An impressive late charge after an unfavourable early road position saw Welsh duo, Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry, overhaul the similar Fiesta of Fredrik Ahlin and Morton Erik Abrahamsen to claim a hard fought Mid Wales Stages victory; the opening round of a rejuvenated British Rally Championship.
After years in the doldrums culminating in a 1 year break, the British Rally Championship was back with a bang in 2016. The Newtown based Mid Wales Stages was a completely new event to the BRC calender but appeared to have captured the imagination of the nations best drivers. An impressive entry list topped by current M-Sport WRC2 crew Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry but also including a whole host of leading British crews proof, if ever it were needed, that the R5 headlined BRC was most definitely back on track.
68 stage miles lay ahead of the crews, with 2 classic tests in Hafren and Myherin on the Saturday evening to kick off proceedings; talk about jumping in at the deep end! This, combined with the sprinkling of snow on higher ground, is precisely the kind of challenge that should exist in a top level national series.
Whilst still on M-Sport’s books, Evans was unlucky to lose his full time WRC drive at the end of 2015 and would head into the opening round as a huge favourite for the event win. And true to form the DMACK Fiesta R5 man was electric out of the blocks to set a time that was 18 seconds quicker than anyone else through the slippery 16 miles of Hafren Sweet Lamb.
Anyone who thought the Welshman would have it all his own way was however silenced on stage 2 when Swede and fellow Ford man, Fredrik Ahlin, topped the time sheets, cutting the overall deficit to 17 seconds at the overnight halt. With the mountainous Myherin/Pikes Peak stage seeing more of the snow fall, could it be that the Swedish native had a better set up for the white stuff? …
It certainly seemed that way on the morning of day 2 as the impressive Scandinavian, whilst benefiting from a good road position, was able to set fastest time on both stages 3 and 4 to claw back all of the time lost to Evans and jump into a 3.5 second lead by the mid-day service halt. But whilst thoughts of an upset may have crossed onlooker’s minds, Evans would no longer be sweeping the roads. With snow and Ice now few and far between on stages already passed once, the rapid Welshman was able to fully attack the event’s final 23 stage miles.
As was the case on stage 1, no one could live with Evans’ pace through Hafren Sweet Lamb; Ahlin losing 16.4 seconds and ultimately the rally victory as Evans showed what the Ford WRC team were missing. Their loss however is most definitely the British Rally fans gain as the number 1 seeds rounded off a fantastic fight back with their third stage win of the rally to wrap up victory by just 17 seconds; a much closer battle than many would have imagined pre event.
Behind, despite both David Bogie and Tom Cave enduring difficult starts to the event, it was they who would find themselves challenging for the final podium position. A puncture had dropped Cave and co-driver, James Morgan, behind the Fabia of Bogie and Kevin Rae overnight, but a quick time on the very tricky opening Saturday morning stage, coinciding with an off for Bogie, would promote the young Welshman back up to third.
However, Bogie definitely had the pace, and after stringing together 2 impressive times in Myherin and Hafren found himself within touching distance of Cave’s Fiesta as they entered the final 8 miler. But whilst Cave was able to set 3rd quickest time on stage, a differential problem would end Bogie’s charge, causing the recent Red Kite Stages victor to settle for a hard fought 4th.
DMACK JUNIOR BRC
Having not paid much attention to the junior ranks prior to the event, the front running crews turned out to be some of the stars of the Mid Wales Stages. Who said FWD’s don’t go sideways?! In what turned out to be a Ford/Vauxhall/Renault battle, it was the little Twingo of Norwegians’ Sindre Furuseth and Goril Undebakke who held an 8 second overnight lead after a blistering 11th quickest time overall on a tricky stage 2!
However, lying second at the start of day 2, Gus Greensmith and Alessandro Gelsomino increased their pace on the Saturday morning stages and stole the class lead on Pikes Peak before another quick time on stage 4 would see them hold a 3 and 11 second advantage respectively over Furuseth and the Vauxhall Adam of Robert Duggan and Gerard Conway at the mid-day service.
And despite fastest class times going the way of Furuseth and another Vauxhall junior driver in the form of Matthias Adielsson over the final 2 stages of the rally, it was Greensmith’s consistency which earned him and Gelsomino the well earned maximum class points. I for one cannot wait to see this battle continue as the season progresses!
NATIONAL A CLASS RESULTS
Matt Edwards and Will Rogers were in a class of their own in the Swift Caravans backed Mitsubishi Evo 9. The pair were never outside the top ten stage times to claim BRC2 victory by more than 5 minutes with a fantastic 7th position overall. Along the way setting 4th quickest time on the very tricky stage 2; one of the highlights from a quite brilliant drive.
Gee Atherton and Keaton Williams would end the day on top of the class BRC4 pile after a consistent drive saw them claim class victory by almost 2 minutes with 23rd position overall.
Recent Top Gear addition, Chris Harris, co-driven by Brynmor Pierce suffered many a problem on the Mid Wales Stages but still managed to claim BRC3 victory in their glorious Toyota GT86 with 30th position overall.
Due to a lack of homologation, the trio of Mitsubishi Mirage R5’s were disappointingly forced to take part in the 68 mile National Cup instead of the full on National A event. Whilst covering the same tracks as the BRC, the National Cup competitors would not be party to the Friday Recce of the stages. And with this in Mind, Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss’ time of 16:46.8, good enough for fourth overall on combined times, on the opening Friday night stage was even more impressive.
In fact by the end of the event the rapid Welshman was only beaten by Evans, Ahlin, Cave and Bogie on combined times as he and Furniss absolutely dominated the National Cup to take victory by a mammoth 8 minutes! Such a shame that the Mirage is not eligible for the main BRC as a full recce may well have seen Pryce in a theoretical podium position! A sublime performance.
Dylan Davies and Llion Williams were the class of the Clubmans field, setting fastest time on all but 1 of the 4 stages to claim victory by 55 seconds from another Subaru in the hands of Andy Davies; claiming maximum Welsh Rally Championship points in the process.
Elsewhere, 6th overall was enough for Stanley Orr and Guy Weaver to claim maximum HRCR Old Stager championship points. The MK1 Pinto pairing getting the better of the similar powered MK2 Escort of Ben Friend and Cliffy Simmonds to take top spot by 20 seconds.
Night stages, sleeping in the car, good access for spectators and the addition of a little snow made for a fantastic weekend. There was a definite feeling that the BRC was back to its best!
We can only hope that the remaining rounds of the season can attract such strong entries as the Mid Wales and that Evans’ joker inflated maximum points haul does not deter leading crews from entering rounds later in the season. Surely the BTRDA best 6 scores from 8 rounds concept would be a better way of maintaining interest for longer? As it stands, Evans, clearly the favourite for the crown anyway has a monumental lead that is now unlikely to be challenged.
That aside, from a standalone event perspective you cannot fault what has been put together in 2016. I never imagined for one moment that some of the best action would come from the junior ranks. Furuseth, a much deserved Spirit of the Rally winner, and all 3 Vauxhall Junior drivers were an absolute delight to watch; I had forgotten just how quick these machines can be in the hands of top driving talent. And up front the quality was just as good, If some time ago you would have told me that the Mid Wales entry would include previous BRC and SRC champions as well as two current WRC2 competitors I would never have believed you. Roll on the Pirelli in April, my anticipated next slice of the BRC action …
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)
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