He won the opening round of the 2019 series last Sunday, Port Talbot MC’s Rallynuts National Tour of Epynt Rally, in his North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05.
Strong winds and dark clouds swept over the military ranges day long, heavy rain, sleet and hail making driving conditions hazardous and tyre choice almost impossible. Those conditions contributed to a high retirement rate to the high-quality field, yet a brilliant drive by Pritchard made the extremely difficult look easy.
Jason had not driven his Focus since last October, admitting to being a little rusty on the opening stage – but then he and Phil Clarke took the lead of the event on the second stage, and held it to the rally finish, stretching their advantage on every stage – even when they had to stop for a flock of sheep to cross the road on the penultimate run.
Their two minute thirteen second victory margin didn’t fully reflect the battle with Cole’s similar Focus WRC05, the Get Connected/Energizer driver leading after the first stage. Two disastrous tyre choices on two of the longest stages preventing Cole pressurising Pritchard more for the win.
Co-driven by Shelley Rogerson, Cole lost fourteen seconds on the fourth stage, the wintry conditions in the service area at the Quarry different to the dry and sunny conditions on the other side of the ranges near Drover’s Arms. The gap increased to close on a minute before the fourteen miles of the final stage, Cole’s ice tyres with no grip whatsoever, yet second overall, the class win, and twenty eight championship points still a great start to the six time Asphalt Rally Champions 2019 campaign.
John Stone suffered an early misfire in the Fiesta WRC that Mikko Hirvonen had won the 2011 Rally Australia with – new spark plugs and a replacement coil cured the problem, the 2014 Asphalt Rally Championship runner-up pressing on, co-driven by Jack Morton, the Fiesta driver keen to keep his Legend Fires-backed Ford in one piece ready for another rally in two weeks time.
Hugh Hunter made his rally debut in a newly acquired ex-François Duval factory Focus WRC05, the 2017 Manx National winner with electrical problems in the P+R Benn car, he and co-driver Rob Fagg out of the rally. Phil Turner/Simon Anthony were fourth overall in their TCS-backed Mitsubishi Evo 9 until they lost turbo boost halfway through SS5 and were forced to retire when they discovered the turbo had broken away.
Chris Rice and Craig Cameron of Rallynuts hit a rock in their Subaru Impreza and retired on SS2. Nigel Jones was doing his first rally for three years in his ex-Petter Solberg Subaru Impreza WRC S9. Co-driven by Swansea ’s Tracy Davies, the Carmarthenshire driver was going well until SS5, when a gear selection problem saw the car retired.
PTMC duo Marcus Padgett/Rhys Stoneman had also made a good start in their rapid Nissan touring car engined Micra Kit Car, until a loss of oil pressure on SS2 forced them out. A spin at Llandeilo’r Fân Triangle on stage one didn’t reflect John Indri’s pace in his Spencer Sport-built Mitsubishi Mirage, a lack of grip, and final turbo issue forced retirement.
Fourth overall, behind Teify Valley duo Sebastian Ling and Aled Rees in a Citroën DS3 R5, gave Stone third placed points – useful on a rare visit to Epynt. On their Epynt debut, and on only their second rally in their new Cairnsmill Caravan Park Fiesta R5, Alan Kirkaldy / Cameron Fair finished fifth overall and fourth in the Asphalt Rally Championship, on the driver’s first pace note event, rewarded with top points in the R5 category – beating David Hardie who was contesting his first rally in a Fiesta R5, eighth overall and fifth Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship crew.
Reigning class champions Wayne Sisson/Max Freeman were sixth, exactly as on the PTMC opener on Epynt last year, despite the AMS Arnside Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10 breaking a rear driveshaft three miles from the end of SS6.
Oli Hopkins completed the top 10 with a brave drive in the Hopkins Motorsport-owned and Spencer Sport-run Mitsubishi Mirage, his fourth event in the car, despite wrong tyre choices pushing hard when the rubber suited the surface conditions, co-driven by Ammanford MC’s Ian Taylor, twenty three championship points just reward. His brother Philip wasn’t so lucky, the rebuilt Hopkins Motorsport-owned and MacWhirter Motorsport of Crynant run Mitsubishi Evo 6, of he and co-driver Aled Edwards retired with early turbo failure.
Welsh built Darrians contested the rally, Gareth Richards / Deian Deian Rees seventh overall and class winners, Richard Merriman/Kath Curzon also first in class and twelfth overall in their two-litre Vauxhall-engined Darrian T90. Huw Reed/Anthony Hackett were flying in their 2.5-litre Millington Series 2-engined, ex-John Dalton/Damian Cole Darrian T90 GTR, but a coil pack problem on SS4 caused retirement on stage five.
Gary Le Coadou/Carl Sorensen brought their ex-Dani Sordo Hyundai i20 WRC to Epynt , a spin at the first corner of the first stage costing nearly half a minute to restart the car, but finishing and learning as much about the car as possible was achieved. Ammanford pair Rhidian Daniels and Tomos Whittle showed mechanical creativity when the Citroen C1 Max gearlever snapped on SS3, replaced with the jack handle, to lead their class.
Llandsul’s Will Mains and Claire Williams of Ammanford finished twenty first in their Vauxhall Nova, and class winners by seven and a half minutes – no quiet Sunday drive for them !. Geoff Glover was on his 100th Asphalt Championship rally in his self-built rear-wheel drive Astra and his eighteenth Tour of Epynt start, he and co-driver Keith Barker twenty fourth overall and class third.
Winner Pritchard said, “The car was faultless, as was the service team and Phil on the pacenotes. A big thank you to the marshals who stood outside all day in torrential weather, it was a good event ”.
Runner up Cole observed “Wrong tyres for two of the longer stages did me damage, but my fault and we were lucky to come second. Nice to be back in the Focus and we’ll use it for the rest of the year.”
Third placed John Stone added “I’m not an Epynt expert and the place frightens me to death, but a brilliant day. We’ll come back to Epynt – I don’t really know why we’ve stayed away for so long.”