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)