Author Archives: Howard Wilcock

CLASH OF THE TITANS! Preview of Round 6 Nicky Grist Stages

The battle for the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series moves to the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells on 9th July for Round 6, the Nicky Grist Stages. For the first time this year, the event is also a qualifying round of the MSA British Rally Championship but, as the situation at the ‘sharp end’ of the RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star Rally Championship is now particularly intense, no-one must allow themselves to be distracted from the business in hand!
Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson (Ford Fiesta) arrive in Wales as Gold Star Championship leaders – they’ve scored well on all five rounds to date to the point that another solid performance could possibly seal the title for them. However, their fate isn’t just in their hands but is reliant on the fortunes of others. For example, although not in line for Championship honours, Julian Reynolds is back. He’s only contested one other event so far this season but, despite relatively little ‘seat time’ in his ex Charlie Payne Ford Focus WRC, beat all-comers on the Plains Rally in May to take outright victory. With Patrick Walsh ensconced in the co-driver’s seat, history tells us that Julian must rate as one of the favourites this time.
Then there are Luke Francis/John H Roberts – on the one hand, they’ve already won two events outright but, on the other, their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 has recorded two DNFs. As things stand, they’re still in with a chance of succeeding Dave Weston/Kirsty Riddick to the Gold Star Championship but, with three events remaining, cannot afford any mistakes between now and the end of September. Likewise, Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta R5+) returned home pointless from both the Malcolm Wilson & Somerset Stages but, more recently, they’ve come out fighting to record excellent results on the Plains and Carlisle Stages. Provided this momentum can be maintained, their first Gold Star title is also within reach….
With dropped scores yet to come into play (they take effect after the NG Stages), Steve Simpson (Fiesta S2000), Paul Benn/Richard Cooke (Focus WRC), Karl & Guy Simmons (Impreza WRC) and Wayne Sisson/Neil Shanks (Lancer EVOX) are all still in the mix. Nevertheless, some large slices of good fortune would be welcome in their respective camps!

Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) & Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Lancer EVO9) are currently the prime movers in the BTRDA Production Cup with two maximums apiece. They now find themselves starting line astern on the Nicky Grist but, with Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge (Lancer EVOX) taking runners-up spot on each of the last three outings, they’ll need to keep a watchful eye on what’s going on around them!  Then, of course, we have the Group N Fiesta STs. Sam Bilham/Richard Crozier’s consistency sees them leading the Trophy after five events and holding 2nd place, behind Davies/Freeman, in the Production Cup itself. Having missed the first round, Cameron Davies/Lee Taylor have led the Fiesta field home on every event since and, should this run of form continue, the pair will need to make some space available in their trophy cabinets! However, it’s not over yet…..

Now, the RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star Championship was the one that kept us guessing until the last in 2015, and all the signs are that we could well be in for an edge-of-the-seat contest once again this time. Defending champion Boyd Kershaw (Ford Escort Mk2) and co-driver Bryan Hull have made their intentions perfectly clear but, with two absences to date, they’re another crew who find themselves in a situation that allows no margin for error. Having opted to forego the trip to Carlisle, series leaders Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson (Escort MkII) line up in Builth Wells, along with Phill Burton/Mal Capstick who started the year so well, but whose efforts have been hampered by a big off on the Plains and an absence from Carlisle while the car was repaired. Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham (Escort Mk2) need a good run to maintain their push for a respectable season finish but, once again, we can’t ignore those ubiquitous Fiestas – Cameron Davies’ antics have already put him into 2nd place in the table and to be honest, nobody’s safe!….

The situation atop the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship could best be described as ‘fluid’! Carl Davies/Richard Jones’ unscheduled early bath in Carlisle, after their Micra spat its dummy out, allowed Neil Andrew/Dom Adams’ similar car to move ahead of them. Even so, the margin is such that good odds will be available for a correct prediction of the order following the Nicky Grist! 1400 ‘winners’ on the Carlisle Stages, Jordan & Paul Hone (Proton Satria) appear to have put a lean spell behind them but, even with two maximums to their credit, cannot now afford to put a wheel wrong! Having begun the season in fine style, Dave Brick has left it to sons Freddy & Toby to uphold the family honour which they’re doing admirably! Their Nova is just a handful of points behind Richard Garnett/Rob Gilham whose Micra was another to throw in the towel last time out.

However, no such problems for the leaders of the Vital Equipment BTRDA Rally First ChampionshipDominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt avoided all the pitfalls to take another maximum score – their third of the season so far – to maintain a lead, albeit probably too slim for comfort, over the Peugeot 205XS of Emily & Eliot Retallick. Sheldon Furby/Carrie Rogers’ MG ZR has four very respectable results from the events it has done, while David Perkins’ cause will be helped considerably when he finds a co-driver to sit in his Micra for the day!….

The first car leaves the start of the Nicky Grist Stages at 08.30 on 9th July and eight stages, in two loops of four, are on the agenda before the finish, back at the Royal Welsh Showground. Much has been written in recent times concerning the problems facing forest rallying in Wales and the event organisers, Quinton Motor Club, are to be congratulated for their efforts in putting the route together.

Photo is Cameron Davies / Lee Taylor on the Carlisle Stages (courtesy of ralliphotoswales)

‘LOTS’ OF CARS TO SEE!… CARLISLE STAGES PREVIEW

The premises of H&H Auctions play host to the fifth round of the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series, the DMACK Carlisle Stages on 11th June, from where competitors will head off to the western side of the giant Kielder Forest as they bid for top billing on the day. The event has attracted an excellent entry of 115 crews and, as the BTRDA Rally Series moves into the second half of the season, pressure is beginning to build on those with designs on the various different titles.

In terms of the RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star Rally Championship, ‘maximum man’ last time out, Julian Reynolds is absent, but co-driver Patrick Walsh is reunited with Steve Simpson in the former’s Fiesta S2000. Simpson, himself, took his best result in the Series on the recent Plains Rally with a 6th place finish. From the points tables at half-time, Charlie Payne & Carl Williamson (Fiesta) have thus far successfully resisted overtures from their rivals to lead the race to succeed Dave Weston/Kirsty Riddick as Gold Star Champions. They start behind the crew that everyone needs to be keeping a sharp eye out for at the moment, Luke Francis/John H Roberts. Two maximums and a second see the Welshmen’s Lancer EVO9 handily placed to push further in the weeks to come. Don’t forget, everyone’s best six scores from the eight events count and so, provided that they don’t make a habit of it, their one DNF will not necessarily prove to be a handicap!…
Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta R5+) came back from two consecutive retirements to finish 4th overall on the Plains Rally, setting themselves up nicely for the rest of the season – barring any more DNFs, you understand! Rory Young (Fiesta) also opened his account in Welshpool and the Dumfries driver will be hoping that, this time, the minimum distance travelled to the start will translate into maximum points on the day! Having already dropped one event, Wayne Sisson/Neil Shanks (Lancer EVOX) are comfortably placed in the table, while Paul Benn/Richard Cooke (Ford Focus WRC02) had a disappointing day on the Plains but still find themselves in the Championship Top Ten. Thomas Preston/Jack Morton made their Championship debut in Somerset, taking a Top Ten finish, and now they’re back for more in their CA1 Sport-run Skoda Fabia R5. Thomas entered last year’s Carlisle Stages in his Focus WRC but was not to see the finish line – it goes without saying, therefore, that hopes are high for a successful outcome this time!

The top two crews in the BTRDA Production Cup both had shaky starts to their seasons – Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Lancer EVO9) and Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) failed to finish the opening encounter in North Wales but, since then, have collectively got their acts together to monopolise the top step of the podium on the last three rounds. Thompson’s two maximums to Davies’ one sees the Lancer slightly ahead but, as we all know (usually to our cost!) that could all change in the blink of an eye!  Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge (Lancer EVOX) weren’t to be seen until Round 3 but have finished runners-up on the two events they have contested and, should they manage to keep this up for the remainder of the season, will finish considerably higher up the pecking order than they are now!
Interspersed with the FWD machines are the Fiestas chasing glory in the ST Trophy and, with an unblemished finishing record, Sam Bilham/Richard Crozier currently rule the roost. However, ‘johnny-comelatelies’ (they missed the first round!) Cameron Davies/LeeTaylor have monopolised the table ever since and, should this trend continue, they could well return home to South Wales as Trophy leaders.

Boyd Kershaw/Bryan Hull’s preoccupation with a second consecutive RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star Championship title in their Escort Mk2 is there for all to see. Absence from the first event has merely served to focus their attention even more and, now with two firsts and a second already in the bag, they can set about completing the season – hopefully, in their eyes, to the detriment of everyone else’s! Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson lead the table and Kershaw/Hull are second but of course, having registered a DNS on the Cambrian, they have a score in hand – always supposing they can capitalise on it! Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham (Escort) won their class on the Plains, moving them up to 3rd place, but Phill Burton/Mal Capstick’s retirement has put their campaign on the back foot, for the moment at least.

The Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship continues to produce different winners – it’s four from four events so far, with the latest ‘top men’ being James Williams/Paul Wakely (Ford Ka). They start the Carlisle Stages just behind the Talbot Sunbeam of Chris Powell/Jim Lewis who, having suffered three consecutive DNFs to start the season, will have breathed a huge sigh of relief at the sight of the Plains finish line! Jordan & Paul Hone (Proton Satria), 1400cc winners on the Malcolm Wilson, are next away, ahead of Keith & Mairi Riddick (MG ZR). So, will the Carlisle Stages produce a fifth different winner or are we about to see someone take a maximum for the second time this year?…..

The Vital Equipment BTRDA Rally First Championship is showing a slightly different success ratio to the 1400s – three drivers and two co-drivers have so far put themselves into that exalted position! Dominic Hodge & Stefan Arndt began as they meant (hoped?…) to continue in their Micra. Maximums on the first two rounds put them into a lead which, despite not finishing the Somerset Stages and having someone with the gall to beat them on the Plains, they have managed to hold on to – just! They start the Carlisle Stages right behind Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth (VW Polo) and another good run would help to re-establish their supremacy. But wait!… Emily & Eliot Retallick are not far behind them – a hot topic of conversation in their Peugeot 205 will centre around the fact that while she has one maximum score, he’s got two!…. Sheldon Furby (MG ZR), currently 3rd, will also be there but, with only 18 points separating 1st to 4th and with 30 points on offer for a win each time, it wouldn’t take much to significantly alter the look of the leaderboard. So, nobody is safe!….

Having been lying down in darkened rooms since the middle of April, contenders for the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship meet again in Cumbria. Winning their respective classes on each of the two rounds so far means that James Hutchings (Vauxhall Nova) and Cameron Davies (Ford Fiesta ST) are inseparable at the top, while Escorteers Boyd Kershaw and Gavin Edwards are similarly placed in 3rd. George Lepley (Fiesta ST) is 5th, but a mere five more points would see him leapfrog all those ahead. Not only is it tough at the top, it’s also very tight!….
The mixed-surface BTRDA Rally Challenge takes to the stages once again in Kielder – it’s already been to the Somerset Stages (gravel) and the Manx National Rally (asphalt) and, with a couple of second-place scores, George Morrison leads the hunt in his MG ZR. He is followed by Thomas Preston (Fabia) who beat him in Somerset and Julian Barnett (Impreza) who did likewise on the Isle of Man. All three are back for more, but they must be on the lookout for the likes of Steve Simpson (Fiesta) who has yet to score…..
The first car leaves the start of the DMACK Carlisle Stages at 8.00am on Saturday 11th June and are due to begin arriving back at the finish at H&H Auctions from 3.00pm.
Further details from:-   http://racrally.org/dmack-tyres-carlisle-stages/index

Photo is Charlie Payne & Carl Williamson on the the Malcolm Wilson Rally, the previous event in Cumbria. (courtesy of ralliphotoswales)