After an exciting opening round of the 2020 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship, in association with Ravenol UK, it was Richmond driver Ian Bainbridge together with new co driver Dale Bowen who emerged victorious. They took maximum championship points after a superb drive to 2nd overall, in the Gypsum Group backed Skoda Fabia R5 on the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally.
Around 100 cars left the Llandudno base in dry cold conditions, on Saturday morning, even storm Ciara stayed thankfully at bay until the evening.
The notoriously tough event provided an excellent opener, using the forests of Elsi, Gwydir, Crafnant followed by a 10-mile test in the formidable Penmachno Forest, plus the superb tarmac road of the Great Orme providing the competitors with 42 miles of fast and furious action.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for the Skoda driver, who quipped at service despite lying 5th. "I've had an atrocious morning the harder I try, the times are not there, I'm starting to doubt myself, we’re going to make some changes in service, and push hard this afternoon. "But whatever he did worked, he set some terrific times, to lead home husband and wife team Martyn and Dawn England, Fiesta R5
A delighted Martyn, who finished 4th overall, said, " We've had a very good run. We put some harder sidewall tyres on to take no risks, especially in Penmachno and it’s paid off."
Completing the podium places in 6th overall was young gun George Lepley with Tom Woodburn on the notes in the WD 40/Pirelli Mitsubishi Evo 10. But it was a case of what might have been for the Newark youngster, after setting good times on the opening tests, a puncture in Penmachno saw the duo loose 2 minutes, and drop from 2nd to 16th, but a good run over the afternoon stages, brought its rewards."It was game over after the puncture for the win, we just tried to salvage some good championship points." stated Lepley.
But the biggest losers of the day were Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy in the SW Engineering Lancer Evo 9, who had a superb run to hold 2nd overall at service." We've made a lot of changes to the car, and I was a bit rusty first thing, I just wanted a good quick run through Penmachno, that was the key stage for us." said Thompson but it all went wrong on the last stage,Elsi, when they picked up a rear puncture a mile into the final 7 mile test and driving on it to the end, dropping down to 4th Welsh championship crew and 7th overall." We're a bit deflated to say the least". Commented co driver Andy Murphy.
The impressive Tom Llewellin, together with Peredur Davies, in the Braces Bread Escort RS1800, rounded off the top 5 Welsh contenders, with 9th overall, and 1st 2WD contender home after another excellent drive. "This afternoon stages were pretty tough, but we've had a good day, I had a good push on the last stage and really enjoyed that" said the Haverfordwest youngster.
Just 13 seconds behind, in 10th overall, were Karl Simmons and Mark Glennerster, in the Melvyn Evans Motorsport run Skoda Fabia R5, the duo ended stage 1 with a slow rear puncture, but unaware of this, they did nearly all of Gwydir with the tyre deflated and dropped a minute. "Shame about the puncture it cost us a minute, but we've had a good day overall."Martin Andrews had a very good day to finish to take 14th overall, with co-driver Steve Greenhill from a start number of 49 in the Subaru Impreza,"Really enjoyed it, we had a few moments along the way, and the car was doing things we didn't understand at times, it went faster than I wanted it to at times." Laughed Andrews
The spectacular Andy Davison and Tom Murphy, in the 2 litre Sunbeam, had what he described as “interesting” moments in the morning and being “rusty”. An off into a ditch on stage 5, cost them some 20 seconds, but didn't stop them taking 2nd 2WD and 15th overall.
Hereford duo Chris Powell and Jim Lewis were yet again the giant killers in the Herefordshire Raceway 1400 Sunbeam, taking 16th overall and the early lead in class W3, after an excellent day, although Chris admitted to loosing concentration when he tried to back off on the penultimate stage.
Another crew to suffer a puncture that somewhat spoiled their day, were Scott Faulkner and Steve Link in their Lancer Evo 9, after a very good opening two stages the duo dropped nearly 4 minutes on the long Penmachno test. It was then a case of damage limitation, with 18th overall but top Group N runner. Ludlow youngster Perry Gardner had the experienced Andrew Sankey alongside in the TNT Tyres Fiesta R2. They were another crew who had a trouble-free day to take 19th overall and the W4a Class. "it was nice and simple. " said Gardner.
Local duo David Lloyd Roberts and Emyr Hall had a very good run, despite it looking to be all over at service, having experienced a persistent misfire in the morning. Some excellent work from Lloyd Roberts’s former co-driver, Dei Jones, who diagnosed a broken rocker arm, Frank Richer at Richer Motorsport stepped in and sourced a replacement. They finished an excellent 20th overall and 1st in the W5 category, in the 2-litre historic Escort.
Osian Owen co-drove Maxx Bradshaw to 23rd in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 2.
Ledbury youngster Rob Wilson with co driver Martin Haggett in the Ravenol backed Fiesta R2 had a superb run to 25th and with it runner up in the Junior category, despite admitting to a slow start. Jon Jones and his Machynlleth co-driver Lewis Griffiths were another crew to enjoy the days sport. On only the drivers second gravel rally in the Word are Skip Hire Fiesta R2, to finish 26th. "We've had a really good day, stages have been excellent." said well pleased Griffiths Yet another Machynlleth youngster Gethin Price, with Matt Baddeley in the hot seat, produced a stunning drive to net 30th overall and 3rd junior driver home, in the R Keith Price Haulage 1300 Nissan Micra, despite losing 20 seconds with an overshoot in stage 3. " We've had a really good day, fitting 4 new Pirelli tyres has made a huge difference today instead of our usual secondhand ones." Laughed Gethin.
After some very impressive times in his new Skoda Fabia R5 West Walian duo Dylan Davies and Llion Williams, started superbly. Just 4 seconds off the lead after stage 2, the duo stopped at the scene of an accident on stage 3. Once they knew the crew were ok, they drove to the end of the stage slowly with their hazards on and were given the actual time they took. This cost the duo 10 minutes, dropping to 60th and any hope of getting a good result. But they set top 5 stage times on the afternoon's 3 tests to finish 34th overall. "Apart from the third stage incident, we've been on the pace all day which is pleasing given it’s a new car." Said Dylan.
Just behind was ever cheerful Scotsman Tom Coughtrie with his Isle of Mull co-driver Ian Frazer in the beautiful Mitsubishi Gallant. Despite some off road panel damage they took 35th. The duo’s next outing will be the opening Scottish championship round, The Snowman, before Tom leaves for a tarmac rally in Spain. "At least I've had some tarmac practice today, on the Orme, before Spain". quipped Coughtrie, “And if any championship contenders visit Mull you be will made very welcome in the Frazer coffee House on the Island”.
North Wales crew Robert and Iestyn Williams had a good run to finish 40th overall in the beautiful Mk 1 RS2000. Despite admitting to being very rusty and finding the stages very slippery. Chester residents Steve Ward and Mike Crawford in the GJM built historic Escort enjoyed a run to 42nd overall. Veteran campaigners Cyril Crook and Mike Wilding in the ex Richard Edwards RWD Astra had an excellent run to 43rd overall. West Countryman Frazer Martin with Abergele’s Ian Jones on the notes, were another to suffer in stage 3, losing 10 minutes with a puncture, in the Slideways Motorsport Lancer Evo 6.The Avenger crew of Manxman Rory McCann with the experienced Tim Tugwell calling the notes, had a frustrating day, suffering two stage maximums on stages 1 and 6,but soldiered on to finish 52nd overall. "It's been a character building day, but I really enjoyed that last stage, it flowed so I could throw the car about." smiled the jovial McCann.
Those who unfortunately never made the finish included, the reigning champions Matt Hirst with co-driver Declan Dear who hit a rock in Penmachno and bent a wheel, the aforementioned rock would account for 3 championship contenders.The much anticipated battle for 2WD honours with the historic Escorts of Tom Llewellin, Nick Elliott and Ben Friend only lasted a few stages, with Friend first to go with gearbox issues on stage 3. That stage also saw Elliott lose a minute when he had to stop to put a flapping bonnet down, but a broken gearbox mount in service ended his day. Damian Pratts and Jonny "Tad" Evans rolled the Tsalta Motorsport Escort out on stage 2. The now famous Penmachno rock also claimed the new Renault Twingo R2 of Zak Hughes with Will Atkins alongside, who rolled heavily. Differential failure saw the end of Steve Ormond-Smith and Simon Jones Evo7 on stage 1.Young Elliot Payne had the experience of Mike Gilbey guiding the Fiesta R2, but they were another stage 3 casualty reason unknown. Tom McKeown and Neil Thomas retired on stage 2 with suspension issues. The BMW of Kevin Metcalfe’s rally ended in Penmachno reason unknown.
Newtown duo Alun Horn with Ian Beamond calling the notes in the 2 litre Escort, completed the stages, despite a maximum on the last stage, but were OTL at the end. Dave Brick and Rob Woodhouse retired their Nova with engine problems on stage 3. Meanwhile sons, Freddy and Toby Brick rally ended in stage 5.James Dunkley and Colin Jenkins lost drive in stage 5 in the Vauxhall Corsa.
There is no doubt the event proved to be a tough opener on the tight twisty roads of the North Wales forests.
The next Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Championship round, North Wales Rally Services Rally North Wales takes place on March 28th. Entries are sure to be at a premium for this very popular rally which will see crews head to the wide fast flowing roads of Dyfi Forest and the superbly testing roads of Pantperthog.