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.