitment of the leading crews over the centre road jump on the final stage of the day was a sight to behold, with Melvyn Evans barely lifting! A reminder, if needed, of why the slightly mad rally community travel hundreds of miles for a slice of the action.
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