Author Archives: Howard Wilcock

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)

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