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)