In fabulous early autumn conditions, Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke judged the pace perfectly to claim an excellent Rallee Classicagh Isle of Man victory; collecting maximum BHRC points to head into the final round as clear championship favourites.
2015 BHRC champions, Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke, have been out of luck for large parts of the season and found themselves heading to the Isle of Man for rounds 7 and 8 of the championship in desperate need of a good result to keep their title hopes alive. Requiring 6 strong finishes from the 9 available rounds, a combination of the odd mistake and mechanical woes had seen the pairing record just 3 notable scores with only 3 rounds remaining.
Having never been to the island before, the prospect of witnessing the title battle unfold over 20 classic ‘Manx’ stages in glorious September conditions was one I was keenly looking forward to. And whilst the likes of Joe Price and Nick Elliott had elected not to make the trip across the Irish Sea the rally was still blessed with an excellent historic entry; one which contained more Minis than I ever remember seeing before!
With Pritchard not able to afford another non-finish it is hardly surprising that the usually time-sheet topping Escort pilot would approach the event with caution. Indeed the Welshman found himself lying 4th overall by the end of proceedings on Thursday evening behind the similar Fords of early leader Ryan Barrett and RAC Asphalt championship competitors, Will Onions and Guy Woodcock.
It was all change on the Friday morning loop of stages however; ignition issues causing Barrett and co-driver Paul McCann to drop over 45 seconds in stage 6, whilst a couple of consistent stage times for Pritchard saw he and Clarke take the lead by the narrowest of margins from Onions and Woodcock.
Barrett was soon back up to speed however and after 2 stunning stage times in Ravensdale and 179+, the Northern Irishman was back in second place. In part due to the loss of oil pressure enforced retirement of Woodcock, and a slow time for Onions in stage 9. All this meanwhile allowed Pritchard to continue to lead the historic classes and collect the much needed maximum BHRC points on offer at the halfway stage of the event.
Having clawed back much of the lost time to sit just 8.6 seconds behind Pritchard after stage 9, Barrett would suffer a further set-back; the Northern Irishman issued with 40 seconds worth of road penalties as a result of earlier ignition related lateness. Without which, he and McCann, would have been leading the rally, such was their pace through the Castletown darkness.
And despite the cancellation of stage 14, Barrett had managed to get within 31 seconds of the rally lead by the end of the day; his pace over the first leg of the event suggesting rally victory was still a distinct possibility, especially with 6 special stages totaling 60 competitive miles still remaining.
Whilst Ryan Barrett had been making the headlines, it was elder brother Paul who was in title frame. And whilst struggling to match the pace of his BD engined rivals, the Pinto powered man was doing an admiral job of staying in touch; Paul Barrett and Dai Roberts claiming the spoils for 3rd place in the BHRC classes at the halfway point and lying 4th overall at the close of proceedings on Friday, just over 24 seconds behind the third placed crew of Will Onions and Jamie Edwards.
Saturday, the final day of the rally, was blessed yet again with glorious weather, perfect conditions for the lead battle to be fought. However, Ryan Barrett’s victory charge was further hindered by the cancellation of the 11.5 mile second stage of the day, leaving the rapid Escort man just 40 miles to close the more than half minute gap. The position looked much more positive after SS17 however; Barrett taking a massive 15 seconds out of both Pritchard and Onions in just under 4 stage miles!
But just as victory momentum was starting to build, an up and down event for Barrett and McCann came to an end on the penultimate stage of the rally; A loss of oil pressure tragically ending their very competitive run.
This left the way clear for Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke to round out a perfect weekend by taking maximum BHRC points from both legs of the event; an ultra consistent run culminating in a 1 minute and 40 second victory over the leading RAC Asphalt championship crew of Will Onions and Jamie Edwards.
Paul Barrett and Dai Roberts would finish the event in third after another strong performance, the deficit in horsepower really showing on the demanding Manx roads. And whilst the pairing have now sown up the Category 3 title, the overall honours appear just out of reach; a top 10 finish on the Trackrod now probably enough for Pritchard and Clarke to claim a second title.
In 2016 Simon Tysoe and Stanley Orr have been the front running category 2 contenders in their respective BD and Pinto powered Ford Escort MK1s and it was no surprise to see them lying 1st and 2nd on Thursday evening.
It was Orr, with Guy Weaver alongside, however who was quickest through the night stages and the pair managed to maintain their healthy 40 second category advantage over the Friday morning loop. Unfortunately the engine decided to call it a day on stage 7 though, which along with their enforced retirement, also put pay to their championship hopes.
This left Simon Tysoe and Paul Morris in pole position for both the category honours on the event as well as the championship itself; the pairing holding a 1 minute 30 second Friday night lead over another pinto powered MK1 in the hands of Phil Jobson and Arwel Jenkins.
Jobson’s strong run would however sadly come to a premature end after a stage stopping off in Snuff the Wind on Saturday lunchtime, thus leaving Tysoe as the clear favourite for category victory. That is until the Leicester man visited the scenery himself on the penultimate stage of the event. Such was their lead advantage however that the 12 minutes lost would only drop to them to third; more than enough to secure the category title after an excellent season.
Instead it was Barry Jordan and James Gratton-Smith who slipped into the last minute category lead in their 1600 Hillman Avenger BRM. And the East Midlands pairing duly went on to take a well deserved victory having put in a very strong performance throughout the rally; the first none Escort BHRC/RAC crew home in 9th position overall in the combined historic events.
Behind Jordan, a conservative drive saw Roger Matthews and Tom Marrott in their MK1 Escort claim second in category 2 . The result enough to secure overall RAC Asphalt championship victory with one event still remaining.
For once a wide variety of cars made up the category 1 entry including a couple of Porsche 911s, a Lancia Fulvia, Triumph TR4, BMW 1800 and an Imp to mix it with the usual Minis and Cortinas.
And given their numerical advantage, it may not have been too much of a surprise to see a Mini at the front; the extremely Rapid Ray Cunningham and Jared Gill holding the category lead until retiring from the event in stage 7. This left Bob and Dale Gibbons to take up the mantle in their Ford Cortina GT; themselves getting the better of the Adrian Kermode and Colin McDowell piloted Minis.
The Mini challenge would however fade and the father and son Cortina crew were able to build a lead of well over 2 minutes by the end of proceedings on day 2 with Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride moving their infamous 911 into the podium positions. In fact, Nutt increased his pace as the event progressed, which combined with road penalties for McDowell, would see OLC6E move up to second by the end of the event.
There was just no stopping Bob and Dale Gibbons though as they went on to finish the combined event in 57th position overall. The Cortina GT has been near unstoppable in 2016 and another stellar performance on the Isle of Man was rewarded with not only a 4 minute category victory but also BHRC category 1 championship glory.
COMBINED NATIONAL A/B HISTORIC RESULTS
- Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke | Ford Escort MK2 | 02:21:30.5
- Will Onions/Jamie Edwards | Ford Escort MK2 | +01:40.5
- Paul Barrett/Dai Roberts | Ford Escort MK2 | +02:03.1
- Will Rowlands/Lion Williams | Ford Escort MK2 | +06:24.5
- Christophe Jacob/Isabelle Regnier | Ford Escort MK2 | +09:09.9
- Shawn Reynar/Declan Dear | Ford Escort MK2 | +09:33.9
- Declan Jackson/Barry McCarney | Ford Escort MK2 | +09:46.0
- Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman | Ford Escort MK1 | +10:13.1
- Barry Jordan/James Gratton-Smith | Hillman Avenger | +12:57.4
- Barry Stevenson-Wheeler/John Pickavance | Ford Escort MK2 | +13:30.9
My first trip to the Isle of Man had been a good one, made even better by the weather, competition and company. You have to be partially mad to follow rallying, but it is nice to know that you are not alone; a couple of familiar faces more than happy to offer a couple of gratefully received tips to ensure our trip to the Island included most of the classic spots. This had been a weekend to remember and I am sure we will back. However before next years plans start to take shape, there is the small matter of the championship decider on the Trackrod in just under 1 week’s time. Where, with Barrett not entered at the time of writing, surely Pritchard will make it 2 outright titles in a row …
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)