Callum Black and co-driver Jack Morton took victory on the opening round of the 2021 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, the Nicky Grist Stages, winning the Interclub Rally section of the event and finishing an incredible seventh overall in their Ford Fiesta R5.
In his first rally outing for almost two years, and his first in an R5 car for three and a half years, Callum, the 2017 Pirelli Welsh National Rally champion, drove brilliantly to score maximum points on the 44 stage mile event, held on the classic mid-Wales forest stages of Llyn Login, Monument, Halfway and Crychan.
Despite a handling problem in the morning, caused by a broken anti-roll bar, and a spin on SS2, the 586 Sports team driver finished 21 seconds ahead of Ian Bainbridge/Will Atkins, who were delighted with the set-up changes they'd made to their Å koda Fabia R5 during lockdown. Ian was a lot faster in the afternoon, when all four stages were repeated - a full 20 seconds faster through Crychan the second time in fact.
Third place went to George Lepley/Tom Woodburn in their AMS-tuned Mitsubishi Evo X. After a very good start, they found the afternoon loop was much more challenging, but did well to stay in touch with the R5 cars. They were also top Welsh Junior crew home - Lepley staking first claim to the top end-of-season prize of a test in a PCRS Rallysport-prepared Hyundai i20 R5, courtesy of OnThePaceNote.
It's the same Junior prize that Tom Llewellin won in 2019, and the former Welsh Junior champion appeared this time in a Mitsubishi Mirage. Together with co-driver Ross Whittock, he made a fantastic four-wheel drive competition debut, and never put a foot wrong as he got valuable miles under his belt on his way to fourth.
Scotland's Garry Pearson/Niall Burns picked up points for fifth in their Mitsubishi Evo IX. Richard Hill and Elgan Davies were paired together for the first time in their Mitsubishi Evo IX, and the new driver/co-driver partnership worked so well that they caught the car ahead of them on SS4. Their speed continued in the afternoon, coming home sixth, while Gareth Mimnagh/Barry McCarney had a good run to an untroubled seventh place in their Mitsubishi Evo VI - and topped the RAVENOL UK Welsh Challenge category.
2019 Pirelli Welsh National Rally champions Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear had a nightmare of an opening loop, with an engine misfire on SS1 and 2 and a broken driveshaft on SS3 and 4 in their Mitsubishi Evo IX. Despite this, they showed their class with a brilliant recovery in the afternoon, which rewarded them with 11th at the finish.
Also struggling was the 2019 championship runner-up Russ Thompson, who snapped a pair of driveshafts on his Mitsubishi Evo IX upon landing after a jump on SS2. Having missed two stages, he completed the afternoon's loop of stages - both for testing and to get seat time with new co-driver Peredur Davies.
Andy Davies/Ian Beamond were having a good run before a TCA broke on their Subaru Impreza.
Bob Morgan's first rally for three years was hampered a little with his super-smart and self-prepared Å koda Fabia struggling to launch off the start lines. Co-driven by Adrian Williams, the Winner Garage boss was to retire in the afternoon with brake problems.
Wug Utting was sporting a new hip, having had a replacement operation only a month ago. He and co-driver Bob Stokoe were on fine form in their Subaru Impreza STi N12, completing the event without drama. It was also a good debut for Martyn and Dawn England, who, after many years in their Ford Fiesta R5+, had purchased a Mitsubishi Evo X just four days before the event. And they got to the finish without an issue.
It was also great to see Nik Elsmore return to the sport, having only contested three rallies in the last 12 years! On his first event since the 2015 Wyedean Stages Rally, he and co-driver Craig Drew were quickly back up to speed in a Mitsubishi Evo IX, getting used to a sequential gearbox and route notes after a long time away. Elsmore joked that, "it's a good opportunity to blow plenty of cobwebs away, although the event doesn't have much faith in us, seeding us at ninety-one." And he was correct, for he was a second per mile quicker through the stages in the afternoon and came home ninth registered Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship contender.
David Crossen won the Restruct-sponsored Two-Wheel Drive category, the Irishman finishing eighth with Aileen Kelly on the notes in an Escort Mk2.
Paul Barrett/Gordon Noble were almost a minute behind in their Escort Mk2 - but were nonetheless overjoyed to win the hotly contested Historic class.
Frank Kelly, co-driven by his daughter Lauren, had a tyre come off the rim on SS2 - but their afternoon was a lot better as they came home third 2WD in their famous Baby Blue Escort Mk2. Owen McMackin/Lee Taylor and Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham finished fourth and fifth in the 2WD section in their Escort Mk2s.
Having very kindly donated 500 packets of fabulously moreish Brace's Welsh Cakes for all the volunteer marshals, Jonathan Brace had a good start to the event - despite picking up a puncture in SS2. Sadly for him and co-driver Paul Spooner, his immaculate Escort Mk2's engine cut out a mile into the final stage and refused to restart.
Ben Friend/Cliff Simmons also had high hopes of a good result, but their run ended after their Escort Mk2 broke its differential on landing after a crossroads junction.
Paul Street/Ian Jones finished second in the Historic section in their RS1800 Mk2. 2000 Pirelli Welsh National Rally champions Pete Littler/Andy Marchbank and Michael Mcdaid/Daniel Petrie came home third and fourth in a pair of Escort Mk2s, while Tom Coughtrie/Ian Fraser were fifth Historic home in their Mitsubishi Galant VR4.
Gary Smith/Clive Jones won the private RS1600 Mk1 battle, beating Andrew Stokes/Jonny 'Tad' Evans and David Kirby/Martin Corbett. They might have been seeded in the 200s, but you'd be hard pressed to find a more competitive group of drivers - and that battle is set to rage all season.
Also enjoying themselves were Julian Birley/Steve White. They won the RallySport championship 40 years ago in a Talbot Sunbeam Ti, and have returned this year in a 1600cc Sunbeam - having rebuilt the engine, gearbox and rear axle during lockdown. Their preparation efforts paid off, as they recorded a trouble-free W6 class win.
Ioan Lloyd/Sion Williams enjoyed a fantastic run in their Peugeot 208 R2, a spin on SS2 not getting in the way of a well-earned W4 class victory. Jonathan Jones/Alan Walker were second in their Fiesta R2, while Charlie Todd/Glyn Thomas completed the top three Welsh Juniors in their Fiesta R2T. Jonathan Lee Jones/Lewis Griffiths gently rolled their Fiesta R2T in Halfway, but sadly a holed radiator meant that they could go no further.
James Dunkley/Dan Sayce won the W2 class in their Vauxhall Corsa. Steve Black/Paul Morris (Suzuki Swift S1400) beat David and Toby Brick (Vauxhall Nova) to the W3 class trophy.
Robi Wood/Osian Davies (Escort Mk2) won the new Road Rally (W5) class, with Ricky Crone/Daniel James (Escort) finishing second and Graham Thatcher/Tim Samuels (Peugeot 206) completing the top three.
David Edwards/Paul Dolby (Escort Mk2) beat Neal James/Kevin Jones (Escort) to the W7 award, while Dan and Cyril Jones (Vauxhall Nova) won W10. On their first forestry rally and their first event outside Ireland, Jason Black/Karl Egan won the W11 class in their rear-wheel drive Toyota Starlet.
"It's been three and a half years since I last drove an R5 car and almost two years since I've done a rally, so it's been a very enjoyable event and I'm delighted with the result," said Callum Black.
"It was good to just be back in a rally car - and I was surprised to be right up there and leading the very strong Welsh National Rally Championship section after stage one. Between stage one and two, I noticed that the anti-roll bar had snapped, so I had to disconnect it on the road section. The stability was compromised and the car was trying to get away from me on the faster sections after that, so stages two, three and four were a bit of a challenge.
"The team fixed the car at midday service and after giving it a good go on the first two stages in the afternoon, we decided to bring the car home safely and get through the last two stages without any heroics and take home maximum championship points. I'm very happy with the result and I'm already looking forward to the next event."
While the Nicky Grist Stages was a non-spectator event, fans could watch live streaming with Howard Davies and Eifion Jones interviewing crews from strategic points along the route. Sideways Media was there to film the action, and it is producing a 30 minute programme dedicated to the Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, which will be uploaded onto social media channels as early as possible.
After a 518-day enforced break caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it truly was a fantastic opening round to the 2021 Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship.
The series continues on Saturday 4 September with the Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages.
Further details on the 2021 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, together with registration information, can be found online at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk
Top: Callum Black/Jack Morton (Ford Fiesta R5) - 1st overall, Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, 2021 Nicky Grist Stages.
Bottom: Ian Bainbridge/Will Atkins (Å koda Fabia R5) - 2nd overall, Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, 2021 Nicky Grist Stages.
Top Middle: George Lepley/Tom Woodburn (Mitsubishi Evo X) - 3rd overall and 1st Junior, Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, 2021 Nicky Grist Stages.
Middle : David Crossen/Aileen Kelly (Ford Escort Mk2) - 1st Two-Wheel Drive, Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, 2021 Nicky Grist Stages
Please credit 'Chris Huish, RallySport Media' if reproduced.
After a 518-day enforced break caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship roars back into action next weekend. The Nicky Grist Stages (Saturday 10 July) will feature one of the largest fields of championship contenders ever gathered, all gunning for points in pursuit of title success.
Covid-19 restrictions have seen motorsport in Wales halted, barring a few exceptions, since the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally on 8 February 2020.
But now, finally, rallying in the Welsh forests is returning - with an unprecedented demand for places on the start list. This level of interest has produced a quality field of drivers and co-drivers and a vast array of cars unlike anything seen for many years.
The inclusive Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship class structure features an incredibly wide range of cars driven by former champions, old rivals, newcomers and juniors. The list features the strongest ever contingent from England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, aiming to beat the proudly patriotic and famously fast Welsh home grown rally talent.
Former Pirelli Welsh National Rally champions preparing for battle are 2019 (and defending) overall title winners Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear in their Mitsubishi Evo IX. They are joined by the 2018 driver champion Dylan Davies/Mark Glennerster (Å koda Fabia R5), the 2017 driver champion Callum Black/Michael Gilbey (Ford Fiesta R5) and the 2000 champions Pete Littler/Andy Marchbank (Ford Escort Mk2).
These champions will be under pressure from the likes of Ian Bainbridge/Will Atkins, who scored maximum Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship points on the 2020 Cambrian Rally and won last December's Rali Adfer Coedwigoedd Cymru test event in a Å koda Fabia R5. 2019 championship runners-up Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Mitsubishi Evo IX), Wug Utting/Bob Stokoe (Subaru Impreza STi N12) and Nik Elsmore/Craig Drew (Mitsubishi Evo IX) will join the fray. Meanwhile, Martyn and Dawn England have swapped their Ford Fiesta R5+ for a Mitsubishi Evo X.
Also in a new car for this year is the 2019 Welsh Junior champion, Tom Llewellin. Tom, co-driven on this occasion by Ross Whittock, makes his competition debut in a four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Mirage. Elsewhere in the field, Paul Walker/Geraint Thomas have exchanged their Mitsubishi for a Subaru Impreza.
With great rallies to learn their skill and the lure of a magnificent prize of a test drive in a PCRS Rallysport-prepared Hyundai i20 R5 (courtesy of OnThePaceNote), the Junior category is buoyant again this year. George Lepley/Tom Woodburn will compete in their Mitsubishi Evo X, Ioan Lloyd/Sion Williams will move up from the Formula 1000 Junior Championship (and a few great road rally results) to a Peugeot 208 R2, and Zak Hughes/Ian Beamond bring their Renault Twingo R2 Evo.
Other Under-25-year-old hard chargers to look out for include Aoife Raftery/Dylan Doonan (Ford Fiesta), Charlie Todd/Glyn Thomas (Ford Fiesta) and Gethin Price/Matthew Baddeley (Nissan Micra). Lining up alongside will be Jason Black/Karl Egan (Toyota Starlet) and Maxx Bradshaw/Liam Andrew Whiteley, who travel from the Isle of Man in their Mitsubishi Evo III.
The ever-popular Restruct-sponsored Two-Wheel Drive category has received one of its strongest entries. Nick Elliott/Dave Price, Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner, Steven Ormond-Smith/Matty Daniels and Frank/Lauren Kelly (to name but a few) are all in Ford Escort Mk2s. Andrew Davison/Tom Murphy bring their Talbot Sunbeam, Alan Desbois/Peter Littlefield wheel out their Peugeot 306 RWD, while David Jones/Glyn Price and Kevin Metcalfe/Ian Jones both appear in BMW E30s.
More than 50 crews are eligible for the RAVENOL UK Welsh Challenge, which rewards drivers and co-drivers who have yet to finish in the top 10 overall of a Championship round and is open to any competitor in any class.
The Historic classes are very well represented this year, with many of the front-running Two-Wheel Drive category crews in contention for this title as well. In addition to those Escort Mk2 crews already mentioned, others will be piloted by Paul Barrett/Gordon Noble, David Edwards/Paul Dolby, Paul Street/Ian Jones, Phil Clarke/Steve Pugh, Ryan Barrett/Paul McCann, Robert Gough/Keaton Williams, Rob Dennis/Andy Boswell, Richard Lane/Jez Rogers, Michael Mcdaid/Daniel Petrie, Neal James/Kevin Jones and Ben Friend/Cliff Simmons. Gary Smith/Clive Jones, Andrew Stokes/Jonny Tad Evans, and David Kirby/Martin Corbett appear on the opening round in Escort Mk1s, while Julian Birley/Steve White wheel out a Talbot Sunbeam Ti.
The new class for Road Rally spec cars has sparked a lot of interest, with the likes of Graham Thatcher/Tim Samuels (Peugeot 206) and the Escort Mk2 duo of Ricky Crone/Daniel James and Rob Wood/Osian Davies battling for early class honours.
Such is the inclusive class structure of this year's Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship that a driver and co-driver are likely to be eligible for multiple awards. David and Toby Brick are a great example of this, as the giant-killing Vauxhall Nova crew will be battling for honours in the Overall, RAVENOL UK Welsh Challenge, Two-Wheel Drive and Over 50s categories!
"What a fantastic Nicky Grist Stages we have in prospect," says Dave Evison, Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship Secretary.
"With just a few days to go, perhaps it's time to reflect on the massive undertaking by all stakeholders involved in making this happen. Events of this stature under normal circumstances take up to eighteen months to organise. Add in a pandemic, and the timeframe is the same, but the commitment required over the same period is immeasurable.
"The rally fraternity, though, has responded as only they can with a fantastic entry received in an unbelievable fifteen minutes.
"Event organisers want entries in quality and quantity - they have it! Competitors want competition - they have it! They want fantastic roads - they have them! I can't wait to see the outcome."
The Nicky Grist Stages contains 44 stage miles spread over eight stages - with a loop of four gravel tests through Llyn Login, Monument, Halfway and Crychan forests in the morning and repeated in the afternoon following a midday service halt at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd.
Spectators are not permitted to watch in any of the stages nor the service area. Instead, the Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship will broadcast live from the event on its Facebook page. Experienced motorsport broadcaster Sideways Media will be filming the action, with driver interviews and expert analysis from Howard Davies and Eifion Jones.
After each round, a 30 minute edited highlights package will be produced, dedicated to the Welsh National Rally Championship runners, and broadcast on the Championship's Facebook and YouTube channels.
The Plains Rally, which was scheduled to take place on Saturday 14 August, has been cancelled - meaning that the 2021 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Championship will now consist of five rounds, with the best four scores to count. Round 2 will now be the Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages on Saturday, 4 September.
Further details on the 2021 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship, together with registration information, can be found online at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk
2021 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh National Rally Championship calendar
10 July.......Nicky Grist Stages
4 September.......Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages
16 October.......Winner Garage Å KODA Wyedean Rally
30 October.......Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally
13 November.......Rallynuts Stages Rally
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