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