M-Sport’s premises in Dovenby provide an appropriate setting for the commencement of the 2023 MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series and Motorsport UK English Rally Championship, in association with Seacon UK, as the battle (and make no mistake – it will be!) for the prestigious BTRDA Gold, Silver and Bronze Stars begins on the Malcolm Wilson Rally.

Elliot Payne (Fiesta Rally2) is defending his MRF Tyres BTRDA Gold Star® Championship title in addition to his challenge for the BRC and will be partnered by 2018 BTRDA Silver Star® Champion Co-driver Tom Woodburn for the new season. Meanwhile, Matthew Hirst (Fiesta R5) was the only driver to score three outright wins during 2022 on his way to runner-up spot but a retirement and an absence, whilst attending the wedding of his co-driver Declan Dear, saw the pair narrowly miss out on the overall crown.

The featured image is Elliot Payne (Fiesta Rally2) clinching the 2022 BTRDA Gold Star® Championship on the Trackrod Rally

Having only contested three BTRDA events last year but emerging victorious from the Woodpecker Stages first time out in their new Fiesta Rally2, Callum Black / Jack Morton are starting at the beginning this time. Black, who finished 2nd to Stephen Petch in the 2017 Gold Star Championship, is seeking to add the overall title to the Bronze Star he won back in 2019. Ian Bainbridge / Will Atkins, who have swopped their Skoda Fabia for a seemingly all-conquering Fiesta, have led BTRDA events in the past but have yet to convert their proven speed into an outright win and will be hoping to do just that in the Lake District….
If experience counts for anything, 2016 Gold Star winners Charlie Payne / Carl Williamson and Hugh Hunter (2008), co-driven by Manxman Rob Fagg, know a thing or two about success at this level and will be looking to put that knowledge to good use once more.
Seemingly unperturbed by a big accident on the Kielder Forest Rally which left their car in need of a major rebuild, Russ Thompson / Steve Link (Lancer EVO9) not only came out on top of a very keenly fought Class B13 tussle last year but also ended up with a Top Five place in the overall Gold Star table. They return in the company of Ian Joel / Graeme Wood whose MRF Tyres-shod Escort Cosworth also had its fair share of dramas during 2022 but, ironically, won its class in Kielder!…

Just as Fiestas seem likely to hold sway in the battle for four-wheel drive supremacy, Ford products have also held the upper hand in the two-wheel drive MRF Tyres BTRDA Silver Star® Championship in recent times – not exclusively as ‘winners’ on the Trackrod Rally, Andy Davison / Tom Murphy (Sunbeam VXR), would rightly point out, but defending champions Rob Wright / Mark Fisher will be hoping that it’s an Escort – and theirs in particular! – that features at the sharp end of the points table when it matters most! A thought doubtless shared – at least in part! – by Boyd Kershaw / Keegan Rees whose own Mk2 showed the others a clean pair of (w)heels on the Woodpecker Stages….

<<<<    Andy Davison/Tom Murphy (Talbot Sunbeam VXR)

A couple of other matters the Silver Star hopefuls would be well advised to consider certain contenders for the Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Historic Cup and the BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup (and Junior version thereof) have on occasions, graced the two-wheel drive podium. Representing the former category, for example, Ben Friend / Cliff Simmons and Steve Ward / Phil Sandham will be present in very potent Escort Mk2’s, while R2 Fiestas in the hands of Robert Proudlock, Alfie Hammond and Liam Clark (Junior) might also emulate the results of competitors in similar vehicles in 2022.

Certainly, the winner in terms of the variation in manufacturers attaining top honours over the years, the Fuchs Lubricants BTRDA Bronze Star Rally Championship continues to provide a competitive platform for 1400cc vehicles of all shapes and sizes! Vauxhall currently holds the bragging rights and, consequently, Nigel & Kaz Jenkins will be of a mind to keep it that way as their Nova sets out to claim the title for itself. 5th overall last year, in just four outings it registered three maximums and one 2nd place – so, now we’ll get to see what it’s really made of!                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Nigel & Kaz Jenkins (1400cc Vauxhall Nova)  >>>>>>>>

Competitors with ideas diametrically opposed to those of the Jenkins include 2021 Bronze Star Champion Steve Black who is returning with his aptly-named Suzuki Swift, Ed James / Charlie Mason (Nissan Micra Kit Car), Dale Glover / Sean Ward (AlfaSud Ti) and Aaron Rix / Abi Haycraft (Escort).


Such was Lewis Hooper’s domination of the MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally First Cup in 2022 that his Nissan Micra also led the Bronze Star table right up until the final round when he – and it! – were both pipped at the post for the overall title. Notwithstanding, Lewis returns with a car that, following a change in the regulations, is now allowed a limited-slip differential which, if nothing else, will require the opposition to spend even more time checking their rear-view mirrors!…

<<<<<<<<<     Lewis Hooper (Nissan Micra) – 2022 MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally First Cup Winner


Registration for the MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series automatically qualifies competitors for the Motorsport UK English Rally Championship in association with Seacon UK and, after the first round of this class-based series, there are always several joint leaders (all those who scored maximum points in their respective classes on the Malcolm Wilson Rally). It’s only as the season progresses that that number is whittled down – a task performed so efficiently by Nick Dobson in 2022 as his Escort Mk2 moved relentlessly to the top of the pile! However, without his name on the entry list for the opening encounter, we wait to see who takes up the cudgel to replace him…

For details of the Malcolm Wilson Rally:
All photos © Kevin Money / Malcolm Almond
Further information on the MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series :     &    Motorsport UK English Rally Championship :