Round 3: Somerset Stages Rally – 8th April.
The RAVENOL BTRDA Rally Series® pays its annual visit to south-west England on 8th April for the Somerset Stages Rally and, with the forced abandonment of the first round due to the unpredictable British weather, there are a number of crews who will be looking to the event as an opportunity to put their respective seasons back on track.
Although more usually associated with football team managers, the old adage ‘you’re only as good as your last result’ will certainly strike a chord with Luke Francis and John Roberts (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9). The luck which saw them take outright victory on three BTRDA Rally Series events last year, including the Somerset Stages, has presently deserted them and, as they lead the field away from the Minehead start, all thoughts will be on a repeat performance this time.
Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta) didn’t finish the 2016 Somerset Stages and, having also retired from the recent Malcolm Wilson Rally, will be in an equally determined mood. They are proven winners at this level and, as one of the first crews to bring a Fiesta to the Championship, now need to put their experience to good use! Meanwhile Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson are relative newcomers to their R5+ but nevertheless acquitted themselves admirably last time out. Karl & Guy Simmons (Subaru Impreza WRC) were 3rd overall this time last year and a similar result would do very nicely, thank you!
David Wright and Steve Pugh (photo) in a Ford Focus WRC started the 2017 season with a very good points scoring result on the Malcolm Wilson Rally and they are followed, as they were then, by the 2011/12 Somerset Stages winner Hugh Hunter, with Rob Fagg, who start one minute behind them in a similar car. Irishmen Connor McCloskey/John Rowan (Fiesta) and Scotsman Fred Milne (Lancer EVO9), with Welsh co-driver Jamie Edwards, are next, while Tom Preston/Andrew Roughead (Skoda Fabia R5) will be looking to improve on their 7th place last time. In what was then a brand-new car to them. Taunton’s Martyn & Dawn England were 4th overall on their ‘home’ event in a Fiesta R5+. Now, with a further 12 months’ experience under their belts, can they produce a podium finish?…
Last time out, on the Malcolm Wilson Rally, just nine seconds separated the top four finishers in the BTRDA Production Cup, giving a hint of the competitive nature of this particular category. The stages on Exmoor obviously suit Group N cars – Jamie Anderson was 3rd overall in his Lancer in 2012, with Pat Naylor’s similar car 4th a year later. Now, whilst all the main contenders are starting together, the question is ‘will that still be the case at the end of the day?’…. Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) will have a succession of Lancers hunting them down – Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence, Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy, Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge, Richard Hill/Steffan Evans & Aaron McClure/Michael Gilbey will all be in there fighting for every second! Then, of course, there are the Fiesta STs – Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair’s example is the first of eight taking the start, with the Bingley driver aiming to consolidate his lead in the series. However, it would be reasonable to suppose that Jody McManus, Richard Wells and Alasdair Currie, for example, will have other ideas on that score!
Jody Bowcott and David Millard (Escort Mk2) travel down from the West Midlands to the seaside as leaders of the RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship. David Bennett/Alistair McNeil (Corsa) were a constant thorn in their sides in the Lake District – and there’s every possibility that this will be the case once again! Rear-wheel drive exponents Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham & Somerset regulars Theo Bengry/Les Forsbrook will be there in their Escorts, while Richard Sykes/Simon Taylor (Citroen DS3 R3) will adding their weight to the FWD contingent. It’s also worth remembering that a 1400cc car made the Top Three of the Silver Star runners on the Malcolm Wilson Rally.
Speaking of which!….
Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (Talbot Sunbeam) will be the first of the Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship contenders, with Kieran Darrington/Simon Jones (Corsa) and Charlie Barlow’s Nissan Micra attempting to keep them honest! Although, as previously discussed, numbers at this level continue to disappoint, the original concept of the series was to encourage new blood, or those returning after a lengthy absence, into the sport and, as a case in point, we welcome Tommi Meadows (son of 2000 Gold Star Champion Martin) to the party and hope he will take great satisfaction from his involvement. To those who say ‘nothing changes’, it’s noted that Tommi has enlisted the services of his dad’s co-driver, Ian Oakey, to help guide his Ford Ka across Exmoor!…
In their quest for BTRDA Rally First Championship points, John and Duncan Freeman’s VW Lupo will be besieged by a battalion of MG ZRs in the hands of Chris Hickman/Alex Stanbury, Sheldon Furby/Carrie Rogers and Ian Woollacott/Simon Stanbury as the battle to succeed 2016 winners Dominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt begins in earnest.
The Somerset Stages also hosts the opening round of the relaunched MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship which, for 2017, has been opened up to welcome all types of rally car that comply with MSA Safety and Technical Regulations. The calendar includes a selection of the best one-day forest and asphalt events in England, plus an ‘away’ weekend doubleheader in Wales, and 2016 champion Sam Bilham will need all his wits about him as he begins the defence of his title. For more information on the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship please go to www.englishrally.co.uk
The first car leaves the start of the Somerset Stages Rally in Minehead at 8.00am on Saturday 8th April and, 42 stage miles later (including the traditional two runs up the popular Porlock Toll Road), arrives back there for the finish at approximately 3.45pm that afternoon. Further details of the Somerset Stages Rally from www.somersetstagesrally.com
Photo is David Wright and Steve Pugh on the recent Malcolm Wilson Rally courtesy of ralliphotoswales