Paul Barrett and Dai Roberts grabbed a sensational last gasp victory on the Builth Wells based Severn Valley Stages Rally; the pinto powered Escort crew defeating several BDG engined rivals to consolidate their lead at the top of the BHRC points table.
Round 4 of the British Historic Rally Championship would see the crews head to the forests of Crychan, Cefn and Radnor for the Midland Manor Motor Club organised Severn Valley Stages Rally. A tough event in prospect as glorious weather running up to the rally would leave the 120 strong field facing 7 very dry and dusty Mid Wales stages.
Round 3 winners, Joe Price and Chris Brooks were in a rich vein of form and it was they who had best acclimatised to the conditions over the first couple of stages; the Ludlow pairing topping the time sheets after stage 2 and holding a comfortable 26 second lead by the time the crews had arrived back in Builth Wells for the second and final service of the event.
The morning had not gone quite so well for other leading crews however. Sadly the Fiat 131 of Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis would leave the road in Crychan whilst 2015 champions, Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke would fail to reach the end of Radnor. After such a strong start to the season, the winners of rounds 1 and 2 will be keen for a return to winning ways on the Epynt tarmac in late July.
Paul Barrett and Dai Roberts meanwhile were going well; consistent top four stage times leaving the championship leaders in a strong third place, just 1 second behind the D5 class MK2 of Nick Elliott and Dave Price and holding a 16 second margin over the similar machine of Rudi Lancaster and George Gwynn.
Whilst Price and Brooks held a comfortable lead the rally was by no means over as 17 very tricky afternoon stage miles lay between the remaining crews and the finish ramp. However, after another stage win in Gwibedog, the leading Escort crew would increase their advantage to a commanding 35 seconds.
But, just as the Ford pairing were contemplating a second consectutive BHRC victory, disaster struck; a clutch problem in Crychan costing the unlucky duo more than 3 minutes and any chance of glory.
Instead it was Nick Elliott and Dave Price who would head into the Cefn finale with what seemed like a comfortable 6 second advantage over the pinto powered Barrett. However, having been quickest of all historic crews through the earlier running of the stage the Northern Irishman could not be ruled out.
But for a puncture Elliott may well have had enough in hand. Instead Barrett and Roberts emerged from the final test having registered a blinder of a stage time; 11 seconds quicker than Elliott and enough to secure a fantastic 5 second victory! Top driving!
In hindsight it would have been so easy for Barrett and Roberts to have opted for a steady run through the final stage and claim an excellent second. The championship leaders must therefore take all of the plaudits for seizing a rare shot at an overall series victory. A quite incredible achievement. Fortune most definitely does favour the brave.
Behind, Rudi Lancaster and George Gwynn recorded an excellent third, just 23 seconds behind the overall winner. Whilst Steve Bennett and Iain Tullie continued the MK2 Escort theme by coming home 4th in another D5 specification machine.
Whilst missing out on the overall victory, Class D5 honours were a welcome consolation for Nick Elliott and Dave Price after a tough start to the season. And with Pritchard and Clarke failing to score, the Cheltenham pairing are still well in the championship fight.
Elsewhere, Barry Jordan and James Gratton-Smith, having swapped their Hillman Avenger for a Talbot Sunbeam on the Severn Valley, were rewarded with class D4 honours after an excellent debut drive. Gary Cooper, in a similar car, had lead the early running but Jordan’s victory was never in doubt once the former had retired with a bent steering arm in stage 3.
Meanwhile, continuing the David vs Goliath theme, Chris Skill and Tom Jordan took their 1600 MK2 Escort to another combined class D1/D2 victory with a fantastic 16th overall. One of a number of lower powered crews to perform strongly in the very dusty conditions.
Further back, Tom Coughtrie and Michael Gilbey took maximum advantage of both Robinson and Pritchard’s retirements to claim class F2 honours with 26th position overall. Having trailed the similar MK2 Escort of Dick Slaughter and Tim Sayer for most of the event, a late charge, culminating in a six second quicker time through stage 7, saw the number 94 seeds record a remarkable 4 second class victory.
Young Adam Milner, with Roy Jarvis alongside, had thrown a cat amongst the pigeons on stage 1 by registering the fastest historic time overall in his 1600 cross-flow engined MK1 Escort. Having maintained the category lead throughout the day it would all go horribly wrong for the Yorkshireman on the final stage however; high levels of dust contributing to the Class C2 crew ending the day against a Cefn tree and unfortunately retiring from a fantastic 5th position overall.
Instead it was Simon Tysoe and Paul Morris who would take the category honours in their class C5 MK1 Escort; holding off a strong final stage charge from the similar machine of Ernie Graham and Robin Kellard to register a slim three second victory after more than 40 miles of competition.
After a difficult event, which included 3 punctures, Stanley Orr and Guy Weaver fought back to third in category by the end of the day. A strong run over the afternoon stages saw the MK1 pinto crew reduce a 1 minute margin after stage 4 to just 35 seconds by the end of stage 7, a suggestion of what might have been had luck been on their side. Orr and Weaver would however take away class C3 honours to compliment a well earned 10th position overall.
Benefiting from the final stage retirement of Milner and Jarvis, Andrew Stokes and Paul Price would claim the combined C1/C2 class victory in their Hillman Avenger. The Dursley man closing down and passing the MK1 Escort of Stuart and Linda Cariss over the repeated stages to ensure he and Price were best placed to take the class honours.
Bob Bean, with Captain Thompson alongside, would claim the pre-68 category honours in his MK1 Lotus Cortina; the evergreen Yorkshireman ending the event in 35th position after pulling away from the class B2 winning Mini of Terry Cree and Richard Shores as the day wore on.
Cree and Shores usually enter a glorious BMW 2002Ti but after opting for the Mini on this event claimed the class B2 honours by almost 6 minutes from regular class competitors, Phillip Harris and Alun Cook; themselves claiming third in category to maintain their strong run of results.
Father and son duo, Bob and Dale Gibbons, had been right in the mix for category honours but lost almost 7 minutes in Radnor after a tyre came away from the rim. All was not lost for the Cortina GT crew as class B3 honours was just reward for making it to the finish of a very abrasive rally.
Dust had played a major part in the event and almost certainly aided Barrett in taking a monumental BHRC overall victory against very strong opposition. However this may not even have been the story of the day had the said same dust not contributed to Adam Milner’s demise!
Great stages and warm weather had made for yet another excellent Severn Valley, well worth the 3.5 hour drive to watch. And with the championship now blown wide open it is with genuine excitement that we anticipate round 5 on the tarmac roads of Epynt. Will Pritchard be able to re-ignite his title defense on what is arguably his stronger surface? Stayed tuned to Paul Commons Motorsport for coverage …
1. Paul Barrett / Dai Roberts (D3) – Ford Escort MK2 – 46:07
2. Nick Elliott / Dave Price (D5) – Ford Escort MK2 +00:05
3. Rudi Lancaster / George Gwynn (D5) – Ford Escort +00:23
4. Steve Bennett / Iain Tullie (D5) – Ford Escort MK2 +01:29
5. Simon Tysoe / Paul Morris (C5) – Ford Escort MK1 +01:48
6. Ernie Graham / Robin Kellard (C5) – Ford Escort MK1 +01:51
7. Ben Friend / Cliffy Simmonds (D3) – Ford Escort MK2 +01:53
8. James Potter / Bob Duck (D5) – Ford Escort MK2 +02:18
9. Shawn Rayner / Declan Dear (D3) – Ford Escort MK2 +02:20
10. Stanley Orr / Guy Weaver (C3) – Ford Escort MK1 +02:23
16. Chris Skill / Tom Jordan (D2) – Ford Escort MK2 +03:22
18. Barry Jordan / James Gratton-Smith (D4) – Sunbeam +03:47
26. Tom Coughtrie / Michael Gilbey (F2) – Escort MK2 +05:32
35. Bob Bean / Captain Thompson (B4) – Ford Cortina +06:52
38. Terry Cree / Richard Shores (B2) – Morris Mini +08:04
41. Bob Gibbons / Dale Gibbons (B3) – Ford Cortina GT +14:10
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)