Author Archives: Howard Wilcock

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

BEST FIVE SCORES TO COUNT….!

Following the unfortunate but necessary curtailment of the Cambrian Rally for safety reasons, the BTRDA Rally Series Committee would again like to confirm that they fully support that difficult decision. It was a huge disappointment for everyone, but especially for the Cambrian Rally organisers who had been working on the event for many months and who had already overcome several significant pre-event issues.

As a result of the Cambrian Rally cancellation, we can confirm that the 2017 RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series will now consist of SEVEN rounds with the best FIVE scores to count.

The Malcolm Wilson Rally on 11th March will therefore be the first points scoring round of the 2017 RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series. The event is based at the M-Sport HQ near Cockermouth and finishes just off Jct 40 of the M6 at Penrith and includes iconic forest stages such as Grizedale North and South and Greystoke. The event has a very attractive entry fee and has already received over 100 entries. On line entries are available via the event website at www.malcolmwilson.co.uk so don’t miss out on what is now the first opportunity to score points in 2017.

It was great to see so many championship registrations at the Cambrian Rally. The 2017 season looks like being very competitive and we look forward to seeing you in Cumbria in March for some Serious Fun.

RAVENOL DRIVER INCENTIVE: Part of the continuing RAVENOL support includes a £60 voucher for Ravenol Motorsport engine and transmission oils and racing brake fluids for every driver that registers for the 2017 RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series, up to and including the Somerset Stages. With annual BTRDA membership and registration for the 2017 RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series and the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship costing just £75 for a driver, this means the price of the package has effectively been reduced to £15. That is except for drivers under 25 who are joining BTRDA for the first time. For them the cost of membership and registration is already FREE so the RAVENOL £60 voucher is a bonus. The £60 RAVENOL e-voucher will be sent to drivers separately after they have registered for the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series, and can be redeemed via the RAVENOL on-line shop at www.ravenol-direct.uk

Somerset Stages – 8th April
The second points scoring event of the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series will now be the Somerset Stages. This will also be the first round of the relaunched MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship which is now open to all cars but retains its class based structure.  More details can be found  HERE   The event returns to its Minehead base with over 42 stage miles within a compact overall route, incorporating the stunning Exmoor forestry stages and the Porlock toll road. Regulations and entries are now available via their website: www.somersetstagesrally.com   Also, look out for news about the event on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

ON EVENT FUEL: Vital Equipment will be at all the BTRDA Rally Series events to provide a consistent quality MSA compliant Super Unleaded fuel and an FIA spec Carless turbo fuel. They ensure fuel is dispensed to competitors under strictly controlled and safe conditions. We strongly emphasise the convenience, safety and organisational benefits that using the Vital Equipment fuel facility brings to competitors. To order your fuel please use the on-line order facility which can be found in the Competitors section of this website.   NB: The deadline for orders is 7 days before the event.

Photo is of David Wright / Steve Pugh ‘in a spin’ on the 2016 Malcolm Wilson Rally.

Let the 2017 Battle Commence !….

Having moved to its February date in 2016, the Cambrian Rally retains its position as the opening round of this year’s RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series. Between now and the end of the season, which reaches its climax in the North Yorkshire forests on 30th September, onlookers can expect a roller-coaster ride as each of the constituent parts of the Series is fought for over some of the most famous forest special stages in the land!

To begin with, we know that the 2016 BTRDA Gold Star® Rally Champions, Charlie Payne & Carl Williamson, will not be defending their title – the all-conquering Fiesta has been sold and its replacement is not due to break cover until mid-season. Now, twelve months ago, Luke Francis & John Roberts (Mitsubishi Lancer E9) came out on top of a hard-fought battle with the eventual champions to claim their second victory in four years on the Cambrian Rally. However, a glance at the entry list tells us that whoever returns to Llandudno as winners this time will have had their work cut out in order to attain that hallowed position!

2016 Cambrian Rally winners Francis / Roberts lead the field away from the start with the next Gold Star contenders, 2008 Cambrian winner Hugh Hunter and Manxman Rob Fagg, reverting to the former’s Focus WRC for the start of their campaign. 2016 Gold Star runners-up, Stephen Petch & Michael Wilkinson, are back with the express intention of going one better this time. Their pace increased noticeably towards the end of last year and now with a new Fiesta WRC the pair begin the new season full of confidence. Other drivers also pinning their hopes on Fiestas include 2013 Gold Star Championship runner-up (on a tie-break!) Connor McCloskey, former MSA English Rally Champion Rhys Yates, Callum Black & Elliott Edmondson and Steve Simpson & Patrick Walsh. Staying with the Blue Oval, David Wright/Steve Pugh also opt for a Focus WRC, while Ian Joel/Graeme Wood return in their recently completely-rebuilt Escort Cosworth. Adding to the variety, Karl & Guy Simmons have forsaken their Impreza for a Citroen DS3 R5, Tom Preston/Andrew Roughead return in their Skoda Fabia R5 and both Wayne Sisson & Fred Milne will be hoping to emulate Luke Francis’ success in Lancer EVO9s….

Amongst those who will be defending their crowns this year are BTRDA Production Cup winners Russ Thompson & Andy Murphy, but it’s already quite clear that their Lancer EVO9 will have a fight on its hands if it is to take them to back-to-back titles. Richard Hill, who was top dog on the last couple of events in 2016, and Steffan Evans, former champions Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence, Aaron McClure/Michael Gilbey, Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge and Dan Moss/Sam Allen are all in Lancer EVOs while, in the blue corner, Andy Davies/Max Freeman and Nev Jones/Chris Davies keep faith with their Subaru Impreza’s.

In 2016 the Group N ranks were swelled considerably with the addition of those contesting the Fiesta ST Trophy and, although only powered via their front wheels, the cars’ reliability had them punching above their weight in the overall Production Cup table for much of the season. Inaugural ST champion Cameron Davies and MSA English Rally Championship victor Sam Bilham have moved on, but the entry list is littered with potential successors, the highest seeded of whom on this occasion are Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth.

The RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship caters purely for those using two-wheel drive cars and, as is the case with the Gold Star Championship, there will be a new name on the trophy this time. In 2016 it was John Rowlands in his Escort Mk2 who emerged from the forests of North Wales to claim maximum Silver Star points. Both he and his brother Ieuan, also Escort-mounted, have entered once again and it goes without saying that, given a clear run, they must feature amongst the favourites for category success. Those with other ideas, however, include Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham and Rob Dennis/Andy Boswell who are also campaigning Escorts of varying engine capacities. Former BTRDA Historic Cup Champion Paul Street returns in his Mk2, hoping for better things after what can only be described as a ‘character-building’ season in 2016 and, fresh from their victory in the front-wheel drive category of last year’s MSA Asphalt Rally Championship, William Hill/Richard Crozier are taking their Fiesta R2 into the woods this season – it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against their colleagues in the Group N STs.

The Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship is always a hot-bed of competition – in 2016 the eight-round series featured five different winners, two of whom are back for more. Ludlow father-and-son Dave (Vauxhall Nova) & Freddy Brick (Vauxhall Corsa) both occupied the top step of the podium at some point but, unfortunately, circumstances on other events conspired to ruin any chance of overall honours. Dave & Phil Clarke and Freddy, co-driven by his brother Toby, both feature in the Cambrian entry list, separated by the Nissan Micra of Charlie Barlow/Dale Furniss. Carl Davies/Richard Jones, in another Micra, will also be hoping to be in the mix by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, the BTRDA Rally First Championship, for cars up to 1600cc with limited modifications, saw Emily Retallick topping the points tables for a time last year in her Peugeot 205XS. A late charge by others, coupled with a retirement on the last round of the Championship, saw her drop to an eventual third. Undaunted, she returns for another crack at the title and starts ahead of Bart Lang/Sinclair Young (Nissan Micra) and Phil Spilsted/ Antony Edwards (MG ZR).

So, 11th February sees Llandudno playing host to the start of what are the 64th BTRDA Gold & Silver Star Championships – a glance at the list of Past Champions (see Competitor Section) reads like a ‘who’s who’ of UK National Rallying over the years and, even at this early stage, it’s already obvious that 2017 is set to produce another bumper crop of contenders for the respective crowns. However, it’ll be a while yet until the precise destination of the various trophies becomes clear – watch this space!….

Live results for the event can be found on the  Live Results section of this website

Photo is Luke Francis / John Roberts on the 2016 Cambrian Rally courtesy of ralliphotoswales. Continue reading