Author Archives: Howard Wilcock

Plains Peaking at 150!….. The 50th Plains Rally

The 2016 RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series® moves on to the Plains Rally which takes place on Saturday 14th May. The organisers, Knutsford & District Motor Club Ltd, are rightly celebrating the 50th running of the event and, from this year’s entry of more than 150 cars, the only previous winner to appear in the list is Brian Bell who was victorious back in 1993 with future World Rally Champion Co-driver Phil Mills accompanying him!Brian Bell

So, with all due deference to Brian’s illustrious career, it’s likely that there could be a ‘new’ name on the trophy this time. And the nominations are!…..
Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson (Fiesta) arrive at the rally’s base in Welshpool as leaders of the RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star Championship, from Peter Stephenson (Focus WRC) and Karl & Guy Simmons (Impreza S11). All three have maintained unblemished finishing records to date and are reaping the rewards of their consistency. Then, of course, there’s Luke Francis/John H Roberts – although their Lancer EVO9 let them down on the Malcolm Wilson, they’ve won the two events they’ve finished outright. So, they’ll start the Plains on a high – will they finish it in the same manner?
David Wright/Steve Pugh (Focus WRC) are contesting only their second event of the season but, having finished the first in runners-up spot, still have time to catch up, albeit with no margin for error. Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson must be wondering who they’ve upset – their Fiesta R5+ hasn’t reached the finish of a BTRDA Series event since the middle of February but, provided a result is forthcoming on the Plains, all is not lost! Wayne Sisson (Lancer EVOX) opted to forego the long journey down to Somerset, but 9th on the Cambrian and 3rd on the Malcolm Wilson keeps him in the hunt, while Paul Benn/Richard Cooke (Focus WRC) did make a 750-mile round trip to Minehead and were rewarded with 6th overall.

It’s been something of a topsy-turvy start for several of the ‘usual suspects’ contesting the BTRDA Production Cup. After a retirement on the opening round of the season, Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy have picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and taken their Lancer EVO9 to maximums on Rounds 2 & 3 to restore some normality to their title chase. Both Roland Llewellin and Aaron McClure rolled their own Lancers in Somerset and, while Llewellin is back for the Plains, McClure’s second such excursion in three events rules him out of this one. Meanwhile, in spite of a DNF on the Cambrian, Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) are quietly getting on with it and Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge (Evo X) are fresh from a strong second place in Somerset.  Contenders for the popular Fiesta ST Trophy are still led by Sam Bilham/Richard Crozier who have finished all three events to date but they are now being hunted down by Cameron Davies/Lee Taylor who have ‘won’ the two they have done. George Lepley/Arwel Jenkins aren’t far behind either and we are expecting another new Fiesta ST crew, Martin Austerkin / Jon Ross, to begin on the Plains.
The RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship has seen different crews with maximums on each event so far – and they’re all out on the Plains in their respective Escorts! John Rowlands/Glenn Latham took first blood, Boyd Kershaw/Bryan Hull were next and then series leaders Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson came up trumps in Somerset. Phil Burton/Mal Capstick and Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham will also be looking to further their respective causes on the day.

Ulstermen Jordan & Richard Hone’s absence from the Somerset Stages has allowed the Micras of Carl Davies/Richard Jones and Richard Garnett/Rob Gilham to nip in front of their MG ZR in the race for the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship. However, some form of equilibrium will be restored as they’re all taking the start of the Plains. On this occasion, it’s the two generations of the Brick family who have tendered their apologies – probably work on the farm taking precedence to rallying at this time of year, but the rapid Novas of dad Dave and sons Freddy & Toby will be absent from the line-up this time. Conversely, having missed Somerset, Mat Jackson/Claire Williams (Micra) return with the express intention of improving on their current 5th place in the Championship standings.

Maximums on the first two rounds of the Vital Equipment BTRDA Rally First Championship had put Dominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt in a dominant position at the one-quarter distance. However, their Micra threw a wobbly in Somerset, giving Phil & Chris Spilsted (Micra), Emily & Eliot Retallick (Peugeot 205XS) and Sheldon Furby/Carrie Rogers (MG ZR) the opportunity to narrow the gap – needless to say, they all grasped it with both hands! Of those mentioned, only the Spilsteds have declined the invitation to meet in Welshpool, but the
others will be jockeying for position and, with only five points between 1st & 4th, who knows what the table will look like at the end of the day!
The first car sets off from Welshpool at 8.00am on 14th May and then, seven stages (including the likes of Dyfi, Gartheiniog & Pantperthog) later, they will return to Welshpool for the finish at around 4.00pm. For further details of the Plains Rally, visit the event website: Plains Rally 2016

Next up on the BTRDA menu will be the Carlisle Stages on 11th June, which is fortunately not affected by the current NRW issue, and promises to be a cracking event with two stages of more than 13 miles in length and minimal double usage. The event is based at the premises of H&H Auctions in Carlisle, very close to junction 43 of the M6, with scrutineering documentation, start, service and finish at the same location.  More details and the on-line entry can be found at Carlisle Stages 2016

Photo is Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson who were the Silver Star winners in Somerset (courtesy of ralliphotoswales)

The Best in the South West!….Somerset Stages Preview

Having already visited North Wales and the Lake District, the RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series® now takes contenders on their annual trip to south-west England for the Somerset Stages Rally (16th April). The event once again takes Minehead as its base, with the meat of the rally in the Exmoor National Park plus the benefit of two runs up Porlock Toll Road.

Current RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star® Championship leaders Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson were lying in 2nd place after the first four stages of last year’s rally before their Fiesta was sidelined. So, putting that behind them and looking to continue their recent run of good form (2nd on the Cambrian Rally and victory on the Malcolm Wilson), they have a golden opportunity to capitalise on their advantage. Cambrian winners Luke Francis/John Roberts retired from the Malcolm Wilson Rally when their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 developed engine trouble. The unit has since undergone a rebuild and a win on the recent Rally North Wales would indicate that both car and crew are back on the case! After two rounds, Peter Stephenson (Ford Focus WRC) is occupying 3rd place in the Gold Star table, marginally ahead of Steve Simpson (Fiesta S2000) with Karl Simmons (Impreza) also in the Top Six and handily placed to improve on that.
Those in the same boat as Francis/Roberts, i.e. having only finished one event so far, include Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta R5+), while Paul Benn/Richard Cooke (Focus WRC) hope to continue where they left off in Cumbria when they were 4th overall. Setting out on their BTRDA Series campaign in the south-west are Tom Preston/Jack Morton (Skoda Fabia R5), while veteran former Gold Star Champion Brian Bell and co-driver Jamie Edwards (Focus WRC) will also be looking to open their account. Martyn & Dawn England from Taunton have recently replaced their Lancer EVO with a Fiesta R5+ and the husband-and-wife will be making their Rally Series debut in it on their ‘home’ event.

The BTRDA Production Cup is open to all Group N cars and for the first time this year that includes contenders for the Fiesta ST Trophy. Indeed, it is from this group that Sam Bilham/Richard Crozier head down the M5 as category leaders at the one-quarter distance. Their consistency is something that has deserted their colleagues in the more powerful NR4 cars who, with all due respect to the Fiesta crew, might be expected to hold the upper hand. The Lancer EVOs of Russ Thompson/ Andy Murphy, Aaron McClure/Alex Kihurani and Roland Llewellin, plus the Impreza of Andy Davies/Max Freeman have, for one reason or another, only one score on the board so far. Although still in its infancy, the Fiesta Trophy is proving very popular – seven of the 2-litre cars will take the start in Minehead including Cameron Davies/Lee Taylor who came up trumps in Cumbria.

The current top seven drivers in the RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship all have a 100% finishing record to date. Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson & Phill Burton/Mal Capstick lead the charge in their Escorts, while defending champions Boyd Kershaw/Bryan Hull were forced to delay opening the defence of their title until the second round. Notwithstanding, a narrow victory set them on their way with a maximum and they are now in prime position to pounce – provided that a suitable result is forthcoming in Somerset.
Still on the subject of Escorts, Paul Street’s desire to take back-to-back BTRDA Historic Cup wins in his has not begun in the manner befitting a champion! Retirement from the Cambrian was followed by ‘one of those days’ on the Malcolm Wilson and so the Somerset Stages Rally affords him another chance to really set the ball rolling…..

In the Thomas Panels 1400 Championship Dave Brick’s Nova led the category after a ‘win’ on the Cambrian but a broken gearbox in Cumbria denied the Ludlow farmer the opportunity to double his points tally. However, restored to full health once more, he will be on Exmoor in an attempt to make up the lost ground, as will Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (Sunbeam Talbot) who have not had the best start to the season. It’s a long way from Castle Douglas to Minehead but nevertheless, having missed the opening round of the season, Keith & Mairi Riddick will be taking their MG ZR on what will be the best part of a 1000-mile round trip in the hope of emulating the form they showed on the Malcolm Wilson.
Dominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt are the class of the Vital Equipment BTRDA Rally First Championship field in their Nissan Micra and Round 3 could present an opportunity to press home their advantage still further. However, as is the case in all the foregoing points battles, the ‘six out of eight’ scoring system still allows everyone who has had ‘issues’ plenty of time to put things right before Judgement Day which, in this instance, isn’t until the 1st October!

Having broken cover on the Malcolm Wilson Rally, competition within the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship also resumes on the Somerset Stages as the joint leaders – one from each class after the first round – seek to establish supremacy on their own! The MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship caters for two-wheel drive cars with engines up to 2 litres and, being class-based, the eventual winner can come from any one of them. So, prior to the start of the Somerset Stages, in no particular order, those sharing top billing are Boyd Kershaw (Ford Escort MkII), Cameron Davies (Ford Fiesta ST), James Hutchings (Vauxhall Nova) and Jordan Hone (Nissan Micra) whilst the next four drivers are only two points adrift, and so on. You can see, therefore, that there is plenty of scope for change – not to mention tears before bedtime! – as the season unfolds….

In 2015 the BTRDA took the bold step of introducing its inaugural ‘mixed surface’ Rally Challenge featuring a calendar of events taken from the two Championships for which it holds the MSA permits, i.e. the BTRDA Rally Series and the MSA Asphalt Rally Championship. Its aim was to find the driver most at home on both surfaces and such was the interest shown in the concept that the decision has been taken to repeat the exercise this year. Once again, in advance of a trip to the Manx National Rally in May for some experience of the closed public roads on the island, the Somerset Stages Rally opens the proceedings. Interest in the Challenge is spread throughout the entry, with any number of crews adding this extra ‘dimension’ into their season.
The first car leaves the start of the Somerset Stages Rally in Minehead at 8.00am on Saturday 16th April and, having returned twice to the official service area in the town, arrives back there for the finish at approximately 3.30pm that afternoon. AH

Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy in action on the Malcolm Wilson Rally (Image courtesy: ralliphotoswales)

COME HELL OR HIGH WATER!……Malcolm Wilson Rally Preview

Fresh from their recent win on the non-Championship Riponian Rally, not to mention 2nd place on the BTRDA Series-opening Cambrian Rally, Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson (Ford Fiesta) will lead the field away from the start at 7.00am, closely followed by the Fiesta R5+ of Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson. Ulstermen Connor McCloskey/Damien Duffin (MINI Cooper WRC) will be aiming to consolidate the 3rd place they earned on last month’s Cambrian Rally, while right behind them on this occasion will be the leaders of the 2016 RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star Rally Championship following the first round, Luke Francis/John Roberts (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9).  Meanwhile, setting out on their respective campaigns in the Lake District are David Wright/Steve Pugh (Ford Focus WRC) and Mark Donnelly/Barry McNulty (Subaru Impreza S10). Wayne Sisson (Mitsubishi Lancer EVOX), with Neil Shanks in the co-driver’s seat for the Malcolm Wilson Rally, finished 9th in North Wales to open his Gold Star account, while Karl Simmons/Mark Glennerster (Impreza WRC) were less than a minute behind him. For their part, Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000) both claimed top 10 results even though they were in different cars!

Leading the BTRDA Production Cup runners in the Lake District are Aaron McClure/Alex Kihurani in their Lancer EVO9 and you’ll have to excuse the aroma of burnt midnight oil pervading the team following their indiscretion on the Cambrian Rally. The team may take some crumbs of comfort from the fact that both Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Lancer EVO9) and Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) also failed to bank any points in Wales and, consequently, all three crews are starting again from scratch!  The DMACK Fiesta ST Trophy is already attracting healthy interest and the Malcolm Wilson Rally will give Owain Rowlands/Emyr Hall the opportunity to capitalise on the lead they earned on the Cambrian. As with any ‘One-Make Series’, the level of competition will increase in line with crews’ familiarity with their steeds but, with some interesting names in the line-up, it’s definitely a case of ‘watch this space!’…

Boyd Kershaw’s defence of his RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star Championship title was put on hold after his Escort developed gearbox problems in the days leading up to the Cambrian. Now, though, another month down the line and the ‘Flying Kiwi’ and co-driver Bryan Hull are back. Cambrian leaders John Rowlands/Glenn Latham are absent this time, but 2nd & 3rd-placed Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson and Phil Burton/Mal Capstick (both Escorts) will be in Cockermouth, as will former Silver Star Champions Allan McDowall/Gavin Heseltine in their RS1800. 2015 BTRDA Historic Cup winner Paul Street is another one looking to put his name on the trophy in consecutive seasons, but his Escort disgraced itself in North Wales, leaving him with a ‘zero’ balance in his points account!

Dave Brick (Nova) leads the Thomas Panels 1400 Championship as he heads up the M6 from his farm near Ludlow. Keaton Williams takes the place of Phil Clarke in the co-driver’s seat this time as the pair set about keeping the likes of Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (Sunbeam), Jordan & Paul Hone (Satria) and Mat Jackson/Claire Williams (Micra) at bay. Having missed the Cambrian, 2015 multi-award winning brother-and-sister Keith & Mairi Riddick (MG ZR) begin their season in the Lake District and, although down on overall numbers this year, the 1400 Championship is already shaping up to be as hard-fought as ever!

There is a three-way tie for the lead of the Vital Equipment BTRDA Rally First Championship after Round 1 but, with just Dominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt (Micra) taking the start of the second event in the calendar, that situation may just have changed by the end of the day. David Perkins/Heather Merrison, in another Micra, will be carrying on where they left off, but both Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth (Polo GTI) and Emily & Eliot Retalick (Peugeot 205) will be hoping for sight of the finish ramp this time….

Documentation and Scrutineering for the Malcolm Wilson Rally take place at M-Sport’s premises in Dovenby Hall and then, come the day, eight special stages in some of the classic Lake District forests form the meat of the event. The first car leaves the start at 7.00am on Saturday 12th March and then, for those who prove themselves to be up to the challenge, the Hired Lad at Penrith Auctions will be ready to welcome them back from 2.30pm onwards. Prizegiving will also take place there.

Current RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star Championship leaders Luke Francis/John Roberts (Lancer EVO9)    (Image courtesy: ralliphotoswales)