Having been away from competition for more than a year, Joe Price and Chris Brooks were back with a bang on Rally North Wales; the Shropshire based duo defeating very high quality opposition to claim an outstanding rally victory.
Welshpool was the new home for the 2023 edition of Rally North Wales and the move further east would see a welcome return of Dyfnant forest for the first time in several years complemented nicely by slightly shorter than usual tests in Dyfi and Gartheiniog. Better still, a top quality entry list had been compiled by Wolverhampton and South Staffs Car Club, headed by 2017 BHRC champions Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke.
But whilst the aforementioned number 1 seeds had elected to ease themselves back into historic competition with a steady start, Nick Elliott and Dave Price were once again on the pace from the word go; the crowd pleasing Fiat 131 crew stopping the stage 1 clock 2 seconds quicker than the Ford Escort of BHRC round 1 winners Roger Chilman and Patrick Walsh, with the similar machines of Robert Gough and Joe Price just behind.
In complete contrast meanwhile the slippery Dyfnant test proved to be one to forget for other front runners as both Martin McCormack and Richard Tuthill saw any challenge for honours disappear almost as soon as they had started; McCormack losing over 1 minute with a puncture and worse still for Tuthill as the fabulous Porsche 911 became beached at a chicane, losing in excess of 6 minutes!
By stage 3 Chilman and Walsh were well into their stride and the Wales Motorsport pairing would find themselves with a 12 second advantage and looking good for a second successive BHRC victory as both Elliott (throttle) and Gough (starter) dropped time. However, stage 4 (Dyfi Main) proved to be the catalyst for Price’s victory challenge as the bright Orange, Ford Escort RS man set a time 4 seconds quicker than anyone else and more importantly 7 seconds quicker than Chilman to more than halve the gap.
And by the time the crews emerged from stage 7 (the second running of Dyfi Main), Price and Brooks were in the lead of the rally after remarkably finding another 7 seconds on their rivals to hold a 3 second lead. There was however the longest stage of the rally remaining (the reverse and slightly extended Dyfnant 2) meaning all was still to play for.
But, with light fading (after long delays associated with the cancellation of stage 5), the Ludlow crew held their nerve to claim a popular historic category victory, their first since the Pirelli in 2016! Despite missing out on overall victory Chilman and Walsh were more than consoled by taking maximum British Historic Championship points as first registered crew home, making it an excellent start to the season following their success on the Riponian.
Nursing a throttle issue, Nick Elliott and Dave Price managed to set consistent times throughout the afternoon stages to claim an excellent 3rd just 34 seconds down on the event winners. Meanwhile Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke marked a return to historic rallying with a fine 4th; the 2017 BHRC champions just pipping the similar machine of Robert Gough and Paul Morris (who were suffering with a hydraulic leak) to the position on the final stage.
Seb Perez and Gary McElhinney, in their glorious Porsche 911 SC, looked set for category 2 honours after a storming drive saw them lying in 5th position overall at the halfway point. However the pairing were not able to maintain their early pace and failed to emerge from the final test.
Whilst unfortunate for the Chesterfield based man it did leave an almighty Escort MK1 battle for category victory with the Pinto powered machines of Ben Smith and Josh Carr taking the fight to the BD engined Ford of Mike Stuart. Stuart, with Sinclair Young alongside, made the most of his extra power in the afternoon runs through Dyfi forest however and despite Smith going 15 seconds quicker in Dyfnant was able to take the category honours with 15th position overall. Smith’s ultra rapid blast through the final stage did however ensure class C3 victory for the Bedfordshire man.
Elsewhere, Ben Jemison and Dean Kellett claimed class D4 victory in their Vauxhall Chevette with 24th position overall. This despite incredible pace shown by Richard Tuthill following his stage 1 mishap; so quick in fact that the Porsche 911 pilot was actually 3 seconds quicker than the eventual winners over the remaining stages of the event, a story of what could have been! Meanwhile Class D3 would go the way of Stephen and Oli Benton (Ford Escort MK2) with 28th position overall, Chris Squires and Shaun Hughes (Ford Escort) would take class D2 honours with 30th position overall and the Toyota Corolla crew of Ian Beveridge and Paul Price would be first home in class C2 with 37th.
Despite a very long day courtesy of the delays, it was great to be back in Dyfnant forest for the first time in years. In fact it was probably one of the best days spectating in a long time as a result of lucking in on good locations, mixed conditions and an incredible Historic entry. Whilst delighted to see the flamboyant Joe Price take a long overdue victory it was also great to see strong opposition to the blue oval brand. A few years ago you would have been hard pressed to think anything other than a an Escort could fight for victories but as proved by Champion, Edwards and Elliott in recent years and the pace of Tuthill on Rally North Wales that is no longer the case. And long may it continue!