Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis were in a class of their own in the North Yorkshire forests to claim a comfortable Riponian National Historic Stages Victory and an early lead in the British Historic Rally Championship title race.
Possibly one of the best entry lists on record for a North Yorkshire based rally and full utilisation of the relatively recent road closure regs for UK rallying was all the convincing I needed to head north on a dark early February Sunday morning for the Riponian Stages Rally! Two loops of 3 healthily lengthed stages in the classic Wass / College Moor and Cropton / Gale Rigg forests faced the mammoth 122 crews leaving the Thirsk start line, 50 of which were fully registered BHRC runners gunning for honours in the National Historic Stages part of the event.
Gale Rigg has long been a personal favourite stage of mine but remarkably it had been 5 years since my last visit and the change in tree line combined with new routes opened up by use of Keys Beck Road made it feel like a completely new stage, although it proved just as good as I remembered for viewing!
Any thoughts of a steady start to the season were blown out of the water early on as most crews seemed to be ’on-it’, none more so than local man Matthew Robinson who, with regular co-driver Sam Collis alongside, set a blistering pace from the off and by half distance had developed a lead of more than 20 seconds over the similar machines of Nick Elliott and Ben Friend.
And it was more of the same over the afternoon stages as not even the weather (hail and snow at various points) could get in the way of Robinson and Collis claiming a full set of fastest stage times to claim an excellent 47 second victory and firmly put last years RAC disappointment behind them. Despite not quite able to match the Malton man’s phenomenal pace, Nick Elliott and Dave Price got their BHRC title ambitions off to a positive start with second overall whilst Roger Chilman and Gwynfor Jones rounded out the podium positions after 2021 champions Ben Friend and Cliffy Simmons dropped time on the final stage.
Behind, in the category 3 classes David Brown and Callum Atkinson claimed D4 honours with 9th overall whilst Ben Mellors and Alex Lee were first home in D3 with 11th overall aboard their immaculate Toyota Celica. Meanwhile Rudi Lancaster and Guy Weaver would top the FIA Appendix K runners in 10th.
As usual category 2 contained a wonderful array of pre-74 machinery but was ultimately topped by the Pinto powered MK1 of Ben and Steven Smith who just managed to keep behind the powerful Datsun 240z of combined class C4/C5 winners Jeremy Easson and Mike Reynolds. Meanwhile Mark Tugwell and Steve Pugh claimed top spot in the combined C1/C2 category aboard their MK1 Twin Cam whilst historic stalwart Bob Bean, with Mike Curry alongside, claimed category 1 honours in the stunning Lotus Cortina.
In the Interclub Stages part of the event, Ollie Mellors and Max Freeman defeated a plethora of Ford Fiestas to claim a convincing victory aboard their Proton Iriz R5 with Ford Fiesta R5 pairings Elliot Payne / Patrick Walsh and David Henderson / Chris Lees rounding out the podium positions. With 9th overall David Mennell and Steven Brown would claim the Historic honours with an excellent drive in their 1600 Escort with the more powerful H2 category machines of Richard Spink / Nigel Hutchinson and Thomas Hewick / Mick Johnson completing the top 3.
Caught out by the cold weather, the traditional stop at Thompsons Fish & Chips Restaurant on the way home went some way to thawing me out but I don’t think I fully warmed up until the following morning! Nevertheless it was an excellent event all-round that seemed to run like clock-work! Bring on the next event which should hopefully be Rally North Wales in March and possibly even the Donington Stages Rally before that. I guess you just don’t know how much you miss forest rallying until you return to the woods …