Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Birchall and Koonja take convincing win at Welsh Hill Rally 2019

Justin Birchall and Jonathan Koonja led from start to finish to take a dominant win on the Welsh Hill Rally last weekend.

The event, organised by That’s Motorsport Limited, started on Friday evening with two short stages.  Birchall got off to a flying start in his Lofthouse Freelander, heading the leaderboard by 21 seconds. Last year’s winner Paul Rowlands was in second place in his Polaris with Ant Jackson’s Audi-engined Warrior in third. A couple of crews had problems early on with Jon Sprackling losing drive on his Bowler Bulldog and Chloe Jones damaging the steering on her QT88, an issue which was still being fixed late into Friday evening.

A long day of action on Saturday saw ten stages being completed. Birchall continued to set the pace and was fastest on every stage with Rowlands maintaining second place. Mark Jacques in his Lofthouse LS3 was third at the end of Saturday’s stages with Jackson having dropped down the leaderboard after a stage maximum following a broken propshaft. Jackson would also have problems on Sunday when the steering broke but he and navigator Peter Widdop battled on to finish in 13th place. 

Saturday’s stages were causing problems for other competitors too. Alan Thomas stopped on stage five with suspected differential issues on his Walker-Adams Revolution, Cameron Crow rolled his Tomcat and Chloe Jones’ troubles continued with a misfire and then the fuel pump breaking. She managed to continue though after fellow competitor Dale Gilbertson lent a spare pump.

There was no let up in Birchall’s pace as he took fastest time on all of Sunday’s stages to give a winning margin of nearly 8 minutes. 

“It’s been a fantastic event, the stages were great,” said Birchall. “It’s all gone really well, I think lady luck was on our side as we’ve not really had any problems other than a smoking relay which we sorted. I’ve been trying to win a hill rally for ten years so it’s nice to finally achieve it. The car has been spot on although it’s taken a hammering. It’ll definitely need a good check over before round two of the BXCC.”

Paul Rowlands finished in second place and, with Mark Jacques retiring on Sunday, it was Rowland’s son Jason who took third place in his Can-Am X3. 

Ian Gregg and Adam Evans made it three UTVs in the top four in their Polaris. Gregg commented: “It’s been a good weekend, a bit dusty but the stages were excellent. We had a bit of a front diff mishap which meant we had to do all of Sunday’s stages in two wheel drive. This wasn’t ideal for our times but it certainly put a smile on our faces!”

In fifth place was the AT 4x4 Indy Challenger of Rob Bool and Victoria Vaughan. 

“It’s been hard graft but we made it to the finish,” said Bool. “It’s a tough event and we had a few problems including a broken driveshaft and CV boot. The wheel bearing was on its way out on the final stages so we’re glad to get to the end.”

George Bryson and Wallace McKay said before the event that they were hoping for a finish and a good event and they achieved their aim with a 10th place finish and second in class. 

Phill Bayliss left his usual Land Rover 90 TD5 at home and did the event in his new car and, despite a couple of issues, he finished 12th and first in class. 

Ian Linford also won his class in his Freelander although he found the terrain a little rougher than his last event which was on the closed public roads of Essex!

John Pickering finished 22nd in his production-spec Land Rover Discovery despite an oil leak resulting in a couple of stage maximums. Pickering was awarded the “spirit of the rally” award after helping a fellow competitor get back on the road after putting their car on its side.

Thank you to the event sponsors: Voxcloud, Staffordshire Signs, Britpart, Par Homes, Bowler, Wynne Williams Properties, Birchall Foodservice, NickyGrist.com, Gamber, AJD Offroad, Commercial Colours and Alldrive Classic 4x4 with thanks also to Andy & Sue Powell and Richard Green & Karina James.

Top 10:

1. Justin Birchall/Jonathan Koonja (Lofthouse Freelander) 02:19:19
2. Paul Rowlands/Neil Lloyd (Polaris RZR) 02:27:11
3. Jason Rowlands/Liam Dudley (Can-Am X3) 02:30:18
4. Ian Gregg/Adam Evans (Polaris RZR) 02:30:35
5. Rob Bool/Victoria Vaughan (AT 4x4 Indy Challenger) 02:32:37
6. Richard Wynne Williams/Matthew Lowe (Lofthouse M3) 02:32:40
7. Ben Gill/Luke Sagar (TMC) 02:40:53
8. Dale Gibertson/Peter Gilbertson (3M Challenger) 02:42:06
9. Alastair Morton/Iain Johnston (Polaris RZR) 02:42:18
10. George Bryson/Wallace McKay (Kirkland Proto) 02:44:41

Monday, 13 May 2019

Crews set for Welsh Hill Rally challenge

Crews from all over the UK will head to Walters Arena in South Wales next weekend for the Welsh Hill Rally. The event, organised by That’s Motorsport Ltd., will take place between 17th and 19th May.
Last year’s winner Paul Rowlands will return to the event in his Par Homes-supported Polaris. His son Jason Rowlands will also be racing in his Can-Am X3 with Liam Dudley co-driving.
Ian Gregg and Adam Evans will be in their Polaris RZR XP1 Turbo and they’ll be looking to go one better than their second place finish last year.
After a very successful 2018 event George Bryson and Wallace McKay will be out again in their Howford Hydraulics Kirkland Proto. With Bryson from Scotland and McKay from Northern Ireland they are possibly the crew who have the longest combined journey to get to the event.

“It was my first crack at the event last year,” said Bryson. “I was delighted to win a closely-fought class and finish 7th overall. My usual co-driver Jacqueline Bryson couldn’t compete last year due to a back injury and this year she’s having to work so I’ll have Wallace in the navigator’s seat again. We’re also planning on entering the Borders Hill Rally. It’s a long trip to get to Walters for us both so we’re hoping for a finish and an enjoyable weekend. Anything more would be a bonus.”
Another driver returning to the event is Harry Nicoll. Nicoll finished in the top 20 last year in a Tomcat and he was planning on using the same car this year but plans have changed.
“The Tomcat’s gearbox is away for a rebuild, it should’ve been ready but now won’t be,” commented Nicoll. “There’s also an engine issue so I’ve ran out of time to get the car sorted. I’ll be using my dad’s Mattserati instead which is quite a change! It’s got a 4.8 Rover V8 and is a lot quicker than the Tomcat. I’m very nervous about doing the event in it as I’ve only driven it once. It should be fun though and I’m looking forward to it!
Aston Cox will be out in his GSR 206. Cox is racing in the BXCC this year after winning the NORC championship with father Martin last year. Becca Clarkson will be navigating.
Chloe Jones and Tom Gray will be competing in their QT 88. It will be Gray’s first hill rally although Jones contested last year’s event and both experienced the venue on their way to a class win at the opening BXCC round. Chloe’s sister Zoe will be also be at the event helping with the organisation.

Phill Bayliss and Lance Murfin are entered in their distinctive Old Forge Garage-supported Land Rover. The former BCC Trophy champions finished 12th overall on the recent BXCC round and had a problem-free test session at an event at Baden Hall on the May Bank Holiday.
Former Freelander Challenge champion Ian Linford has been competing on stage rallies recently, including the Rally GB National event, and he’ll be doing his first hill rally with Demelza Scholes co-driving.
Cameron Crow and Pauline Stevenson will be doing the Welsh Hill Rally for the first time in their 3.9 V8 Tomcat. Stevenson commented: “We’ve both done the Borders Hill Rally for several years, sometimes together and sometimes with other people. This is our first time doing both the Welsh and the Hill Rally Championship though. Fingers crossed we go fast and safe.”
There are three Lofthouse cars on the entry list. Justin Birchall and Jonny Koonja will be in their Birchall Foodservice and Mancini Jeans-backed car and should be able to go somewhat quicker than the standard Isuzu D-Max they used last year. Joining Birchall will be Richard Wynne-Williams and Matthew Lowe in their BMW M3-powered car and Mark Jacques and Adam Nicholson with their LS3-engined example.

It’s not just the crews who are travelling from all over the UK to support the event. Some of the marshals, without whom there would be no event, will have long trips too including one who is towing a caravan from Aberdeenshire, a journey of over 500 miles! With a slightly shorter distance to travel is Moira Aston, wife of That’s Motorsport’s Chairman Jon, who’ll be the event’s Competitor Liaison Officer. She commented: “I’m really looking forward to doing the CLO role and meeting all the competitors at signing on.”
The event will start on Friday evening with two stages, There will then be two full days of competition over the weekend with a total of 20 challenging stages. For more information please visit thewelshhillrally.com.
Thank you to the event sponsors: Voxcloud, Staffordshire Signs, Britpart, Par Homes, Bowler, Wynne Williams Properties, Birchall Foodservice, NickyGrist.com, Gamber, AJD Offroad, Commercial Colours an Alldrive Classic 4x4 with thanks also to Andy & Sue Powell and Richard Green & Karina James.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Images from Britpart BXCC round 1

A selection of images from Britpart BXCC round 1 which was held at Walters in South Wales.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Marfell masters the conditions to take BXCC Walters win

The Britpart British Cross Country Championship (BXCC) returned in style last weekend with the opening round at Walters won by Adrian Marfell and Paul Bartleman in their Fouquet-Nissan.

The organisers laid on a very tough course of almost nine miles in length and, after rain most of Friday, it was very slippery as the crews headed out on the opening run.

Justin Birchall and Jonny Koonja set the early pace in their Lofthouse Freelander, they were the only crew to break the 14 minute barrier on the first run. Marfell took the lead after run three as Birchall’s car had electrical issues which resulted in a time around two minutes slower than his first two runs. Mark Jacques and Adam Nicholson held third place after the opening three runs with Andy Degiulio and Paul Foley in fourth in their Milner R5 despite a first run puncture which removed part of the bodywork.

The initial runs proved troublesome for several crews. Jason Rowlands stopped with a broken drivebelt on his Can-Am X3, Ryan Cooke’s Milner LRM-1 had water pump issues and Mike Wilson broke a driveshaft on his Freelander.

With his car restored to full health Birchall was quickest on the remaining three runs of the opening day, reducing Marfell’s lead to 22 seconds. Degiulio was third overnight ahead of Jacques with Richard Wynne-Williams and Matthew Lowe making it three Lofthouse cars in the top five.

The competitors continued to keep Rabbit Recovery busy with a variety of mechanical issues and accidents including Oisin Riley rolling his Polaris and Mike Moran losing an argument with a tree in his Lofthouse Evo.

The crews did another five runs on day two and it was Birchall who was again quickest on the first run of the day, bringing the lead down to 11 seconds. His hopes of victory were dashed on the second run though as a puncture cost around 30 seconds.

Marfell had three punctures during the event but four fastest times on the last four runs helped give him a winning margin of over a minute from Birchall.

“It was a very enjoyable course to drive, the second half was very fast and flowing.” said Marfell. “We had a few problems with punctures, it’s a venue where you need a little bit of luck I think. The event was very well organised and it’s great to see the British championship back on the map, thanks to the That’s Motorsport team for all their hard work.”

Birchall commented: “It’s a good start to the season, we had a great battle with Adrian and hats off to him for the win. We had a couple of electrical problems on the first day but we managed to pull things back on the later runs. We’d hoped to push hard for the win early on day two but the puncture put paid to that. The course was very challenging, a real offroad event, it’s been a fantastic weekend.”

Jacques was promoted to third after Degiulio crashed on run nine but this was only after some late night servicing.

“We were checking the car over after the first day and found a problem with the diff,” said Jacques. “Thanks to Ian Gregg, who lent us his welding gear, we were able to get it sorted after working on it all of Saturday evening. I’m happy with third, we were pushing hard and our run times kept dropping until the last couple of laps when the car had some sort of issue – we’re not sure exactly what yet!”.
A final run puncture dropped Wynne-Williams to fifth so it was Andy Powell and Mason Kershaw who finished fourth in their Caze Peugeot 306.

Richard Keasey took his Rakeway Ridgeway, resplendent in its new eye catching livery, to sixth. With engine problems on their GSR 206, Martin and Aston Cox purchased a Can-Am X3 for the event and, partnered by Josh Thomas, they finished seventh.

In eighth were Phil Ibbotson and Karina James in their BMW M3-engined Metro 6R4, Ibbotson finding that he’s quicker now that he can see where he’s going with his new glasses.

“It’s been a really good event,” commented Ibbotson. “It was a tough course but we had no problems and no punctures, we’ve had a fun weekend.”

Steve Smith and John Griffiths were ninth in their Clio V8 and rounding off the top 10 was Ryan Cooke and Darren Cooke who battled to the finish after several issues with their car.

Outside of the top ten Paul Rowlands finished 11th despite rolling his Polaris in front of the TV cameraman and suffering a broken balljoint.

Chloe Jones travelled straight from competing in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to race at the slightly less desert-like Walters Arena and she was rewarded with a class win and 14th overall.

Mike Wilson drove his Freelander in his usual committed manner to finish 20th overall and first in class, his service area resembling a Freelander scrap yard with assorted pieces of broken suspension and transmission.

The championship will resume in June in South West Scotland. For more information please visit crosscountryuk.org. For pictures from the event please visit www.facebook.com/songasportoffroad. Video coverage from the event will be available on www.youtube.com/specialstage.

Thanks to all the sponsors of the BXCC: Britpart, Voxcloud, Staffordshire Signs, Par Homes, OFG Land Rover Specialists, Birchall Foodservice, Nicky Grist Motorsports and Bowler.

Top 10 results:
01. Adrian Marfell/Paul Bartleman (Fouquet-Nissan) 02:29:16
02. Justin Birchall/Jonny Koonja (Lofthouse Freelander) 02:30:25
03. Mark Jacques/Adam Nicholson (Lofthouse LS3) 02:39:03
04. Andy Powell/Mason Kershaw (Caze Peugeot 306) 02:46:17
05. Richard Wynne-Williams/Matthew Lowe (Lofthouse) 02:48:02
06. Richard Keasey/Kevin Arnott (Rakeway Ridgeback) 02:48:39
07. Martin and Aston Cox/Josh Thomas (Can-Am X3) 02:48:56
08. Phil Ibbotson/Karina James (Metro 6R4 Evo) 02:56:05
09. Steve Smith/John Griffiths (JRG Clio V8) 02:59:03
10. Ryan Cooke/Darren Cooke (Milner LRM-1) 03:03:47

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Britpart BXCC set for season opener in South Wales

The Britpart British Cross Country Championship returns next weekend when the opening round of the season takes place at Walters Arena in South Wales.

The championship, organised by That’s Motorsport Ltd, features six rounds spread across the UK from Bovington on the South coast to Forrest Estate in South West Scotland.

A strong entry has been attracted with a good mix of championship regulars and new competitors. 

Justin Birchall will lead the crews away in his Birchall Food Service and Mancini Jeans-supported Lofthouse Freelander. Numerous tweaks have been made to the car over the winter and the Lofthouse Motorsport team were recently at TEG Sport mapping the engine ahead of a pre-Walters test session. Birchall is one of four drivers in Lofthouse cars with Mark Jacques, Mike Moran and Richard Wynne-Williams bringing their LS3, Evo 9 and BMW-engined examples respectively. 

Returning to the championship after a few years competing elsewhere is Martin Cox who will be sharing his car with son Aston. They enjoyed a successful season last year winning the NORC championship. 

2016 BCC Trophy champion Phill Bayliss of OFG Land Rover Specialists is another driver returning to the championship. Bayliss commented “We’re looking forward to racing in the BXCC this year, it looks like it will be a good season with events at venues like Sweet Lamb and Walters.”

Phil Ibbotson will contest his first full season as a driver since 2013 in his Metro 6R4 Evo. Ibbotson navigated for Andy Powell in 2014 and 2015 and then entered a couple of British rounds as a Clubman in 2016 and 2017. Karina James, who previously competed with Paul Harris, will navigate for Ibbotson.

Chloe Jones will make her British championship debut at Walters alongside navigator Tom Gray. Jones is combining her BXCC driving with navigating in Baja events. “We’ll be using the same car that we raced in the Hill Rally championship last year,” said Jones. “We’re really excited about competing in the British championship for the first time.”

After mixed fortunes in his first British season in 2017 Andy Degiulio is hoping for more luck this year in his Milner R5. “We had a few reliability problems last time we raced in the championship so  I’m aiming for a more successful season this year. I’m looking forward to racing in Scotland as I’ve never been to that venue. As well as the BXCC we’ve been invited to the Goodwood Festival of Speed again so it should be a busy and exciting year.”

The event will start at 10am on Saturday and the crews will have a full day of competition. The action continues on Sunday and the event is expected to finish at around 3pm. For more information on the championship please visit crosscountryuk.org.