PLAINS PLAN for ACTION! Plains Rally Preview

The 51st Plains Rally features eight special stages in the Dyfi Forest complex on 13th May and the organisers, Knutsford & District Motor Club Ltd, are planning a day of ‘almost continuous action’ for the 120 + entries. The first car leaves the start, in Welshpool, at 8.00am on the Saturday morning and returns there at 3.00pm.

Leading the RAVENOL BTRDA Gold Star® Championship runners are Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta WRC) who arrive in mid-Wales fresh from their victory last time out on the Somerset Stages. Indeed, the runners-up on the Minehead-based event, Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson (Fiesta R5+), also continue where they left off, while proven BTRDA Rally Series event winners Luke Francis/John H Roberts (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO9) will be hoping that their recent run of ill-fortune is now firmly behind them – that is, if they are to make any impression on the current points tables. Although not defending their 2016 BTRDA Gold Star® Championship titles, Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson have placed an entry in the former’s new Fiesta and, after eight months away from the front line, it’ll be interesting to see how they fare!…

The 2013 & 2014 Plains Rally winners Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton are back again this time in a R5 Fiesta whilst the  2009 rally victor Hugh Hunter has Rob Fagg for company; the pair being fresh from their victory on the Manx National Rally last weekend.  Also certain to be in the mix will be Rhys Yates / James Morgan (Fiesta R5) Thomas Preston / Andrew Roughead in the Skoda Fabia R5 and welcome late entry Connor McCloskey / John Rowan in a Fiesta WRC.

Wayne Sisson/Neil Shanks (Lancer EVOX), Steve Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Fiesta S2000) and Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Escort Cosworth) all have just one score to their credit so far and it, therefore, goes without saying that good results would benefit their causes considerably!

On the Somerset Stages, the top three BTRDA Production Cup contenders finished a mere ten seconds apart, with the following two also in line of sight. This time, seven of the Group NR4 cars are set to leave Welshpool in very close proximity – Andy Davies/Max Freeman (Impreza) will, doubtless, be hounded by the Lancer EVOs of Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence, Richard Hill/Steffan Evans, Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy, Aaron McClure/Michael Gilbey, Dan Moss/Sam Allen and series leaders Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge throughout the day.

Then, of course, we have the contenders for the Fiesta ST Trophy, and Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair will be viewing the Plains Rally as an opportunity to take their third consecutive maximum points score. In total, eight of the 2-litre 2WD cars will be taking the start, with Richard Wells/Calvin Houldsworth & Alasdair Currie/Steven Brown trying especially hard to break Bilham’s current monopoly of the winners’ enclosure!  The name ‘Tordoff’ has been gracing rally entry lists on and off for the past half-century and, for this season, Matt & Tim are sharing a Fiesta ST, while Tom Easson’s version will leave the start half-an-hour after the Datsun 240Z driven by his dad, Jeremy….

Having had their efforts thwarted by the weather on the Cambrian Rally in February, the Rowlands brothers are back to try their luck in the RAVENOL BTRDA Silver Star® Championship once again. All things being equal (yes, OK – we know!…), the Escorts of Ieuan & Emyr Hall and John, with Glenn Latham, should be in the points by the end of the day, but current Silver Star leaders Dave Bennett/Alistair McNeil have wasted no time in making their intentions perfectly clear. Their 1600cc Corsa already has a 1st and a 2nd place to its credit, with the former 1400 Champions finishing just outside the top ten in Somerset.

Jody Bowcott/David Millard were marginally ahead of Bennett on the Malcolm Wilson Rally but then their Escort let them down on Exmoor. Bowcott is another driver heading for Welshpool virtually straight from the Isle of Man and, so, will certainly be ‘match fit’!  Rudi Lancaster/Guy Weaver are having a busy season as well, managing to fit a run to 3rd overall on Rally North Wales as they contest both BTRDA & MSA Historic Championships.

Ed Fossey/Chris Sharpe-Simkiss (Toyota Yaris) took maximum Thomas Panels BTRDA 1400 Championship points in Somerset, putting them into the lead of the series prior to the start of the Plains Rally. However, the Herefordshire crews of Dave & Toby Brick (Vauxhall Nova) and Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (Talbot Sunbeam), both proven winners at this level, are in the mix this time, and we mustn’t forget Tommi Meadows/Ian Oakey (Ford Ka) either. The teenage driver took runner-up spot on the Somerset Stages, his first BTRDA 1400 Championship round, and will be eager to put his new-found experience to good use. At the same time, especially with Ian Oakey to guide him, he’ll be under no illusions as to the requirements of success at this level!

By dint of their wins on the Malcolm Wilson and Somerset Stages Rallies respectively, Andrew Wheatley (Ford Puma) and Chris Hickman/Alex Stanbury (MG ZR) find themselves as joint leaders of the BTRDA Rally First Championship. Similarly, Sheldon Furby (MG ZR) and Bart Lang (Nissan Micra) share 3rd place – all four drivers are contesting the Plains Rally and just to put the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak, they will be joined on this occasion by 2016 Champions Dominic Hodge/Stefan Arndt in their Micra!

We wish everyone a safe and enjoyable event but, at the pace these rally cars have to be driven in order to remain competitive, there’ll probably be tears before bedtime in certain camps! AH

Photo is Stephen Petch / Micheal Wilkinson on the Somerset Stages  (courtesy of ralliphotoswales)