Author Archives: Howard Wilcock

PLAINS PLAN for ACTION! Plains Rally Preview

The 51st Plains Rally features eight special stages in the Dyfi Forest complex on 13th May and the organisers, Knutsford & District Motor Club Ltd, are planning a day of ‘almost continuous action’ for the 120 + entries. The first car leaves the start, in Welshpool, at 8.00am on the Saturday morning and returns there at 3.00pm.

Leading the RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star® Championship runners are Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta WRC) who arrive in mid-Wales fresh from their victory last time out on the Somerset Stages. Indeed, the runners-up on the Minehead-based event, Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson (Fiesta R5+), also continue where they left off, while proven BTRDA Rally Series event winners Luke Francis/John H Roberts (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9) will be hoping that their recent run of ill-fortune is now firmly behind them – that is, if they are to make any impression on the current points tables. Although not defending their 2016 BTRDA Gold Star® Championship titles, Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson have placed an entry in the former’s new Fiesta and, after eight months away from the front line, it’ll be interesting to see how they fare!…

The 2013 & 2014 Plains Rally winners Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton are back again this time in a R5 Fiesta whilst the  2009 rally victor Hugh Hunter has Rob Fagg for company; the pair being fresh from their victory on the Manx National Rally last weekend.  Also certain to be in the mix will be Rhys Yates / James Morgan (Fiesta R5) Thomas Preston / Andrew Roughead in the Skoda Fabia R5 and welcome late entry Connor McCloskey / John Rowan in a Fiesta WRC.

Wayne Sisson/Neil Shanks (Lancer EVOX), Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000) and Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth) all have just one score to their credit so far and it, therefore, goes without saying that good results would benefit their causes considerably!

On the Somerset Stages, the top three BTRDA Production Cup contenders finished a mere ten seconds apart, with the following two also in line of sight. This time, seven of the Group NR4 cars are set to leave Welshpool in very close proximity – Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) will, doubtless, be hounded by the Lancer EVOs of Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence, Richard Hill/Steffan Evans, Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy, Aaron McClure/Michael Gilbey, Dan Moss/Sam Allen and series leaders Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge throughout the day.

Then, of course, we have the contenders for the Fiesta ST Trophy, and Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair will be viewing the Plains Rally as an opportunity to take their third consecutive maximum points score. In total, eight of the 2-litre 2WD cars will be taking the start, with Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth & Alasdair Currie/Steven Brown trying especially hard to break Bilham’s current monopoly of the winners’ enclosure!  The name ‘Tordoff’ has been gracing rally entry lists on and off for the past half-century and, for this season, Matt & Tim are sharing a Fiesta ST, while Tom Easson’s version will leave the start half-an-hour after the Datsun 240Z driven by his dad, Jeremy….

Having had their efforts thwarted by the weather on the Cambrian Rally in February, the Rowlands brothers are back to try their luck in the RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship once again. All things being equal (yes, OK – we know!…), the Escorts of Ieuan & Emyr Hall and John, with Glenn Latham, should be in the points by the end of the day, but current Silver Star leaders Dave Bennett/Alistair McNeil have wasted no time in making their intentions perfectly clear. Their 1600cc Corsa already has a 1st and a 2nd place to its credit, with the former 1400 Champions finishing just outside the top ten in Somerset.

Jody Bowcott/David Millard were marginally ahead of Bennett on the Malcolm Wilson Rally but then their Escort let them down on Exmoor. Bowcott is another driver heading for Welshpool virtually straight from the Isle of Man and, so, will certainly be ‘match fit’!  Rudi Lancaster/Guy Weaver are having a busy season as well, managing to fit a run to 3rd overall on Rally North Wales as they contest both BTRDA & MSA Historic Championships.

Ed Fossey/Chris Sharpe-Simkiss (Toyota Yaris) took maximum Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship points in Somerset, putting them into the lead of the series prior to the start of the Plains Rally. However, the Herefordshire crews of Dave & Toby Brick (Vauxhall Nova) and Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (Talbot Sunbeam), both proven winners at this level, are in the mix this time, and we mustn’t forget Tommi Meadows/Ian Oakey (Ford Ka) either. The teenage driver took runner-up spot on the Somerset Stages, his first BTRDA 1400 Championship round, and will be eager to put his new-found experience to good use. At the same time, especially with Ian Oakey to guide him, he’ll be under no illusions as to the requirements of success at this level!

By dint of their wins on the Malcolm Wilson and Somerset Stages Rallies respectively, Andrew Wheatley (Ford Puma) and Chris Hickman/Alex Stanbury (MG ZR) find themselves as joint leaders of the BTRDA Rally First Championship. Similarly, Sheldon Furby (MG ZR) and Bart Lang (Nissan Micra) share 3rd place – all four drivers are contesting the Plains Rally and just to put the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak, they will be joined on this occasion by 2016 Champions Dominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt in their Micra!

We wish everyone a safe and enjoyable event but, at the pace these rally cars have to be driven in order to remain competitive, there’ll probably be tears before bedtime in certain camps! AH

Photo is Stephen Petch / Micheal Wilkinson on the Somerset Stages  (courtesy of ralliphotoswales)

FRANCIS NEEDS A REPEAT PRESCRIPTION!…Somerset Stages Preview

Round 3: Somerset Stages Rally – 8th April.
The RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series® pays its annual visit to south-west England on 8th April for the Somerset Stages Rally and, with the forced abandonment of the first round due to the unpredictable British weather, there are a number of crews who will be looking to the event as an opportunity to put their respective seasons back on track.
Although more usually associated with football team managers, the old adage ‘you’re only as good as your last result’ will certainly strike a chord with Luke Francis and John Roberts (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9). The luck which saw them take outright victory on three BTRDA Rally Series events last year, including the Somerset Stages, has presently deserted them and, as they lead the field away from the Minehead start, all thoughts will be on a repeat performance this time.

Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta) didn’t finish the 2016 Somerset Stages and, having also retired from the recent Malcolm Wilson Rally, will be in an equally determined mood. They are proven winners at this level and, as one of the first crews to bring a Fiesta to the Championship, now need to put their experience to good use! Meanwhile Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson are relative newcomers to their R5+ but nevertheless acquitted themselves admirably last time out. Karl & Guy Simmons (Subaru Impreza WRC) were 3rd overall this time last year and a similar result would do very nicely, thank you!

David Wright and Steve Pugh (photo) in a Ford Focus WRC started the 2017 season with a very good points scoring result on the Malcolm Wilson Rally and they are followed, as they were then, by the 2011/12 Somerset Stages winner Hugh Hunter, with Rob Fagg, who start one minute behind them in a similar car. Irishmen Connor McCloskey/John Rowan (Fiesta) and Scotsman Fred Milne (Lancer EVO9), with Welsh co-driver Jamie Edwards, are next, while Tom Preston/Andrew Roughead (Skoda Fabia R5) will be looking to improve on their 7th place last time. In what was then a brand-new car to them. Taunton’s Martyn & Dawn England were 4th overall on their ‘home’ event in a Fiesta R5+. Now, with a further 12 months’ experience under their belts, can they produce a podium finish?…

Last time out, on the Malcolm Wilson Rally, just nine seconds separated the top four finishers in the BTRDA Production Cup, giving a hint of the competitive nature of this particular category. The stages on Exmoor obviously suit Group N cars – Jamie Anderson was 3rd overall in his Lancer in 2012, with Pat Naylor’s similar car 4th a year later. Now, whilst all the main contenders are starting together, the question is ‘will that still be the case at the end of the day?’…. Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) will have a succession of Lancers hunting them down – Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence, Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy, Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge, Richard Hill/Steffan Evans & Aaron McClure/Michael Gilbey will all be in there fighting for every second!   Then, of course, there are the Fiesta STsSam Bilham/Cameron Fair’s example is the first of eight taking the start, with the Bingley driver aiming to consolidate his lead in the series. However, it would be reasonable to suppose that Jody McManus, Richard Wells and Alasdair Currie, for example, will have other ideas on that score!

Jody Bowcott and David Millard (Escort Mk2) travel down from the West Midlands to the seaside as leaders of the RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship. David Bennett/Alistair McNeil (Corsa) were a constant thorn in their sides in the Lake District – and there’s every possibility that this will be the case once again! Rear-wheel drive exponents Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham & Somerset regulars Theo Bengry/Les Forsbrook will be there in their Escorts, while Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor (Citroen DS3 R3) will adding their weight to the FWD contingent. It’s also worth remembering that a 1400cc car made the Top Three of the Silver Star runners on the Malcolm Wilson Rally.

Speaking of which!….
Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (Talbot Sunbeam) will be the first of the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship contenders, with Kieran Darrington/Simon Jones (Corsa) and Charlie Barlow’s Nissan Micra attempting to keep them honest!  Although, as previously discussed, numbers at this level continue to disappoint, the original concept of the series was to encourage new blood, or those returning after a lengthy absence, into the sport and, as a case in point, we welcome Tommi Meadows (son of 2000 Gold Star Champion Martin) to the party and hope he will take great satisfaction from his involvement. To those who say ‘nothing changes’, it’s noted that Tommi has enlisted the services of his dad’s co-driver, Ian Oakey, to help guide his Ford Ka across Exmoor!…

In their quest for BTRDA Rally First Championship points, John and Duncan Freeman’s VW Lupo will be besieged by a battalion of MG ZRs in the hands of Chris Hickman/Alex Stanbury, Sheldon Furby/Carrie Rogers and Ian Woollacott/Simon Stanbury as the battle to succeed 2016 winners Dominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt begins in earnest.

The Somerset Stages also hosts the opening round of the relaunched MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship which, for 2017, has been opened up to welcome all types of rally car that comply with MSA Safety and Technical Regulations. The calendar includes a selection of the best one-day forest and asphalt events in England, plus an ‘away’ weekend doubleheader in Wales, and 2016 champion Sam Bilham will need all his wits about him as he begins the defence of his title. For more information on the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship please go to www.englishrally.co.uk

The first car leaves the start of the Somerset Stages Rally in Minehead at 8.00am on Saturday 8th April and, 42 stage miles later (including the traditional two runs up the popular Porlock Toll Road), arrives back there for the finish at approximately 3.45pm that afternoon.   Further details of the Somerset Stages Rally from www.somersetstagesrally.com

Photo is David Wright and Steve Pugh on the recent Malcolm Wilson Rally courtesy of ralliphotoswales

LET’S START AGAIN SHALL WE ?… Malcolm Wilson Rally Preview

The enforced curtailment of the Cambrian Rally due to adverse weather conditions in North Wales sees the spotlight now fall on the Cockermouth-based Malcolm Wilson Rally (11th March) to set the 2017 RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series in motion. The event has attracted its best entry, both in quantity and quality, for several years and it won’t have escaped the sponsor’s notice that nine of the Top 15 cars are Fiestas that’ll be returning to their birthplace at M-Sport for the occasion!…

However, let’s begin by casting our minds back to Llandudno a month ago and, with all due deference to the Cambrian Rally organisers who were devastated after all their hard work came to nought, mention a couple of drivers who will be thanking their lucky stars that events turned out as they did!  On the Friday morning 2016 Cambrian winner Luke Francis (Mitsubishi EVO9) and the victor back in 2008, Hugh Hunter (Ford Focus WRC), had both been indulging in a spot of pre-event testing prior to the start of their BTRDA Rally Series campaigns. Returning from his test, Francis was involved in a non-fault RTA which rendered his Lancer undriveable, while Hunter’s engine snapped a belt, also causing a fair bit of damage. Although various ‘Plan B’s were investigated, come the start on Saturday morning, both Francis and Hunter were absent.  Imagine their surprise – not to mention relief – when news of the Cambrian’s abandonment broke!…..

So, as you were! The first BTRDA Rally Series contenders away from M-Sport at 7.00am on Saturday 11th March will be 2008 event winners David Bogie/Kevin Rae who, along with Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan, form a Skoda Fabia R5 sandwich, with Luke Francis/John Roberts as the filling! Double Malcolm Wilson Rally-winning crew, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (2013/15) will be out to make it three in their Fiesta while, on his ‘home’ event, David Wright (Focus WRC), with Steve Pugh reading the notes, cannot be discounted either. 2016 RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star runners-up Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta R5) have ‘form’ at this level of competition and it goes without saying that they’d dearly love to go one better this year – it also goes without saying however that, from such a heavyweight entry, whoever triumphs really will have had their work cut out!…

The quality entry continues with Wayne Sisson/Neil Shanks in an Evo X, Callum Black/Elliot Edmondson and Rhys Yates, who has defending Gold Star Champion Co-driver Carl Williamson for company this season, in Fiestas, while Karl & Guy Simmons have a Citroen DS3 R5 run by Melvyn Evans Motorsport who were responsible for Dave Weston’s 2015 RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star® Championship winning Impreza. Although Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000) and Tom Preston/Andrew Roughead (Fabia R5) are not even in the top 20 starters, with the usual provisos, they are both perfectly capable of ending the day much higher!

From the foregoing, you’ll not be surprised to learn that the top BTRDA Production Cup runners don’t get a look in until the mid-20s!  Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) lead what is also an impressive field that includes Lancers for Richard Hill/Steffan Evans, Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy, Aaron McClure/Michael Gilbey & Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge.  Then, of course, we mustn’t forget the Fiesta ST Trophy runners, of whom nine will be present in Cockermouth. In spite of their non-turbo charged two-wheel drive configuration, their reliability proved to be more than a thorn in the side of their Class NR4 colleagues last year. Leading the team into battle this time is MAXXIS MSA English Rally Champion Sam Bilham who, with Cameron Fair in the co-driver’s seat, will actually have to wait until the Somerset Stages Rally next month to begin the defence of his title. However, for the present, he must concentrate on staying ahead of the likes of  Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth who start the Malcolm Wilson Rally closest to him.

The RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship points tables will feature some different names in 2017 – those occupying the top four places at the conclusion of last year’s series have all moved on, but Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham have signalled their intention of repeating the exercise. Their Escort Mk2 is set to be joined by the similar cars of Rob Dennis/Andrew BoswellMark & Ed Bentley, Jody Bowcott/David Millard, Steve Hopewell/Clive Jones & David Dobson. Add to that the BMW Compact of Colin & Martin Griffiths and Barry Jordan/James Grattan-Smith’s Hillman Avenger BRM and, very shortly, it’ll be ‘game on’!  Richard Sykes is expected to provide some strong front-wheel drive opposition to the fore in his Citroen DS3 R3, as are Dave Bennett/Alistair McNeil who return to the BTRDA Rally Series in a 1600cc Corsa. The speed of the former 1400 Champions caused people to sit up and take notice – can they now take that to the next level and vie for overall 2WD honours?

When it comes to the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship, the Brick family is once again very much in evidence. Dave’s Nova is the highest-seeded in the category, with sons Freddy & Toby sharing a Corsa which leaves the start precisely four minutes later. Another Herefordshire crew, Chris Powell/Jim Lewis, will be hoping against hope that their Talbot Sunbeam gives them less cause for concern than it was doing this time last year when they registered three consecutive retirements. A ‘win’ on the Nicky Grist Stages went part way to redeem itself, but these failings have been noted and could well be held against it at some point in the future!  The 2006 BTRDA 1400 Champion Neil Weaver accompanied by Jessica Hockley brings out a Suzuki Swift and Charlie Barlow/Emma Morrison return in the very quick Micra.

Meanwhile, the ongoing insistence on ‘seeding in order of anticipated performance’ has seen a decline in entries for the smaller capacity classes on events in general, and the BTRDA Rally First Championship in particular. The competition amongst those who do rise to the challenge is no less fiercely fought but, unfortunately, nowhere near as popular as was the case just a few years ago. Notwithstanding, Phil Spilsted/Tony Edwards are back for more in their MG ZR and are pitted against a gaggle of Micras in the hands of Jonathan Pickering/Simon Broom, David Perkins/Chris Spilsted and Bart Lang/Sinclair Young.                                                                                                                                                                                    AH

Photo is Wayne Sission / Neil Shanks, 3rd on last years Malcolm Wilson Rally.  Courtesy of ralliphotoswales