This year’s Nicky Grist Stages last weekend proved to be a huge success, writes Paul Evans.
Spectators enjoyed great weather and spectacular high-speed action, competitors rose to the challenge of a two-day mixed surface event, the event organisers Quinton MC running an incident-free rally and Builth Wells hosted a fantastic town centre start and finish ceremonies.
With three rallies in one and competitors battling for points in 10 different championships, the mid-Wales event attracted 147 starters – all of which were flagged away from outside the magnificent Strand Hall in the heart of Builth Wells on Saturday morning.
Swapping his Wales and Scarlets Rugby shirts for Stilo helmet and P1 Advanced Racewear suit was Scott Williams – who unveiled his new and immaculate Scott Williams Motorsport built Escort, which he drove as course opening car on the Sunday’s asphalt stages.
It was a stunning sight and sound enjoyed by all – including fellow Welsh Rugby Union star George North and double Olympic medal winning cyclist Becky James, who were on Epynt to support their good friend.
The importance of the Nicky Grist Stages internationally was highlighted when Sweden’s Fredrik Åhlin and his Norwegian co-driver Torstein Eriksen claimed overall victory in their Škoda Fabia R5 (right).
Welsh favourite Osian Pryce had made the most of running first on the road to lead after day one (right) by 19.3 seconds, but a fuel pump problem with his Ford Fiesta R5 side-lined him and co-driver Dale Furniss early on day two. Åhlin took the lead and held onto it superbly, winning the event by 47.5 seconds and retaking the lead in the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship.
Llandudno’s Matt Edwards finished an excellent second on his Ford Fiesta R5. Co-driven by Darren Garrod, the result moves him into third in the BRC standings, behind Åhlin and Pryce, with two rallies remaining. Rhys Yates/Carl Williamson (Ford Fiesta R5) took third place – with the Nicky Grist Stages finish ceremony held in the beautiful Groe Park, on the banks of the River Wye.
|Callum Devine/Keith Moriarty (Opel Adam R2) won an exciting Junior BRC battle, after the lead changed hands six times. Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (Peugeot 208 R2) led initially, before a puncture saw them tumble down the order. Norway’s Oscar Solberg/Patrik Barth (Ford Fiesta R2T) seized the advantage before turbo problems intervened.
Cameron Davies/Michael Gilbey (Peugeot 208 R2) led overnight, but retired on day two with engine problems. Irish driver Devine was unstoppable once the event moved onto Tarmac, eventually winning Junior BRC by 18.6 seconds. William Creighton and Liam Regan (Peugeot 208 R2) came home second, with west Wales pair James Williams/Dai Roberts (Fiesta R2T) claiming third.
In the battle for Ravenol BTRDA Rally Series points, which was played out over Saturday’s eight gravel stages, it was Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson who took the Nicky Grist Stages victory after a well-judged run in their Ford Fiesta WRC. Peter Taylor/Andrew Roughead set six fastest stage times, but lost time when their Ford Fiesta WRC’s rear spoiler came off and then they suffered a puncture.
They couldn’t quite make up all the time lost and finished second, just 8.1 seconds behind. Callum Black/Elliott Edmondson also lost time when they overshot a hairpin early on, yet still finished a strong third in their less powerful Ford Fiesta R5+.
|Nicky Grist said, “Quinton MC has really upped the standard on this year’s event and as an organising team they are getting better and better – and that’s been reflected in the success of the 2017 rally.
“We were blessed with beautiful weather, which keeps the marshals, spectators and everyone happy, but it also throws up other challenges for the competitors, especially on the dusty gravel stages on day one.
The dry Tarmac roads of Epynt on day two certainly offered a great challenge, and we’ve had a fantastic event. I’m delighted. We’ve learnt a little bit more, so there are more improvements to be made, but as an event we are moving, most definitely, in the right direction.”
Neil Cross, Nicky Grist Stages Clerk of the Course, said, “We were very pleased by the big entry we received and the quality of the field – the three events certainly made for great competition and produced very worthy overall and class winners in all ten of the championships that we hosted. We’re always looking to make improvements, and everyone at Quinton MC is delighted with the way this very complex two-day mixed surface event is developing.
“We’d like extend our enormous thanks to all the marshals and officials who worked tirelessly to ensure the safe running of the event, and also to all the competitors, teams and spectators who were a credit to our sport last weekend.”
Sasha Kakad/James Aldridge won the BTRDA Production Cup category in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10 and finished an impressive fifth overall. A misfiring Fiesta R5 led to the retirement of Hugh Hunter/Rob Fagg, while another top BTRDA crew to retire was Dylan Davies/Llion Williams with power steering problems in their Subaru Impreza.
The Nicky Grist Stages saw Brackley driver Callum Black become the first driver this season to take a second maximum points score in the Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship, reports Peter Hughes.
Meanwhile, problems for the Subaru Impreza of Andy Davies mean it’s Surrey driver Wug Utting who now tops the Championship standings.
It was Somerset crew Martyn and Dawn England who headed the Championship competitors at the end of the opening stage with Black and co-driver Elliott Edmondson in third place behind Hugh Hunter and Rob Fagg. Meanwhile, erstwhile championship leaders Andy Davies and Max Freeman were already out of the event, their Subaru Impreza parked up in the opening stage with a failed ball joint.
Positions remained unchanged after the second stage but stage 3 saw Black take the lead in his R5+ specification Ford Fiesta ahead of the similar car of England and the R5 version of Hunter, with less than 4 seconds separating the three crews.
Black reinforced his position with a fastest time on stage 4 after which the crews returned to the Royal Welsh Showground for mid-event servicing. Hunter moved up to second place but his event would end on the very next stage, courtesy of a misfire on the Fiesta. One stage later the event lost another front running championship team when Dylan Davies and Llion Williams parked their Subaru Impreza with a broken power steering pipe.
That moved Peter M Stephenson and Will Rogers into third place in their Ford Focus World Rally Car with the top trio remaining unchanged over the final two stages.
Fourth place at the finish was enough to put Wug Utting and Bob Stokoe at the head of the championship standings, the Impreza crew displacing Andy Davies and Max Freeman. With Dylan Davies and Llion Williams in third place, Callum Black and Elliott Edmondson move up to fourth despite having contested only two championship rounds to date.
Utting and Stokoe also lead the Group N category for less modified machinery from Davies and Freeman. Meanwhile, an epic two wheel drive battle saw Dave and Toby Brick take top honours in their 1400cc Vauxhall Nova. A tight battle with Chris Powell and Jim Lewis ended when the Talbot Sunbeam crew were forced to retire on the final stage of the rally. Second place among the two wheel drive crews ultimately went to Andy and Jamie Lee-Fox in their BMW 325i while the Ford Fiesta of Bob Vardy and Keaton Williams finished third.
It’s BMW driver Colin Griffiths who heads the two wheel drive championship standings, however, ahead of absent Ford Escort pairing David and James Young with Andy and Jamie Lee-Fox next up.
Points in the Ravenol Welsh Challenge are awarded based on drivers’ performance within their class and it is Colin Griffiths who also leads that with a single point advantage over Andy Davies while Wug Utting is a further three points back.
With three rounds of the championship remaining the battle for overall honours remains wide open as does the destination of many of the class awards. The next event is the Red Dragon Rally in the Neath Valley on 19 August.