With the Malcolm Wilson rally falling victim of the weather, the BTRDA contingent would instead head to mid Wales for round 2 of the championship, the recently re-branded Rallynuts Stages Rally (previously Severn Valley Stages). And, after a month or two of less than pleasant weather, it was rather apt that one of the warmest days of the year so far would welcome the Midland Manor Motor Club Organised event to the championship after several years of association with Historic rallying.
Much like the Cambrian Rally, the entry list was filled with rapid machinery, including 4 WRC Ford’s. But, also following a similar theme to the season opener, it was an R5 machine, more specifically a Fiesta R5 in the hands of Matt Edwards and Darren Garrod, that would take centre stage.
Edwards truly was in a league of his own on this event and with no protruding logs to halt his progress, would go on to record fastest time on all 7 stages and claim a maiden BTRDA victory by a mammoth 40 seconds from the WRC Ford’s of Luke Francis and Paul Bird; the Welsh star clearly enjoying his home stages having now set fastest time on 12 of the Championship’s first 14 stages, all 12 of the stages completed by the Swift backed Fiesta man (missed stages 2 & 3 of Cambrian)! With pace like this, there is little doubt Edwards will be at the sharp end of the British Rally Championship battle when the series kicks off later this month.
Behind, Luke Francis and John H Roberts had a much stronger second BTRDA championship outing in their Melvyn Evans Motorsport prepared Fiesta WRC. Forced into retirement after clipping a rock on the Cambrian, the North Wales based duo registered second fastest time on every stage bar the last to finish the event in a very comfortable second.
Rounding out the podium positions, Paul Bird, with Jack Morton alongside, continued his strong start to the season after a 2 year lay off. Locked in a tight battle with the Fiesta of Hugh Hunter throughout the morning stages, the North of England duo managed to snatch third in stage 3 before inching away from their rivals over the final 4 tests; thus ensuring they maintained their early championship lead.
Well inside the top ten, class B13 victory went the way of Tom Cave and Dale Bowen. Cave, making a guest appearance in the family owned Subaru, was near untouchable over the classic Welsh terrain, finishing the event 1.5 minutes clear of his nearest class rival; his speed further rewarded with 7th position overall and the honour of first non Ford home.
With 11th overall, Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy claimed a comfortable class NR4 victory in their Mitsubishi Evo 9. Their day was perhaps made a little easier when usual front runners Patrick Naylor and Ian Lawrence suffered a stage 1 mechanical, however a 40 second class victory over the similar machine of Tom Naughton is proof they would have been a match for anyone on the day.
A thrilling Silver Star battle produced a somewhat surprise result with Max Utting and Mike Ainsworth making a mockery of their seeding to claim category victory in their Ford Fiesta ST. It was in fact a sensational come back by the Oxford based duo who, having found themselves 14 seconds behind the Category leading Escort after SS3, completed the Radnor and second Crychan tests some 29 seconds faster than their rivals! And with just the 2 short stages remaining, Utting and Ainsworth would maintain their advantage to record a very impressive top twenty finish.
B12 Class winners, Owen McMakin and Lee Taylor had lead the Silver Star category through the first 3 stages, however the remainder of the event did not go so well; The Irish / Welsh pairing not only losing the lead to Utting in stage 5 but also falling behind the Class B11 Escort of Rob Dennis and Andrew Boswell. McMakin’s strong early pace was however rewarded with his second BTRDA class win of the season and third overall in the Silver Star Category.
Class B10/R2 honours went the way of Josh McErlean and Aaron Johnston in their Fiesta R2; the pairing having snatched the lead from the similar machine of George Lepley in Radnor before gradually pulling away over the afternoon stages to record a 9 second class victory with 24th overall (4th in the Silver Star Category).
Rounding out a very successful day for the blue oval marque, James Giddings and Sion Cunniff claimed class N3 victory in their Fiesta ST with 46th position overall; the 4th class win of the day for a Fiesta crew!
In the 1400 category, round 1 winners, Chris Powell and Jim Lewis exploded into a 31 second lead after the first 3 stages only to find themselves condemned to the retirements list just one stage later. This left the door wide open for Dave and Toby Brick, this time in a Vauxhall Corsa, to take a commanding 3.5 minute victory with 37th position overall. Meanwhile Perry Gardener and Steve Link would take the 1400C honours with 78th position overall in their Vauxhall Nova.
By the end of SS4, two of the leading Historic contenders, Nick Elliott (engine issues in SS1) and Rudi Lancaster (Gearbox) were out of the event, which left the Escort’s of Ernie Graham and Terry Brown to battle it out for category victory. There was absolutely nothing to choose between the two cars over much of the morning before a slow time in Radnor for Brown and co-driver Den Golding put pay to their challenge; the 18 seconds lost allowing Graham and co-driver Robin Kellard to go on and record their second BTRDA Historic victory in as many events.
Behind, Tom Coughtrie and Baz Green seemed to have the H4 spec, ex works, Mitsubishi Galant running well and duly claimed class honours with 4th in category and 47th overall. Whilst, just one place further back in 48th, Gareth Lewis and Mark Crisp dominated class H1/H2 in their MK2 Escort, claiming class victory by nearly 2 minutes from the similar Ford of Jeff Wincott.
After a day long battle with Bart Lang, Andrew Wheatley made it two Rally First victories out of 2 in his Ford Puma. He and Ian Nichols finishing the event in a very commendable 62nd position overall.
Next up, the BTRDA contenders head further North for another Welsh outing, this time for the Knutsford & District Motor Club organised Plains Rally on 12th May. A rally in which Stephen Petch will be hoping to repeat his 2017 success and keep himself at the forefront of the title battle. If the in-form Edwards should make an entry however he and co-driver Michael Wilkinson may well have their work cut out!
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)