Author Archives: Howard Wilcock

A Busy Weekend in Builth Wells !

Over the weekend of 8th/9th July the mid-Wales town of Builth Wells will play host to a feast of motorsport action as contenders for both the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series and the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship make the most of the latest opportunity to further their 2017 campaigns. On Saturday both series will be contesting the all-forestry Nicky Grist Stages and then, the following day, those with an eye on English Championship glory complete a unique ‘double-header’ with a run out over the asphalt roads of the Epynt Military Ranges on the Spencer Sport Acropolis Rally.

So, first things first and Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson will lead the RAVENOL BTRDA Series & MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship contenders away from the town centre start in their Ford Fiesta WRC. Right behind them, in their similar R5+, will be BTRDA Gold Star® Championship leaders Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson – for the past three events these two crews have been virtually inseparable, arriving at the various finish lines just a handful of seconds apart. On the one hand, Petch has come out on top on each occasion – including two outright victories – but, on the other, Black’s 100% finishing record gives him the upper hand in the BTRDA points table. However, once dropped scores come into play later in the season, that situation may change!….    Hugh Hunter/Rob Fagg (Fiesta)  are  another crew to have seen the finish line on all four occasions so far but, even so, they could do with a good haul of points to counter a disappointing run last time out.

2016 Nicky Grist Stages winners Luke Francis/John H Roberts are not having the season they would have wished for. A 3rd place finish on the Plains Rally in April is their best result this year as their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 had retired from the previous round and would do so again on the next one. Nevertheless, given a clean run – not to mention a slice of luck! – they are proven winners at this level and cannot  be  discounted. The Carlisle Stages winners Peter Taylor/Andrew Roughead bring their recently acquired Fiesta WRC to the Nicky Grist and if their performance from Carlisle can be replicated then we are in for a treat.  Conversely, Connor McCloskey also in a Fiesta WRC, will be hoping that his quick exit from the Carlisle Stages can be quickly forgotten and they can return to their normal performance.

Occasional BTRDA Series visitors Martyn & Dawn England (Fiesta R5+), who were 6th overall on the Nicky Grist Stages last year in what was then a virtually new car to them, return and, whilst obviously not in line for any Championship honours, are still perfectly capable of mixing it with those who are. Then we have two crews approaching the event from different perspectives – Dylan Davies/Llion Williams (Impreza) will be looking for their first finish of the season while Peter Stephenson (Focus WRC) arrives in Builth fresh from his best BTRDA Series result to date on the Carlisle Stages.

The Impreza of Andy Davies/Max Freeman leads the BTRDA Production Cup runners away from the start, pursued by the Lancer EVOs of Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence, series leaders Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy, Richard Hill/Steffan Evans and  Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge.  Having already registered a couple of DNFs, the pressure is now on Daniel Moss/Sam Allen to bring their own EVO9 to the finish in one piece.

Then, of course, there are the Fiesta STs and, once again, we ask the question ‘is this the event that’ll bring an end to Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair’s monopoly of the series?’ Four starts and four maximum scores leave them in the ‘nearly, but not quite’ situation in Championship terms. However, should their dominance continue in mid Wales, it’ll put the matter beyond doubt and leave the others to squabble over the remaining podium places.

Ashley Davies (Escort Mk2) and Richard Sykes (Citroen DS3 R3) finished the recent Carlisle Stages Rally on identical penalties, with the tie-break going in Davies’ favour. Points in the RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship were awarded in a similar fashion and now, a month later, the two drivers start the latest encounter together. Silver Star leaders after the  first  round of the season, Jody Bowcott/David Millard (Escort Mk2), rejoin the fray but a couple of retirements in the intervening period have not helped their cause!  Also on the list of rapid two wheel drive competitors is Rob Dennis, the current leader of the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship, in his historic spec Escort Mk2.

Twelve months ago Chris Powell/Jim Lewis were tasting champagne (well, whatever it was ,it was fizzy!) in the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship as, in spite of a failing clutch, their Talbot Sunbeam took them to victory on the Nicky Grist Stages. Having risen to similar heights on the Plains Rally a couple of months ago, it then let them down on the Carlisle Stages. Even so, with renewed hope, they start behind the Nova of Dave & Toby Brick which has also experienced mixed fortunes in the Championship so far. They are joined by Ed Fossey/Chris Sharpe-Simkiss (Toyota Yaris) who, in spite of their absence from Carlisle, still maintain their series lead and Tommi Meadows/Ian Oakey whose hastily-repaired Ford Ka, following its topsy-turvy moment on the Plains Rally, succumbed to an electrical fault in Carlisle.

With two 1st and one 2nd places to their credit already, Bart Lang/Sinclair Young (Micra) have carved out a significant advantage in the BTRDA Rally First Championship. But – and it’s a big ‘but’! – with three rounds still to go, nobody can yet describe themselves as safe. Whatever happens in Builth Wells, Lang/Young will maintain their lead but, as the season winds towards its finale, things could still change significantly. Ask Chris Hickman/Alex Stanbury – their MG ZR has only done two events so far, but a 1st and a 2nd have set them up nicely for the remaining rounds.

And so to Sunday morning and the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship contenders who have survived the rigours of the previous day (no doubt some service crews will be in for a long night as they refettle their charges!) reconvene to do it all again on Epynt. The Fiestas of Petch/Wilkinson and Black/Edmondson will be leading the charge  but,  bearing  in mind that it’s a class-based Championship, the likes of Ed Fossey (Toyota Yaris) and Bart Lang (Nissan Micra) stand just as much chance of coming away with maximum points!

The first car leaves the start of the Nicky Grist Stages in Builth Wells town centre at 08.31 on Saturday morning for 45 miles of special stages in some of the classic mid-Wales forests. Then contenders for the Spencer Sport Acropolis Rally will get an extra 10 minutes in bed on Sunday prior to 75 miles of flat-out motoring on Epynt!….

For further information on the Nicky Grist Stages, visit: www.nickygriststages.co.uk

Photo is Peter Taylor / Andrew Roughead; winners of the recent Carlisle Stages   (courtesy of ralliphotowales)

CAN PETCH’S PACE PREVAIL?… Carlisle Stages Preview

Photo is Pat Naylor / Ian Lawrence (Mitsubishi Evo 9), also going for a hat-trick in the BTRDA Production Cup.  (Courtesy of ralliphotoswales)

The second half of the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series season kicks off with the DMACK Carlisle Stages (10th June) and, twelve months ago, the eventual Gold Star® Champions Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson narrowly edged out Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson to take maximum points on the day, their Fiestas finishing the event line astern after 44 stage miles in the western side of Kielder Forest. This time, Petch arrives in the Border city brimming with confidence on the back of outright victories on the last two rounds of the series and it goes without saying that the Bishop Auckland driver will be keen to keep the momentum going.  For his part, Payne’s intention was not to defend his title but, with the readjustment of the scoring following the loss of the Cambrian Rally at the start of the season and his appearance on the Plains Rally, there are still enough events left for him to make a significant impact on this year’s Gold Star battle, should he choose to do so.

For the past couple of RAVENOL BTRDA Series rounds, Petch/Wilkinson & Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson have been inseparable, their respective Fiestas being just 11s apart by the finish of both. Unlike the former who retired, though, Black/Edmondson also came home from the Malcolm Wilson with a respectable score such that they arrive in Carlisle as Gold Star leaders. Similarly, with three good results in the bank already, Ulstermen Connor McCloskey/John Rowan undertake one of their shortest journeys of the season to a rally start to consolidate, or even improve on, their current second place spot in the points.

Continuing the Fiesta monopoly, Hugh Hunter/Rob Fagg are only four points behind the overall leaders but, as none of the aforementioned will need reminding, with up to 30 points available on each occasion, the look of the leader board can significantly alter virtually in the blink of an eye!  Luke Francis/John H Roberts will be hoping that their ‘lean’ spell is at an end. Their Lancer EVO 9 finished a highly creditable 5th on the recent Plains Rally and they now find themselves in a similar situation to Charlie Payne – good results and no mistakes on the remaining four events could see them challenging for the title by the end of September.

Andrew Roughead has worked his way up to 4th in the Co-drivers’ table with Tom Preston but will be sitting in Carlisle-based Peter Taylor’s Fiesta on this occasion. Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000) could do with a good run to move their campaign forward while, having only contested two events so far (and finished both of them!), more of the same on the Carlisle Stages would set Wayne Sisson (Lancer EVOX) & Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth) up nicely for the remainder of the season.

Consistency sees Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Lancer EVO9) currently holding sway in the BTRDA Production Cup by a narrow margin from Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge (EVO X) and the Impreza of Andy Davies/Max Freeman. However, notwithstanding a twelve-month sabbatical from the sport, Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence have returned this year and planted their EVO 9 at the top of the timesheets on each of the two events they’ve contested so far. Then there’s Richard Hill who, despite retiring from the Plains Rally, is still in the Top Six and is comfortably placed to improve on that – provided of course, that Kielder doesn’t conspire to upset his plans!

The Carlisle Stages presents A N Other with the latest opportunity to bring to a close Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair’s monopoly of the top step of the Fiesta ST Trophy podium. Jon Ambler is Sam’s closest challenger while Alasdair Currie, who retired last time out, followed the leader home on the first two events. New to the series on the Plains, Martin Laverty/Phil Kenny finished an impressive 3rd, while Tony Simpson/Ian Bevan endured one of those days that, should they ever be moved to write them, would be omitted from their memoirs!….

This year’s RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship is a very open affair – different ‘winners’ on each round to date, with Rob Dennis/Andy Boswell (Escort) putting in three workmanlike performances to head the tables but they know they’ve got a job on if they’re going to stay there! Dave Bennett/Alistair McNeil lost top spot after their Corsa retired from the Plains and would, obviously, like to be back there ASAP while Ashley Davies/Lee Taylor, who were absent from Welshpool, could bring their Escort back into contention once again.

Barry Jordan/James Gratton-Smith are having an excellent season in their Hillman Avenger BRM – another crew to have finished every round so far with the corresponding benefits in the points table there for all to see!  Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor return in their Citroen DS3 R3 and they will certainly prove to be a threat and could put the cat amongst the pigeons on the day!

Ed Fossey/Chris Sharpe-Simkiss (Toyota Yaris) maintain their lead in the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship, in spite of being upstaged by the Talbot Sunbeam of Chris Powell/Jim Lewis and Dave Brick’s Nova on the Plains. All three will be present in Carlisle, as will Carl Davies/Rich Jones (Micra) who, although sitting in 4th place, are still less than a maximum score behind the leaders….  Re-joining the fray are Tommi Meadows/Ian Oakey whose Ka will have been the subject of a considerable amount of TLC since its much-publicised roll last time out. Such commitment will doubtless pay dividends at some point in the future – it’s just a case of ‘when?’….

Bart Lang (Micra) starts the Carlisle Stages as joint BTRDA Rally First Championship leader with Andrew Wheatley. However, the absence of the latter from the starting line-up gives Lang and Sinclair Young the opportunity to claim top spot for themselves. Well, that’s the theory but Jonathan Pickering/Simon Broom and David Perkins/Jordan Joines will have other ideas on the subject. Their own Micras are only a handful of points adrift while Sam Johnson’s Seat Arosa, which was 4th on its maiden outing on the Plains, is also back for more. Hence, everyone needs to be on their mettle on the day!

After setting out on the Somerset Stages Rally in mid-April, contenders for the revamped MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship reconvene in Carlisle for the second event in the eight-round calendar and it’s from here that the ties in the points table, always experienced after the first round of a class-based series, will begin to disappear.

Following the opening encounter Ed Fossey (Yaris), David Bennett (Corsa), Pat Naylor (Lancer EVO 9), Stephen Petch (Fiesta WRC), Rob Dennis (Escort Mk2) and Toni Carannante (Subaru Impreza) have been dining out on the strength of their joint leadership of the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship. Now, as Round 2 is upon them, they’ve got to do it all again to stand any chance of maintaining their positions at the top.  Behind them, those sharing 7th place are only two points behind, 12th three, 16th four and so on. Hence, either a calculator or considerable aptitude for mental arithmetic will be a prerequisite on the day!

The first car leaves the start of the Carlisle Stages at 8.00am on Saturday 10th June and cars are due to begin arriving back at the finish at H & H Auctions on the outskirts of the city from 3.00pm.   Further details from: http://racrally.org/dmack-carlisle-stages/index

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)