The battle for the top prize on round three of the Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic Rally Championship, the Severn Valley Historic Rally (Saturday 30 May) came down to a straight fight between Welshmen Gwyndaf Evans and Julian Reynolds.
Evans claimed back the lead he had lost earlier in the day with a faultless charge through the final stage in Radnor, claiming category three victory for his Viking Motorsport Escort MK2 by just 3.5s. Other category wins went to Graham Waite/Gill Cotton (Volvo Amazon) and Rupert Lomax/David Alcock (Ford Escort MK1), a result that puts Lomax to the top of the championship table.
Category 1: Despite spinning on the first stage in Cefn and twice in Crychan, Jonathan and Graham Gale (Sunbeam Tiger) pulled out a three-second lead over Waite/Cotton, but the roles were reversed through Halfway. “I nursed my tyres through the stage, and just gave it what I could,” said Gale. The result was Waite emerging with a lead of just a fifth of a second, but after Gale fitted new rear tyres it went back in his favour as they headed for service. “It was too dry for us really and too much uphill where the Tiger’s power told,” Waite replied.
Although Gale started the last stage through Radnor with three seconds in hand, it was Waite who grabbed the victory. “We went off after going flat out over a crest into a hairpin,” Gale explained. He restarted in front of Waite but moved aside rather than delay his rival.
One notable absentee was the Porsche 911 of Dessie Nutt/Geraldine McBride. “We caught Gale’s dust and I misjudged where the next bend was, then went off backwards into a ditch,” said Nutt. So third overall in the category was the Hillman Imp of Geoff Taylor/Steve Greenhill. "We had no clutch in Gwibedog but it had been great until then. The rear suspension legs cracked too in Halfway, so we will have to look after it,” said Taylor.
Paul Mankin/Desmond Bell (Lotus Cortina) held third on the opening stage, but after picking up a misfire in Crychan, they punctured later in the same stage. “We tried to carry on and then lost the tyre and had to stop. We had a spare rear but the puncture was a front, so it made the next two stages very interesting,” said Mankin.
As well as Nutt, stage two had also claimed the Minis of Terry Cree/Richard Shores and Peter Williams, with head-gasket and clutch problems respectively. Meanwhile, Mike Barratt/Jody Watson (Mini Cooper) got ahead of Philip and Barbara Smith (Porsche 911) on stage four. “It was so dry that the dust got in Barbara’s throat and she couldn’t read the notes,” said Philip. Nick Pinkett and Jonathan Lodge were also in the wars after rolling their two-stroke Saab 96 in Gwibedog. “It had been perfect until then. It’s my first time in this car for two years and I rolled it,” said Pinkett.
Taylor caught Barratt in Radnor, but retained a safe third. “With the clutch gone and the dust we're not going for heroics,” said the class B1 victors. Although Barratt retained class B2 victory, he lost fourth to the Smiths. “We were losing the exhaust a bit but really pleased with how things went,” said Barratt as Mankin and Pinkett completed the finishers.
Category 2: Having come so close to victory on the previous round, Lomax and Alcock proved unbeatable in Wales in their Escort Mk1. They held the category lead from start to finish, while winners last time out, Tim Mason and Graham Wild, had to be content with a day-long second in their Porsche 911.
“We had a couple of overshoots on the second and third stages, but I had reasonable grip,” said Lomax as he arrived in service with a 25.7s lead over Mason. “We punctured three miles from the end of stage four; I was trying so hard on my return to the Welsh forests,” Mason replied.
It was a much tighter affair behind the lead pair, with Drew Wylie/Howard Pridmore (Escort Mk1) in third after Cefn, before slipping behind the similar car of Tim Jones/Don James in the battle for C3 spoils. However, the class contest changed dramatically when Wylie's car got became beached on a rock on stage four. “We were stuck for four minutes and had no spectators to help,” said Wylie. Jones also spun and stalled at a hairpin, but still arrived at service in third place ahead of the C5 Escort Mk1 of Ernie Graham/Robin Kellard. However, Graham had David Stokes/Guy Weaver closing in, after they had lost time in Cefn when Darren Moon’s rolled car restarted just in front of them. “We had got a steering problem too," reported Stokes. "When you turn it, it won’t pull back without a lot of effort,” he said.
Though still ahead, Lomax expected to lose time on the final 16-mile stage in Radnor. “I had three-quarter throttle stuck wide open, but we gained more time instead of losing it,” he said. The final winning margin over Mason was 41.4s, “I did spin and stall again though,” said the Porsche driver. The victory not only gives Lomax the lead in category two, but also the overall lead in the championship.
Stokes had a final flourish through Radnor, which took him from fifth to third. “The steering was just as bad, but it was a character building day,” he said. Graham held onto fourth; “not quite quick enough,” he concluded. But for C3 winner Jones, only dropping from third to fifth was a relief. “It was a huge moment, I lost it at a hairpin and was left hanging over fresh air,” he explained. Jones still held on to the class C3 victory over the Escort Mk1 of James Slaughter/Phil Peak. “We had two good stages, ran out of tyres, slid off on stage four, so had new tyres for Radnor. It’s my best result ever, even though we had gear selection problems at the end,” said Slaughter. Philip Wylie/James Whitaker claimed third in class over Neal James/Kevin Jones on the final stage. “We really went for it and it almost worked,” said James. “Brilliant, even though I started the last stage in reverse,” Wylie added.
Mason topped C4 from fellow Porsche crew Peter Smith/Russ Langthorne. In class C2 the Escort Mk1s of Vince Bristow/Dean Mitchell and John Worthing/John Cadwallader duelled for supremacy. Bristow lost out on stage two having led on the opener, despite having no brakes. “I had to remember to pump them until we could fix it in service,” he said. From stage four he was in charge, with Worthing still holding on to second despite a roll in Radnor when he clipped the bank at a tight hairpin.
Category 3: Evans/Phil Pugh started the day with a 1.8sec lead from Cefn in their Escort Mk2 over Reynolds/Ian Oakey, while Darren Moon/Chris Parsons were out of contention after only 300 yards. “I took my eye off the ball where the dust was hanging and we ended up our roof,” said Moon.
Ryan Barratt/Barry Ferris (Escort Mk2) held third initially from fellow Irishmen Seamus O’Connell and Paul Wakely, but O’Connell was struggling for grip and fell back in Crychan. Despite a spin in Cefn, which was matched before going off backwards in Crychan, Nick Elliott/Dave Price (Escort Mk2) moved up to third, but by service after four stages, Barratt had regained his lost place. “We just couldn’t get into a rhythm,” said Elliott. “We struggled for grip too and had a 360 on stage two before stalling under braking on stage four,” Barratt added.
But once again Radnor proved to be the decider, with Reynolds starting the stage with just 2.7s in hand over Evans. “I had an idea Gwyndaf would get me,” Reynolds admitted. “I was probably trying too hard and overshot a bit,” he added. But Evans was a popular victor and was quick to sing the praise of his car. “It so much better than on the Bulldog, the engine changes have made it more comfortable to drive,” he said.
Elliott maintained his spinning record but managed to claim third. “We stalled too, but just couldn’t turn it around today after the early problems,” he admitted. Barratt reached the finish in fourth and topped D3, after losing his Escort’s alternator and water pump belts with a nose-dive at a yump. But he was later excluded over engine irregularities, promoting O’Connell to fourth. “I finally woke up on that last stage,” said O’Connell.
Will Onions/Tim Hobbs were set for fifth after changing their Mk2’s ignition pack in service to cure a misfire. But they ended up on three cylinders and lost out to Simon Tysoe/Cliff Simmons at the end. Following Barratt’s exclusion, Richard Lane/Frank Richer took class D3 from Mark Clifford/Elgan Davies, after Guy Woodcock/Iwan Jones spun and took 45s to restart as they held on to third.
The BHRC action continues with round four, the Mid Wales Historic Stages, on 21 June.
By Paul Lawrence