Author Archives: Howard Wilcock

ALL CHANGE for 2020 – BUT SERIOUS FUN GUARANTEED…!

The British Trial & Rally Drivers’ Association (BTRDA), promoters of the BTRDA Rally Series and the Motorsport UK English Rally Championship, is delighted to announce that both will benefit from new headline sponsors in 2020.

The 2020 MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series heralds the first of a three-year deal which begins with the Llandudno-based Cambrian Rally on 8th February.
Jerry Freeman of Service & Sport, the UK distributors of MRF Tyres, commented “MRF are excited and very proud to be associated with the BTRDA, we see it as a big step forward in our development in Europe. There’s no doubt that the BTRDA is the most popular Rally Series in the UK and is home from home and where I started competing. All of us in MRF are really looking forward to working with the BTRDA over the next few years.” 

Seven of the UK’s top National ‘B’ forest stage rallies are included in the calendar which concludes on the North York Moors with the Trackrod Forest Stages at the end of September. New for 2020 will be the 75th running of the Scottish Rally, based at Lockerbie just off the M74. The final points table will be based on a competitor’s best 5 scores, which provides some flexibility to fit around family or business commitments.
2020 MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series calendar* (subject to final Motorsport UK confirmation)

• Cambrian Rally                8th February
• Malcolm Wilson Rally      14th March
• Rallynuts Stages Rally    18th April
• The 75th Scottish Rally    6th June
• Nicky Grist Stages           11th July
• Woodpecker Stages        5th September
• Trackrod Forest Stages   26th September

The MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series will continue to be open to all stage rally cars and will include a broad spread of categories and competition classes so there is something for everyone. In addition to the Gold Star, Silver Star and Bronze Star (1400) championships, the 2020 BTRDA Rally Series will include BTRDA Rally First, BTRDA Historic Cup, Production Cup, Rallye R2 Cup and Fiesta ST Trophy.
Meanwhile, regular BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup Competitor and long-term supporter of the BTRDA, Tony Simpson, will be sponsoring the Motorsport UK 2020 English Rally Championship through his International Freight Forwarding company Seacon UK Ltd. The Seacon UK Motorsport UK 2020 English Rally Championship will consist of six gravel events and begins in Cumbria with the Malcolm Wilson Rally on 14th March.

Further information about both Championships will be announced in the next few weeks.

JUST A SECOND….!

The Trackrod Forest Stages brings this year’s JORDAN Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series® to a close and such has been the quality of the competition during the season that the coveted BTRDA Gold, Silver & Bronze Stars® have already been claimed. However, in addition to various other elements of the Series that are ongoing, a number of 2nd & 3rd places in each category have still to be won and lost. Hence, the classic special stages on the North York Moors will bear witness to plenty of high-speed action on 28th September!  Having secured the JORDAN Road Surfacing BTRDA Silver Star® Rally Championship title back in July, George Lepley’s efforts had also put him in a favourable position to take a podium finish in the Gold Star Championship. Forsaking Baz Jordan’s Hillman Avenger for a Mitsubishi Lancer EVOX for the recent Woodpecker Stages, the Newark driver came away from the penultimate round of the season with a maximum points score under his belt. With dropped scores active, George can now only improve on his lowest-to-date but, on recent form, no-one should bet against him!

On the other hand, Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta WRC) have already suffered two DNFs and are, therefore, able to count their full score on the Trackrod towards their final total. Nevertheless, the pressure is on and the 2017 Gold Star Champions must produce a good result to stand any chance of featuring in the Top Three. After much of a season to forget, Ian Bainbridge’s 4th overall on the Woodpecker Stages in his first appearance in a Skoda Fabia R5 would seem to herald a change in fortunes – let’s hope the momentum is continued on to the North York Moors!

In spite of a campaign that hasn’t turned out as they could reasonably have expected, outgoing Class B13 Champions Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth), who finished 5th overall on last year’s Trackrod, are persevering and will be doing their best to stay out of the way of the battle to succeed them. This particular scenario features Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor (Lancer EVO9) and the Impreza of Richard Hill/Steffan Evans, who start the event on equal points, in starring roles. Another Lancer, in the hands of Petr Krizan/Lukas Sintal, currently occupies 3rd in class and, of course, we mustn’t forget that George Lepley will also be chasing B13 points!…

In the race for the BTRDA Production Cup®, title contenders Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence leave the start a minute in front of Scott Faulkner/Gareth Parry in their respective Lancers. Both crews already have five scores and, in this instance, it’s quite simple – the first one home takes the title and a likely podium place in the Gold Star Championship..! Although the MRF Fiesta ST Trophy was settled in favour of Zak Hughes / Tom Wood on the Woodpecker Stages, Manxman Steven Ormond-Smith will be attempting to wrest runner-up spot from Bobby Mitchell. Success could also see him leap-frog the Scotsman in the overall Production Cup table but, needless to say, Mitchell will have other ideas on that score!…

Andy Davison/Tom Murphy (Talbot Sunbeam VXR) have emerged victorious from the last two rounds of the Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Silver Star® Championship, such that the driver is confirmed as runner-up in the Series, but Murphy will be revelling in his new-found status as 2019 Silver Star Champion Co-driver! Contesting his first BTRDA event since the Malcolm Wilson Rally back in March, Steve Hopewell (Escort) and co-driver Clive Jones will be hoping to deny Davison/Murphy their third consecutive maximum. Meanwhile, a good run from Rob Wright (Escort) could conceivably elevate the Whitehaven driver to the final podium spot in this year’s Silver Star table.
<<<<<<<   Andy Davison/Tom Murphy – Talbot Sunbeam VXR

BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup winners Perry Gardener/Keaton Williams are busy preparing to take up their prize of a free entry on the National section of Wales Rally GB, leaving the Fiesta R2’s of James Giddings and Tony Simpson/Ian Bevan, plus the Peugeot 208 of Ed Fossey/Will Rutherford to close the season out. They will be joined by Fiesta ST champions Zak Hughes/Tom Wood using a Fiesta R2 for the first time.

Having been absent for several rounds, series sponsor Baz Jordan returns on the Trackrod in an Historic spec. Subaru Legacy. His presence will certainly add spice to the BTRDA Historic Cup® battle currently being waged between the Escorts of David Gathercole (MkI RS1600) and Steve Ward (Mk2), both of whom are chasing the runner-up spot. After a fraught season with their Mitsubishi Galant, Tom Coughtrie/Ian Fraser will be looking to end it on a high, while a good result from Ben Friend/Cliff Simmons’ Escort could possibly see it finish 3rd overall in the Historic Cup.

David Gathercole (MkI RS1600)   >>>>>>>

Steve Black/Paul Morris are the leading Fuchs Lubricants BTRDA 1400® Championship crew in their Suzuki Swift, while Richard Jordan/James Gratton-Smith will be out to make up some lost ground caused when their Proton Satria broke a driveshaft last time out. Class 1400C is going down to the wire…. The Evans brothers’ Peugeot 205 held sway early in the season, but the ever-present Micra of Richard Garnett/Robert Gilham took centre stage on the Plains Rally. Neither car finished the Nicky Grist Stages and the Evans’ were then absent from the Woodpecker. So, a grandstand finish is on the cards, and it could go either way – brace yourselves!…

Current leader Joseph Keen’s absence from Filey means that, as long as Graham Roberts (MG ZR) finishes the Trackrod, he will become the BTRDA Rally First® Champion, no matter what Wesley Gilford (Fiesta ST) can do to throw a spanner in the works!

Graham Roberts – BTRDA Rally First MG ZR  >>>>>>>>

The Trackrod Forest Stages is the final counting round towards the new BTRDA Junior Driver incentive which has been donated by Adam Kent, the 1998 BTRDA Gold Star Rally Champion.
Adam’s company, Install Automation Ltd, will provide a £2,500 prize fund for the leading BTRDA Junior Driver to be used for entries to events in the 2020 BTRDA Rally Series. The winner will be chosen by the BTRDA Rallies Committee from a short-list of the three drivers with the highest total points score on the four rounds of the 2019 BTRDA Junior Championship to take place since the initiative was announced, beginning with the Plains Rally in May. Following the Woodpecker, George Lepley (57 points) has retaken the lead with George Clarke (42 points) now up to second and Matthew Hirst currently in third with 39 points. The prize will be presented by Adam at the 2019 BTRDA Rally Series Awards Evening in January.

Filey also welcomes contenders for the MAXXIS Motorsport UK 2019 English Rally Championship although, unlike the BTRDA Rally Series, this still has another round to go after the Trackrod. However, even at this advanced stage in the season, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll eventually walk off with the title. Yes – that man George Lepley leads the charge, but only by a single point from Callum Black (MG ZR) and three from Andy Davison. One tiny mistake could prove costly and considerably alter the look of the leaderboard. Rob Wright, James Giddings and Scott Faulkner are also less than ten points adrift of the overall leader, with up to 25 available on each round!….

The first car leaves the start of the Trackrod Forest Stages at St Helens in the Park, Wykeham, at 09.01 on Saturday 28th September and, following approximately 45 miles of single-use special stages in the classic forests of Dalby, Langdale, Cropton Staindale and Gale Rigg, returns for the Ceremonial Finish at the Beach in Filey during the afternoon.

The main photo is George Lepley’s Mitsubishi Lancer in full flight during the Woodpecker Stages!    All photos © Kevin Money & Malc Almond.

ALL CHANGE AT THE TOP !….

Sixty & Worcestershire Motor Club, organisers of the Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages, the penultimate round of the 2019 JORDAN Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series®, has amassed a superb entry of 160 crews, all of whom will be making a beeline for Ludlow Racecourse at the end of the month! One crew is missing from the list, however – Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton have won all five of the BTRDA Rally Series rounds so far this year, such that they were confirmed as JORDAN Road Surfacing BTRDA Gold Star® Rally Champions following the Nicky Grist Stages in July.  (Subsequently they were also crowned 2019 Scottish Rally Championship winners).  So, who’ll take their place at the top of the leader board this time?

2016 Woodpecker Stages winners, Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson have recovered from a dreadful start to the season, posting two 2nd places and one 3rd in recent times, but must now produce similar results on both the remaining events if their Fiesta is to end its campaign with a podium finish in the JORDAN Road Surfacing BTRDA Gold Star® Rally Championship. Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson (Fiesta R5), the 2016 Gold Star Champions, were missing from the Ludlow line-up twelve months ago. However, returning once again, they’ll be looking to improve on the 6th place finish they achieved in 2017. Ian Bainbridge has forsaken his recalcitrant Impreza and will be out in a Skoda Fabia R5, while Sam Bilham/Patrick Walsh’s hard work acclimatising themselves to their Fiesta is beginning to pay dividends. 3rd overall last time out sees them moving up the table but, in a situation similar to that of Petch/Wilkinson, they’ve already posted two DNFs and no longer have the luxury of being able to drop a score.

Class B13 has been somewhat akin to a roller-coaster ride for most of its contestants but, having thus far avoided all the pitfalls that have taken turns to claim their rivals, Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor (Lancer EVO9) lead the table as they arrive in Ludlow. However, with dropped scores now coming into play, they can only improve on those already on the board, whereas the likes of Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth), Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (EVO9) and Richard Hill/Steffan Evans (Impreza) can (must?…) count everything they earn on the Woodpecker towards their final tallies.  Not exactly a ‘wild card’ but, having clinched both the BTRDA Silver Star® Championship & Historic Cup titles with two rounds to spare, George Lepley now joins the B13 brigade in an EVO X. OK, he’s not in a position to challenge for end-of-season class honours but, having taken to everything else he’s driven like a duck to water, the ‘regulars’ better be on their mettle if they’re not to find themselves upstaged!

Scott Faulkner/Gareth Parry’s grip on the BTRDA Production Cup slipped a bit after their Lancer EVO9 failed to finish the Nicky Grist Stages. They still lead the category but have fallen back into the clutches of the similar cars of Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence and Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy. All three crews have posted one retirement to date and six points currently separate first from third. A glance at the calendar will tell you that it’s not 5th November but, nevertheless, expect some fireworks before this one reaches its conclusion!
Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence (Lancer EVO9) on their way to winning the Production Cup on the 2018 Woodpecker.

Having taken four consecutive maximum scores, Zak Hughes/Tom Wood’s inexorable march towards this year’s MRF Fiesta ST Trophy suffered a setback on the Nicky Grist Stages when they were sidelined by a broken bottom arm. So, they still need one more good score and have two opportunities to claim it – if they don’t, they’ll leave the door open for either Scot Bobby Mitchell or Manxman Stephen Ormond-Smith….

All the two-wheel drive cars in the Woodpecker Stages entry are running at the front of the field in reverse order of seeding.  As previously discussed, George Lepley is the Silver Star Champion for the second consecutive year, but second and third places remain to be decided. Andy Davison/Tom Murphy (Talbot Sunbeam VXR), who retired from the season-opening Cambrian Rally, came out on top last time – more of the same on the Woodpecker would do their chances a power of good as the two crews ahead of them in the table – Perry Gardener/Keaton Williams and Tony Simpson/Ian Bevan (both R2 Fiestas) – already have the obligatory five scores….

<<<<<<< Andy Davison / Tom Murphy on the Nicky Grist Stages

Gardener/Williams are confirmed as 2019 BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup winners – for which they’ve earned a free entry on the National section of Wales Rally GB – but there is still work to be done in BTRDA Silver Star Championship terms and anyway, as they live in Ludlow, it’d be rude not to show their faces at the Racecourse at some point over the weekend!….

Perry Gardener/Keaton Williams (Fiesta) – BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup Winners >>

Having been absent as a competitor for much of the season, BTRDA Rally Series sponsor Baz Jordan returns in his Avenger – you know, the one that George Lepley has used to win all and sundry!…’ – and, with the help of Arwel Jenkins, will be joining the Escorts of Steve Ward, Ben Friend and Jonathan Brace chasing BTRDA Historic Cup points.
While not in the hunt for BTRDA Championship points, it’s interesting to note that five-times Woodpecker Stages winner (1988 / 91 / 92 / 93 / 96) Richard Gough, who has retained his ex Rothmans Ford Escort Mk2 since those heady days all that time ago, will be taking part once again!

And so to the Fuchs Lubricants BTRDA 1400 Championship (BTRDA Bronze Star) which, to put it mildly, is finely poised! The top four drivers in the table – Chris Powell (Talbot Sunbeam), Steve Black (Suzuki Swift), Dominic Hodge (Nissan Micra) & Noel Lappin (Ford Escort Mk2) – have all maintained 100% finishing records to date, while 5th-placed Callum Black (MG ZR)  missed the first round but has since scored three maximums and a third…. Indeed, he can count himself very lucky to have finished the last round as, by the time he and Michael Gilbey arrived back in Builth Wells, the oil pressure warning light had been glowing for far too long!… All five cars will leave Ludlow Racecourse in pristine condition but, as to the order in which they return, your guess is as good as anyone else’s!…   

                                                                                     Callum Black and Michael Gilbey (MG ZR) on the Plains Rally….. >>>>>>

Wesley Gilford/Mark Townson’s BTRDA Rally First Championship specification Fiesta ST will have the honour of leading the contestants away from the start followed, one minute later, by the MG ZR of series leader Joseph Keen. Having had a season to forget until recently, Sam & Liam Johnson will be hoping that their Seat Arosa’s maximum score on the Nicky Grist Stages wasn’t a flash in the pan.

The MAXXIS Motorsport UK English Rally Championship continues on the Woodpecker Stages…. and George Lepley will be hoping to continue to lead it! The class-based series is a very close-fought affair – currently, a mere five points separate first from tenth drivers! Breathing down Lepley’s neck, Callum Black’s MG ZR has a slender one-point advantage over Perry Gardener’s Fiesta, Andy Davison’s Sunbeam and the Escort Mk2 of Tim Phelps.
Pretenders to the English Championship crown have three more events, including the Woodpecker, Trackrod Forest Rally and the Wyedean Stages, on which to assert themselves as they strive to add a Motorsport UK-backed Championship title to their rallying CVs. Good luck to them all!…

The first car is due to leave the start of the Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages at 08.31 on the Saturday morning and, following the completion of five special stages – two in Radnor, two in Haye Park and one in Hopton – totalling 44 miles, returns to the Racecourse at 16.45.

Main photo is Richard Sykes / Simon Taylor (Lancer EVO9) – Class B13 leaders, competing on the Plains Rally

CAN THORBURN PUT GRIST TO HIS MILL?.…

Euan Thorburn and co-driver Paul Beaton have won all four rounds of the 2019 JORDAN Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series so far. One more victory from the three remaining events in the calendar will put the destination of this year’s JRS BTRDA Gold Star® Championship crown beyond doubt – and the first opportunity for them comes on the Nicky Grist Stages. Their Focus WRC arrives in Builth Wells fresh from its victory on the Argyll Stages, the latest round of the Motorsport UK Scottish Rally Championship – which Thorburn/Beaton also lead – and closing out the first part of their plan would give them more time to concentrate on the second!…    The photo above is Euan Thorburn / Paul Beaton (Focus WRC) in characteristic pose on the Plains Rally!

Following a miserable start to their campaign, 2017 Nicky Grist Stages winners Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson are now heading in the right direction once more! Their Fiesta WRC was 2nd overall on the Plains Rally but, unlike the flying Scotsmen, they have no margin for error between now and the end of the season if they are to make an impact on the leader board! Following a retirement on the Plains with damage sustained by a puncture, Sam Bilham, partnered by the ubiquitous Patrick Walsh, could also do with a good result in mid Wales. He’s certainly getting the hang of his Fiesta but, with two DNFs already, pressure is mounting. Fiesta R5s also appear amongst the leading entries in the very competitive hands of Connor McCloskey and Martyn & Dawn England. Meanwhile, Theo Bengry/Les Forsbrook are having another outing in their recently acquired Proton Iriz R5 in the hope of improving on the 3rd in class they netted on the Plains.

In direct contrast to the overall Gold Star situation, Class B13 has produced different winners on each of the four rounds. Although not one of them, Richard Hill has kept his nose clean and produced four more-than-adequate results to put his Impreza marginally ahead of Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor whose Lancer EVO9 triumphed last time out on the Plains. Having recorded DNFs on the first two events, Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear put their EVO9 into top spot on the Rallynuts Stages but still have considerable ground to make up while the defending champions, Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth), and Ian Bainbridge (Impreza) have, thus far, only finished one event apiece…..

<   Scott Faulkner/Gareth Parry’s results in their Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9 have been sufficiently impressive to put them into runners-up spot in the overall JORDAN Road Surfacing Gold Star® Championship points table!  It’ll therefore come as no surprise to learn that they’re also leading the BTRDA Production Cup. Their nearest challengers, who have also maintained a 100% finishing record, are MRF Fiesta ST Trophy leaders Zak Hughes/Tom Wood. The Lancers of former Cup champions Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence & Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy have both retired from one event and, consequently, have some catching-up to do. However, as Faulkner/Parry have already amassed three maximums, anyone else with designs on this year’s title better get a move on!…

We’ve mentioned before that George Lepley seems oblivious to the fact that it’s not in the script for an Historic spec. car to be leading the JORDAN Road Surfacing BTRDA Silver Star® Championship. However, as he’s already accrued four maximums at the wheel of Baz Jordan’s Hillman Avenger, there’s presently some frantic re-writing of that script going on as, in a similar situation to Euan Thorburn, one more and it’s game-over for the opposition! Co-driver Tom Woodburn missed the opening event and, consequently, doesn’t feature (should that read ‘yet’?…) at the top of his particular points table. Needless to say, then, that the BTRDA Historic Cup is also currently heading the Newark driver’s way….                                                                                            George Lepley / Tom Woodburn on the Plains Rally    >

In Silver Star terms, Perry Gardener / Keaton Williams (Fiesta R2) are maintaining a close eye on Lepley – or as close as is possible! – but, at the same time, with three maximums and a second, they’re seemingly on course to succeed him to the BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup. If they’re still in that position after the Woodpecker Stages at the beginning of September, they’ll be in line for the prize drive on the National section of Wales Rally GB through the event’s ‘Road to Wales’ scheme.

<    Perry Gardener/Keaton Williams (Fiesta) – BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup leaders

Tony Simpson/Ian Bevan are the only R2 Cup contenders who’ve managed to beat the Ludlow crew so far – a feat they achieved on the Malcolm Wilson Rally and which helps to keep them in touch with the leaders. The Tordoffs, Mat & Tim, are the only other R2 hopefuls with four scores to their credit and there’s still time for the make-up of the leader board to alter significantly before the end of term!

Callum Black/Michael Gilbey let the Fuchs Lubricants BTRDA 1400 Championship start without them but, since they joined in the fun on Round 2, their MG ZR has not been headed.  Three ‘wins’ see the pair lurking dangerously down in 5th place in the table, thanks in no small way to the reliability of the opposition. Each of the four drivers in front of them – Chris Powell (Talbot Sunbeam), Steve Black (Suzuki Swift), Dominic Hodge (Nissan Micra) & Noel Lappin (Ford Escort) – have maintained clean sheets but, as dropped scores come into play after the Nicky Grist Stages, those maximums will come into their own!                                                      Callum Black / Michael Gilby 

While brothers Mat & Dan Evans (Peugeot 205) had been in imperious form in the battle for Class 1400C honours on each of the first three rounds, they’d been unable to shake off the attentions of Richard Garnett’s Micra. Then, last time out, the tables were turned, and the Peugeot was beaten into 2nd place by just 15s. So, whose turn is it this time? Due to the Evans’ non-availability for the penultimate round of the Series, this is one that could well have to wait until the Trackrod Forest Rally at the end of September before the outcome is known….

Joseph Keen’s MG ZR leads the BTRDA Rally First Championship but the sole aim of the 2-litre version of Graham Roberts will be to reduce its advantage over the remaining events…

The NG Stages is the second of the four counting rounds of the new BTRDA Junior Driver incentive which has been donated by Adam Kent, the 1998 BTRDA Gold Star Rally Champion.  Adam’s company, Install Automation Ltd, will provide a £2,500 prize fund for a leading BTRDA Junior Driver to be used for entries to events in the 2020 BTRDA Rally Series. The winner will be chosen from a short-list of the three drivers with the highest total points score on the final 4 events in the 2019 BTRDA Junior Championship.  After the Plains Rally it is George Lepley, Matthew Hirst and Zak Hughes who are in the frame, but at this early stage it is still all to play for.

The first of the 125 crews will leave the start of the Nicky Grist Stages in Builth Wells at 8.31am on Saturday morning and on the menu are 44 miles of special stages in some of the classic mid-Wales forests. Cars then begin arriving back at the finish from 3.30pm that afternoon.

All photos © Kevin Money / Malcolm Almond.