Just as they had done a year earlier, Nick Elliott and Dave Price stamped their authority on the opening round of the 2010 Dunlop/WONAGO.com MSA British Historic Rally Championship, the Bulldog Historic Rally (Saturday 27 March).
While Elliott/Price (Ford Escort Mk2) dominated an incredibly strong category three, other key winners were Jonathan Gale/James Whitaker (Sunbeam Tiger) and Jeremy Easson/Alun Cook (Ford Escort Mk1). For the 80-car field, which was packed with quality, the Bulldog delivered a fabulous rally over some of the finest gravel stages in Britain.
Category 1: Gale and the Tiger started favourites to repeat their 2009 Bulldog win in category one, but it was still a challenge as a late change of co-driver left Gale and Whitaker to get used to each other over the opening stages. Meanwhile, Dessie Nutt and Geraldine McBride set off at a cracking pace in their Porsche 911 and edged ahead before the Mimecast-backed Tiger got into its stride.
"We put softer tyres on for the second loop and it was much better," said Gale of the big push through the long Gartheiniog stage that took the Tiger into the lead. Even a spin on the final stage failed to hinder the Tiger's progress as it finished 37s up on Nutt's Porsche. "The stages were very, very good," said Nutt of a trouble free rally.
A strong class B4 was won by the flying Volvo Amazon of Graham Waite/Gill Cotton after another spectacular performance. "We were matching times with Dessie later," said Waite of his day's work. Leading the chase of the Volvo was the Lotus Cortina of Paul Mankin/Desmond Bell, with a gap of just over half a minute at the finish. The sportsmanship of Mankin and Bell allowed a timing query over the class result to be quickly resolved.
In class B1, Geoff Taylor and Steve Greenhill stormed through in their Sunbeam Imp Sport despite a misfire and a puncture late in the last stage. Some way back, but happy to finish his debut BHRC event, was Simon Whitehead, teamed with Gary Wood in his Hillman Imp.
Category 2: Everyone was hoping for a fine battle in category two between old rivals Jeremy Easson and David Stokes in their Escort Mk1s. Unfortunately Stokes and Guy Weaver were out very early with a blown core plug and so Easson and Alun Cook swept to victory, 36s up on the non-BHRC registered Andrew Haddon/Mark Crisp.
"It's been absolutely fantastic," said Easson of a great day on some epic stages. It was his third category win in three events in his latest car. Chasing the Mk1 Escorts and bagging class C4 was the Porsche 911 of Tim Mason and Graham Wild after a problem free day. "The main target was a finish and that's probably the steadiest rally I've ever driven," said Mason.
Tim Jones and Don James were the top of class C3 with a great run over their local stages in their Escort Mk1, finishing the rally a minute up on the similar car of Andrew Siddall/Captain Thompson. Out very early with an engine fire went Drew Wylie/Howard Pridmore.
Class C2 delivered an interesting day, with victory finally going to the non-registered but spectacular Hillman Avenger of Stephen Whitford/Simon Morrow. However, until the final stage, the class lead was with Vince Bristow/Tim Sayer after a mighty run in their Escort. Unfortunately, an off in Dyfnant cost them a couple of minutes and dropped them to second, albeit still with maximum class championship points. Third in C2 went to the Hillman Avenger of Gary and Jane Edgington, as the driver celebrated his 48th birthday. "I paid the entry fee; he's not getting anything else," said Jane of her husband's birthday.
Category 3: Probably the best ever entry for category three promised a great day for the fans in the forests and they were not disappointed. But from the off, no-one could match the pace of Elliott/Price who swept ahead on the opening Big Ray stage and led all the way back to Welshpool with a stunning display of pace and commitment. "I didn't think we were going that quickly," said Elliott after a masterful performance.
Leading the chase was the similar Escort Mk2 of Julian Reynolds/Ian Oakey, but Reynolds accepted that the day belonged to Elliott. "We went too slow this morning and Nick gave us a good hiding," he admitted, although the gap at the finish was just 25s. Third in category three was a fine result for the non-registered Phil Collins/Derek Brannigan, while Richard Hill/Patrick Cooper took fourth in their Escort Mk2. "Cracking stages," said Hill of their rally. "The car was spot on, but the driver was just steady," he added.
Packing out the leading places in Escorts came great performances from Will Onions/Dave Williams and Conor Corkill/Rob Fagg, while Seamus O'Connell/Nigel Gardner deserved better than seventh. However, losing second and third gear through the final two stages cost them a lot of time.
In D4, Rob Smith/Shaun O'Gorman took top slot in their Vauxhall Chevette, with a result that put them among the top 10 Escorts. There was a great battle among a strong D3 entry, as Richard Lane/Frank Richer took the class by just seven seconds from Stuart Clarke/Andy Ballantine in the contest of the Mk2 Escort-Pintos. Into the final Dyfnant stage, Clark was ahead by a second but Lane mounted a big attack and emerged eight seconds faster to grab the class. "It all came together well," said Lane. "Brilliant stages," he added, summing up the feelings of just about every crew on the rally.