The Riponian Stages rally would once again host the opening round of the British Historic Rally Championship with 6 classic stages in the North Yorkshire Forests following a route similar to that of 2022 but in reverse. And despite the Historic section appearing a little on the light side a relatively healthy overall entry had been gathered for the Thirsk based event.
Possibly suffering from the rising cost of living and in particular the cost of entering rallies at the moment a modest 44 crews made the start of the National event; 1 fewer than hoped for following the late blow of losing last year’s Winners Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis as a result of competition license issues!
However with Robinson joining fellow 2022 BHRC event winners Henri Grehan and Matt Edwards as missing from the entry list and pre-event favourites Martin McCormack and Barney Mitchell suffering an unfortunate early engine failure it did at least open up the fight for victory, with no fewer than 6 crews ending the event within the same minute as the eventual winners.
Indeed it was Nick Elliott and Dave Price who set the early pace in their glorious Alitalia liveried Fiat 131 but courtesy of quickening their pace through the first pass of Cropton and Wass Moor it was the Ford Escort pairing of Roger Chilman and Patrick Walsh who held a slender 5 second lead at the half way point.
A slow time on stage 4 would essentially put pay to Elliott’s victory challenge but with Chilman dropping time in Cropton, just 9 seconds covered the podium positions as the crews headed for the Wass Moor finale; with Tom Walster, who had been away from rallying for several years prior to last year’s outing on the Carlisle stages, just 3 seconds adrift in second.
Walster, a welcome addition to the BHRC in 2023, has clearly lost none of his pace but on this occasion the experience of Chilman and Walsh shone through as the Wales Motorsport duo set fastest time on stage 6 to run out as 4 second victors and take an early championship lead. Second place overall for Walster (with Christopher Ridge on the notes) did however represent an excellent result for the Nottinghamshire man.
After setting a blistering pace over the afternoon loop (Fastest times in stage 4 and 5), Adrian Hetherington and Ronan O’Neill would jump from 8th at the halfway point to a remarkable 3rd overall by the end of the event to complete a Ford Escort lock out of the podium positions; with Elliott and Price having to settle for 4th and the Escorts of Simon Webster / Jez Rogers and Richard Jordan / James Gratton Smith rounding out the top six.
Elsewhere another strong performance from Josh Carr and Richard Wardle would see the Pinto engined Ford Escort MK1 pairing get the better of their more powerful counterparts to claim category 2 victory with an excellent 12th overall whilst Terry Cree and Richard Shores (Mini Cooper S) were first home in Category 1. The fight for Class D3 was possibly the hardest fought on the day however with the lead changing no fewer than 4 times throughout the event as the RS2000 crew of Mike Reed and John Millington just lost out on victory by a mere second to David Dobson and Brian Hodgson in their MK2 Escort!
British Rally Championship regular Elliot Payne, with Tom Woodburn alongside, would be a hot favourite for the Interclub section of the event and it was no real surprise to see the Fiesta Rally 2 crew end the event on top after setting fastest time on five of the six stages. Behind, Hugh Brunton / Drew Sturrock aboard their Skoda Fabia would come out on the right side of a first stage tie breaker to claim second whilst Alistair Ginley / Craig Thorley would have to settle for third despite ending the event on equal times with the second placed crew. Meanwhile Anthony Hanson and Russel Holdsworth would claim the Interclub 2WD honours with 19th overall in their Vauxhall Chevette.
I had intended to mix things up on this years Riponian but with Gale Rigg being a personal favourite stage of mine the draw of making the most of relatively recent felling was too much to pass up. Maybe somewhere different on the Trackrod?! Next up for the BHRC crews is Rally North Wales which promises a slight change of route to include a return to Dyfnant forest for the first time in a few years. Let’s hope the massive £780 entry fee is not too off putting! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for similar weather to last year too!