The 2016 Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship got off to the most exciting start possible as Rhuddlan’s Luke Francis and co-driver John H Roberts took outright victory on the Cambrian Rally by the narrowest possible margin, writes Peter Hughes.
2015 was a bumper year for Wales’s premier rally series and registrations are at an even higher level at this early stage of the season with over 40 championship contenders lining up at the Llandudno start. The first of the 8 stages event saw Yorkshireman Charlie Payne, co-driven by Carl Williamson take an early lead in their Ford Fiesta ahead of Scotland’s Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton in their Peugeot 208. With former Welsh champion Connor McCloskey, co-driven by Damien Duffin holding third place in their Mini Cooper S, Francis and Roberts lay fourth, 12 seconds off the lead.
Francis quickly responded, however, moving up to the third at after stage 2 and taking the lead at the end of stage four. Payne struck back, regaining the advantage but after eight stages and 45 competitive miles it was Francis who took the victory by a single second.
Second place among the championship contenders went to Mancunian Steve Simpson, while third was Thirsk’s Peter Stephenson. With Karl Simmons from Southwell finishing in fourth place, his co-driver Mark Glennister finishing second among the registered contenders, top honours in the Group N category went to Worcester duo Paul Davy and Roger Allen ahead of Roland Llewellin of Haverfordwest.
Less fortunate was Shaun Gardener, making a welcome return to the ranks of the championship contenders. He and co-driver Ben Innes were forced to retire their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo with turbo failure on the second stage. Also forced out of the event, but on the penultimate stage, were last year’s championship runners up Dylan Davies of Llanon and Caernarfon’s Llion Williams who had reported problems with the steering on their Subaru Impreza earlier in the day
Victory in the two wheel drive category went to the Ford Escort of John Rowlands from Ffestiniog and his co-driver, Machynlleth man Glen Latham who finished 16 seconds ahead of another Escort driven by Gavin Edwards from Caernarfon and co-driven by Penmachno’s Caron Tomlinson.
In the junior category for competitors under 25, top honours among the drivers went to Pwllheli’s Andrew Jones as he finished ahead of Derry driver Jordan Hone while among the co-drivers, Chris Davies took maximum points ahead of Ludlow’s Keaton Williams.
Ludlow driver Dave Brick took the joint lead in the Ravenol Welsh Challenge which carries an end of season prize fund provided by the hi-tech lubricant supplier and valued at £3000. The challenge is determined by the driver’s performance within their class and currently sharing that lead are John Rowlands and Luke Francis.
TV coverage of the championship opener produced by the Special Stage team, will appear on Motors TV on 2 March, while the next round is the Mid Wales Stages based in Newtown on 6 March.
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