Saturday’s Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally turned out to be a day of firsts, writes Peter Hughes.
The first round of the Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship, maximum overall driver’s points went to Osian Pryce as he contested his first ever stage rally behind the wheel of a right-hand drive car.
Maximum co-driver’s points, meanwhile, went to Max Freeman as he claimed his first outright win on a stage rally. The 2016 champion junior co-drive and 2017 champion Group N co-driver teamed up with Derbyshire driver Ollie Mellors in his Proton Iriz with a last-minute entry to the event. It was the duo’s first rally together.
Although the snow and ice that cause the abandonment of last year’s event were absent, competitors reported that the special stages in the North Wales forests were extremely slippery.
One of the first competitors to fall victim to the conditions was Simon Rogers who rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI heavily on the opening stage in Penmachno Forest. Simon was taking to hospital for precautionary checks but was able to attend the finish of the event on Llandudno seafront where he was full of praise for the event’s rescue and medical teams.
Matt Edwards took the lead on the opening stage ahead of fellow championship contender Hugh Hunter with Mellors third. North Wales driver Edwards effectively went out of the event, on the next stage, however, when he hit a tree stump.
Although he returned to the event later in the event in his Ford Fiesta setting further fastest stage times, two maximum stage times left him out of contention for overall honours.
Mellors and Freeman took the lead on stage 2 and would retain it all the way to the finish. Meanwhile Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss began their move up the leaderboard in their Mitsubishi Mirage enabling Osian to take maximum driver’s points with Dale second among the co-driver. Second place driver’s points went to Julian Reynolds in his R5 specification Ford Fiesta with Hugh Hunter third in his WRC version of the same car.
Former champions Luke Francis and John H Roberts were forced to retire their Ford Fiesta World Rally Car after ripping a wheel off on stage 5. Also out on the same stage, with mechanical problems on their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, were Group N leaders Tom Naughton and Will Rogers.
That promoted former Group N champions Paul Davy and Roger Allen in their Subaru Impreza. They finished ahead of Dan Moss and Sam Allen in their Evo IX with Zak Hughes and Tom Wood taking third place in the Ford Fiesta ST.
The two wheel drive category provided an inter-family battle with John Rowlands and Glen Latham taking the honours in their Ford Escort after Ieuan Rowlands and Emyr Hall suffered a late puncture on their Hillman Avenger.
New to the Championship for this year is the RAVENOL Welsh Challenge for competitors who haven’t finished in the top 10 on a previous Championship round. Topping the driver and co-driver standings respectively are Evo IX crew Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear with Ford Escort pairing Rob Dennis and Andrew Boswell second, and Zak Hughes and Tom Wood third.
Competitors have just ten days before round two of the Championship, the Newtown based Grooms Garage Mid Wales Stages on Sunday 4 March.
© Words Peter Hughes