Reigning champions, Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke, set a scintillating pace in very wet conditions to claim a hard fought Rally North Wales victory; maintaining their 100% start to the 2016 BHRC season.
After a year away from the calendar, the BHRC returned to Dolgellau for the Wolverhampton and South Staffs CC organised Rally North Wales where 6 stages totalling 49 competitive miles in classic Wales Rally GB territory would await the 116 competitors. In a fitting gesture there would be no number 1 on the entry list in honour of the late David Stokes and so it was the National B entered Evo 9 of Luke Francis and John H Roberts who would be first to enter the infamous rain soaked Dyfi forest complex.
BHRC CAT 3
Ford Escort men, Jason Pritchard, Nick Elliott and Joe Price were closely matched on the Red Kite and it was the same three protagonists who would feature heavily at the head of the Rally North Wales leader-board.
Elliott, with Dave Price alongside, is not used to finishing second on Welsh gravel, and would have been keen to get back to winning ways on Rally North Wales. Hitting a bale at a chicane in Stage 1 however was definitely not in the script, and whilst there was no noticeable damage the Cheltenham crew would yet again find themselves on the back foot, registering a time 16 seconds slower than stage winners Pritchard and Clarke; a lead reduced however to 14 seconds by the mid event service.
Renowned for his pace on tarmac, Pritchard is fast becoming the man to beat on the loose as well. After stunning many with his pace on the Red Kite, the Builth Wells man was quickly out of the blocks on Rally North Wales, setting a time 6 seconds quicker than class D5 front runners Joe Price and Chris Brooks over the 9 miles of Dyfi Main.
Price meanwhile continued his strong start to the event by matching the BHRC champ in stage 2 but was not able to live with the pace of either Elliott or Pritchard in Gartheiniog, leaving he and co-driver Brooks 24 seconds back in third after the morning loop of stages.
Elliott had it all to do over the remaining three stages if he was to stop Pritchard claiming his second win of the season and victories on stages 4 and 5 were just what the doctor ordered, leaving the RSD prepared Escort just 8 seconds in arrears heading into the Gartheiniog finale. But, it seems, pressure just does not get to Pritchard and Clarke; the super smooth and super consistent MK2 crew setting their third fastest time of the event to confirm a 21 second victory over D5 class winners Nick Elliott and Dave Price.
Behind, after what had been a very promising drive, the Ludlow based pairing of Price and Brooks were cruelly robbed of a podium position after becoming beached at a hairpin in the very last stage; the more than 3 minute time loss relegating the bright orange Escort crew to 6th in category and leaving Matt Edwards and Will Rogers, in Peter Smith’s glorious Opel Kadett, to round out the BHRC Category 3 podium positions.
Paul Barrett and Dai Roberts would again find themselves on top of the class D3 pile, taking class victory by 1 minute 17 seconds. The final result however masks the tale as a puncture in stage 1 saw the Northern Irishman fall 1:32 behind his class opposition. This appeared to be a minor blip however as the very rapid pinto powered MK2 Escort was back at the top of class D3 by the end of stage 4 after setting 4th fastest historic time on stages 2, 3 and 4; rounding off an excellent recovery drive with 4th and 3rd quickest historic times over the final two stages of the event.
Meanwhile David Hopkins and Tony Vart claimed class D2 victory in their Talbot Sunbeam with 37th position overall; their main opposition, Chris Skill and Tom Jordan unfortunately retiring in stage 1 with a blown engine.
BHRC CAT 2
1600 MK1 Escort crew, Adam Milner and Roy Jarvis, leapt into the category 2 lead with a phenomenal joint 2nd quickest time overall in stage 1, even beating the time recorded by Fiesta R5 man Brendan Cumiskey! Driving at that pace there is always the chance that mistakes will happen and the young Yorkshireman’s storming drive sadly came to an end just 2 stages later; rolling out of the category lead in the tricky Gartheiniog test.
This left the door open for round 1 winners Stanley Orr and Guy Weaver to take up the category lead; the duo holding a 15 second margin over C5 class leaders Simon Tysoe and Paul Morris. But whilst both crews were comfortably in the lead of their respective classes the category honours were still up for grabs; Tysoe in the end having to settle for second, 2 late stage wins leaving the MK1 pilot just 6 seconds shy of category glory.
And so it was Stanley Orr and Guy Weaver who would take their second category 2 and class C3 victories in as many events; the new for 2016 pairing looking like a very strong combination in their pinto powered MK1.
Milner’s retirement allowed Elliot Retalick and Tim Tugwell into the class C2 lead in their Hilman Avenger. And once in the lead they never looked back, going on to finish 27th overall in the National A event, 2:09 up on the MK1 Escort of Stuart and Linda Cariss.
BHRC CAT 1
The B3 specification MK2 Cortina of Bob and Dale Gibbons was the class of the BHRC category 1 field, setting fastest category time on all 6 stages to register a 2 minute 35 second victory over the MK1 Cortina of Bob Bean and Malcolm Smithson; the latter pairing claiming class B4 honours with 38th position overall in the National A event.
Phil Harris and Graham Wild had a strong Rally North Wales; the smooth Dyfi forest tracks seemingly suiting their Morris Mini Cooper and allowing them to challenge more powerful machinery for most of the day. A stage maximum on the very last stage would however drop them to the foot of the field but another maximum class score keeps them firmly at the top of the B1 championship table.
Luke Francis and John H Roberts maintained their strong start to 2016 by recording their second Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship maximum score of the season with victory on the Rally North Wales National B event. The North Wales based pairing were quickest on all 5 stages to claim a 1 minute 15 seconds victory over the equally rapid Volvo engined MK2 Escort of Ieuan Rowlands and Emyr Hall.
It had been a very long time since we had ventured into the eastern side of Dyfi Forest and whilst the tree line has changed somewhat over the last 20 years it still brought back great memories; one being my school boy TV appearance as Tapio Laukkanen’s stricken Golf was recovered from the Welsh scenery.
Jason Pritchard is fast becoming the man to beat on all surfaces and after only 2 rounds of the BHRC season it already looks difficult for anyone stop he and Clarke from claiming back to back titles. Barring mechanical issue or error, the pairing will be near untouchable on the three tarmac rounds and if Pritchard is able to claim at least 5 maximum scores then Elliott and Price desperately need to regain their authority on the loose, starting with the Pirelli at the end of April. After a tough stage 1 on both opening rounds of the season, a strong start will be exactly what is required!
The pace at the head of the BHRC is simply breathtaking at the moment and throughout the day only the very rapid Luke Francis was able to go quicker than Pritchard and Elliott. Impressive stuff! It would however be nice to see a bit more variety of machinery at the sharp end and so we can only hope Edwards makes a few more appearances in the Kadett and Robinson continues to make progress with the awesome 131.
With the Pirelli BHRC timetable not exactly spectator friendly we may elect to miss the next round but will definitely be back for the Severn Valley in June where hopefully sunshine will greet our return to the mid wales stages …
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)
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