Nick Elliott and David Price took a resounding victory on the Mid Wales Historic Stages (Sunday 2 March), the second round of the West Wales Rally Spares R.A.C. Rally Championship. It was their fourth win in five years on the rally that takes in classic stages in the Myherin and Hafren forest complexes.
Once again, Ray Cunningham and Gary McElhinney (Mini Cooper) were the stars of Category 1 as they saw off a very strong field to take the spoils and maximum points in the Aldon Automotive Mini and Imp Cup. Meanwhile, David Stokes and Guy Weaver (Ford Escort Mk1) made a strong championship debut to win Category 2. Other category winners included Darren Moon/Alan Walker (Ford Escort Mk2) in Category K and Simon Crook/Alister Crook (Opel Manta) in Category O.
With 75 registered contenders starting the rally, the Newtown-based event set a new record for the R.A.C. Rally Championship and fans packed the stages to watch the action despite poor weather.
The classic Welsh forest stages were made slippery and extremely challenging by steady rain, but Elliott and Price took control from the opening stage at Pikes Peak. With a 28s lead going into the final stage, Elliott took a steady approach and that helped Matthew Robinson/Sam Collis to pull back 10s to leave the margin of victory at 17.6s. Meirion Evans and Iwan Jones made it three Ford Escort Mk2s on the overall podium before the flying Sunbeam Lotus of Owen Murphy/James O'Brien.
Right from the start, Elliott stamped his authority on the event. He went seven seconds ahead and then extended his lead with another push in Myherin. The long 15-miler that started in Sweet Lamb and then moved into Hafren added another 10s to Elliott's lead and, after the shorter Hafren South, he headed out of the second service for the final Pikes Peak stage with a 28s margin.
However, Robinson was content with second and another strong result. “We had a steady day: the last stage was mega and I loved the downhill section," said Robinson. He had 40s in hand over Evans and Iwan Jones, but it was another result that showed just what rapid progress road rally ace Evans is making on gravel.
Early championship leader Richard Hill and new co-driver Steffan Evans had an average day and a minute lost on Myherin to what Hill described as pilot error left them down in fifth and just clear of Darren Moon/Alan Walker, who had a great run as Walker delivered notes for the very first time. “The co-driver has been faultless," said Moon. They topped the FIA class for Appendix K cars, and edged Tomas Davies/Eurig Davies back to seventh overall by two seconds.
Notable retirements in Category 3 included Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke with a broken halfshaft and Terry Brown/Den Golding with a broken anti-roll bar in the Sweet Lamb bowl. Brown had been well on the pace over the first two stages.
Once again, one of the drives of the rally came from Ray Cunningham and Gary McElhinney as they claimed Category 1 victory in their Mini Cooper S against some serious opposition.
Simon Wallis and Graham Wride made the initial Category 1 pace and still set the best time as they finished Myherin on three cylinders. That was down to a suspected dropped valve and they retired the Lotus Cortina at first service. Meanwhile, Bob Bean and Malcolm Smithson went out with steering damage in their Cortina.
Following up their impressive pace from the Red Kite, Gwilym Roberts and Don James ran home an excellent second in their Lotus Cortina with newly-registered Graham Waite/Gill Cotton third after a misfire in the ever-spectacular Volvo Amazon. Father and son Bob and Dale Gibbons (Ford Cortina Mk2) were also in the mix, while Stephen Higgins/Don Bramfoot (Saab 96) won class B1 despite dropping seven minutes in Sweet Lamb after a detached throttle spring sent them into a ditch. “Too many hills for the Saab, but going down Pikes Peak was awesome," said Higgins.
Category 2 was the domain of championship newcomers David Stokes and Guy Weaver (Ford Escort Mk1), who had to change the clutch release bearing at second service. Stokes won the category by 48s from the hugely impressive Stanley Orr and Brian Cairns in their Pinto-powered Escort Mk1. The Northern Ireland crew loved the quality of the stages and headed many BDG-powered cars in the process.
Behind the flying Irishman, Peter Smith and Patrick Walsh forged the Opel Ascona into second and went clear of a mighty battle for third as 25s covered Terry Cree/Richard Shores (BMW 2002) and the Escort Mk1s of Steve Magson/Darren Smith and David Kirby/Chris Rixon. “Good rally, good stages but tricky conditions," reported Peter Smith. “We lacked a bit of commitment in the morning," admitted Kirby, while Cree reported a catalogue of dramas. The gear lever jumped out of its socket on the first two stages, making gear changes difficult, they spun twice on SS3, stalled and got the handbrake jammed on. But it all came together on the final stage. “Absolutely mint: loved it," said Cree. Magson agreed: “I could go down Pikes Peak all day long," he said.
Warren Philliskirk/Eurig Evans ran third in class C5 despite stopping in Hafren to assist Jonathan Brace from his upended Escort Mk2. In class C2, for the 1600cc cars no-one was ever likely to trouble the Escort Mk1 of Robin Shuttleworth and Ronnie Roughead, but they were frustrated to drop three minutes limping out of Hafren South with a puncture.
Bouncing back from a first stage gearbox failure on the Red Kite came Graham Thatcher and Robert James to clinch class D2 in their Hillman Avenger, while Shawn Rayner and Declan Dear were the class of D3 in their Pinto-powered Escort Mk2 ahead of Gareth Lewis and Dan Holley.
In the Open category, brothers Simon and Alister Crook were top in their Opel Manta after a day that started badly on the wrong tyres but ended well. Layton Waters and Kevin Bowcott took second in the Toyota Starlet, but the loss of power steering left Waters exhausted at the end of the 15-miler in Hafren. Geraint Davies and Chris Williams ran strongly in their Peugeot 205GTi for third as Dave Hemingway, rallying in Wales for only the second time, took fourth with Simon Ashton alongside in his Escort Mk2.
The West Wales Rally Spares R.A.C. Rally Championship is the only championship that runs historics first on the road on all events. Round 3 is the Tour of Hamsterley on Saturday 26 April.
The Mid Wales Stages was organised by Newtown and District Automobile Club and supported by Viking Motorsport and Links Electrical Supplies Ltd.