Preview of Round 5 : Nicky Grist Stages (8th July)
As the MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series moves into the second half of the 2023 season and contenders head to Builth Wells for the Nicky Grist Stages, Matthew Hirst and codriver Declan Dear could be excused for harbouring a degree of optimism when it comes to the eventual outcome of the MRF Tyres BTRDA Gold Star® Championship!  Last year’s Nicky Grist winners arrive in mid Wales on the back of victory on the previous BTRDA round, the Kielder Forest Rally, (see featured image) and, although currently 3rd in the table, their Fiesta R5 is only four points adrift of defending Gold Star Champion Elliot Payne and Tom Woodburn (Fiesta Rally2).

The ‘meat’ in this Fiesta sandwich is provided by the Skoda Fabia R5 of Arron Newby / Jamie Edwards and, between them, these three crews have not only won all four events to date but have also finished no lower than 4th overall at any point!…  So, while there are still four rounds to go, anyone with a view to muscling in on the action will be only too aware that, in order to stand any chance of achieving their goal, they must certainly match the current standard, if not even bettering it!

                                                          Arron Newby / Jamie Edwards (Skoda Fabia R5) on the recent Kielder Forest Rally >>>>

Russ Thompson / Steve Link are having an excellent season in their Lancer EVO9, such that they are 4th in the Gold Star table, one point behind Hirst & Dear. Their exploits find them dominating Class B13 by a sufficient margin that, whatever happens on the Nicky Grist, they’ll still be leading at the end of the day.

<<<<<   Russ Thompson/Steve Link (Lancer EVO9) – Class B13 Leaders

Returning to the BTRDA Series this year, Alistair Ginley / Craig Thorley (Fiesta Rally2) are improving with each event – a 4th place finish in Kielder, less than a minute behind the leaders, giving ample notice of their intent. Ian Bainbridge / Will Atkins (Fiesta) have led a BTRDA event in the past but a retirement and an absence so far this season leave them with some catching up to do, while both Eddie Lewis / Sion Cunniff (Fiesta R5) and Trevor Gamble / Phil Kenny (Fiesta Rally2) arrive in Builth Wells on the back of their best results to-date last time out. Then there are Steve Black / Jack Morton in the black-liveried Rally2 being campaigned so successfully by Callum Black on asphalt this year – no threat in overall Gold Star terms but eminently capable of mixing it on the day!  Having missed Kielder, Ian Joel / Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth) rejoin the B13 battle while Rob Wilson / Richard Crozier, who took the start but not the finish of the event after their Lancer’s brakes failed, will also be craving a return to previous form!

Although only benefitting from two driven wheels, as opposed to the four of its Gold Star counterpart, the MRF Tyres BTRDA Silver Star® Championship has also witnessed three different ‘winners’ so far this year. Boyd Kershaw and Keegan Rees (Escort Mk2) consolidated their lead in the series with maximum points last time out, edging Robert Gough / Paul Morris, who had come out on top in the previous two encounters, into 2nd place. Meanwhile the early-season leaders, Ben Friend / Cliff Simmons, will be looking to reclaim their advantage after an off on the Border Counties and a no-show in Kielder have severely curtailed their momentum.

                                               Boyd Kershaw/Keegan Rees (Escort Mk2) – BTRDA Silver Star Championship Leaders  >>>

Neil Andrew / Dom Adams (Escort) find themselves currently wedged midway between Kershaw / Rees and Gough / Morris in the points while, at the same time, the latter crew holds sway in the Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Historic Cup. Ernie & Karen Graham (Escort RS1600) are only a couple of points behind them but the reappearance of Friend / Simmons should keep all the serious contenders on their toes!

Prior to its retirement from the Border Counties, Robert Proudlock / Steven Brown’s Opel Adam featured in the Silver Star Top Three but, for the moment, it must be content with leading both the BTRDA Rallye R2 and Rallye R2 Junior Cups! The Fiestas of Liam Clark and Alfie Hammond both failed to finish in Kielder which, in its own way, evens things up somewhat as each of the above has now registered one DNF. So, still all to play for, especially as the R2 victors on the Border Counties, Tony Simpson / Stefan Arndt (Fiesta), return for the Nicky Grist.

The Fuchs Lubricants BTRDA Bronze Star Championship offers a different perspective from Gold & Silver Star in that, rather than three different crews scoring maximum points, we have one crew doing it three times! Unsurprisingly, therefore, Nigel & Kaz Jenkins’ Nova leads from the MG ZR of Luke Watts / Matt Rogers and Lewis Hooper / Rhys Edwards’ Micra – the only other car with a maximum to its credit so far!
<<< Nigel & Kaz Jenkins (Nova) – Fuchs Lubricants BTRDA Bronze Star Championship Leaders

Chris & James Greenall (Nova) have been the Jenkins’ closest challenger for the past couple of events and, in what will quite likely be something of a gathering of the clans, 2022 Championship front-runners Ed James / Charlie Mason (Micra Kit Car) and Aaron Rix / Abi Haycock (Escort) return after lengthy absences.
Class 1400C is, once again, proving to be a closely-fought affair with Luke Watts leading the Drivers’ table from an inseparable Dylan Fowler-Bishop and Ashley Francis-Adams (both Micras) in joint 2nd, while co-driver Lucy Wilding (Francis-Adams) has top spot to herself from Matt Rogers (Watts) and Dan Evans (Fowler-Bishop).

With three maximums and one 2nd to his credit already, Colin Minton (Fiesta R5) leads the MRF Motorsport Tyres Trophy at the halfway stage. However, the lure of some free entries and sets of tyres to use during the 2024 BTRDA Rally Series is proving attractive to a number of other drivers, such that the current Top Six will all be present in Builth Wells! Ian Joel (Escort Cosworth) is Minton’s closest rival, but Lewis Hooper (Micra), Alfie Hammond & Tony Simpson (Fiesta R2s) and Ed James (Micra Kit Car) all have time to make an impact before the day of reckoning!…
Colin Minton (Fiesta R5) – MRF Motorsport Tyres Trophy Leader

SPECTATORS : The first car leaves the start in Builth Wells at 8.30am on Saturday 8th July and full details can be found at: http://www.nickygriststages.co.uk/spectators/

All photos © Kevin Money and Malcolm Almond