Jack Benyon looks at what to ex­pect in 2016

Motor Sport News - - Btrda Preview -

Last year was al­ways go­ing to be a big year for the BTRDA Rally Cham­pi­onship, ever since the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship an­nounced its hia­tus for 2015.

While the two se­ries in­sist they need each other as part of the ral­ly­ing lad­der, there was al­ways po­ten­tial that a boost in en­tries last year in the BTRDA was as a re­sult of its big brother’s ab­sence.

With the 2016 en­tries open for some time, early signs are good for the club­man-level BTRDA with 150 run­ners in for the se­ries opener, the Llan­dudno-based Cam­brian, with a sim­i­lar num­ber of reg­is­tra­tions. As cham­pi­onship co-or­di­na­tor Howard Wil­cock ex­plains, al­though the se­ries did en­gage with com­peti­tors who will com­pete in the BRC this year, the two are not in com­pe­ti­tion.

“I want peo­ple to un­der­stand that from our per­spec­tive,” ex­plains Wil­cock. “We aim at dif­fer­ent things and dif­fer­ent mar­kets, the BRC is more high pro­file. But it is un­likely to re­ceive 150 odd en­tries. It will have less com­peti­tors than us.”

While some of the driv­ers are shak­ing down cars ahead of the BRC at the Cam­brian – some­thing that was com­mon even with the old Wyedean opener – Wil­cock be­lieves that driv­ers grad­u­at­ing into the BRC can only be good for the sport.

“Euan [Thor­burn] – the 2013 BTRDA cham­pion – is com­pet­ing on the Cam­brian and I’ll be watch­ing him and the other Brc-bound driv­ers closely. It’s good for the BTRDA. Co-driver­phil Hall [now part of the Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing ef­fort] is some­one who has com­peted in our cham­pi­onship be­fore and now he’s gone on to fin­ish third on the Arc­tic La­p­land Rally.”

With Thor­burn grad­u­at­ing, a num­ber of last year’s fron­trun­ners have also left the cham­pi­onship. Dave We­ston won’t com­pete a full year be­cause of work com­mit­ments, Paul Bird re­ceived a two-year mo­tor­sport ban for a pos­i­tive drugs test and Jamie An­der­son joins Thor­burn in step­ping up to the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship.

De­spite the mi­gra­tion, the cham­pi­onship re­mains as strong and in­ter­est­ing at the front as ever, al­though it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to pick the prospec­tive favourite.

In the Ford Fi­esta camp is Stephen Petch, who came on leaps and bounds in 2015 in the R5+ car, and he’s joined in the Ford con­tin­gent by Char­lie Payne – run­ning an S2000-shelled Fi­esta with Fo­cus WRC run­ning gear. Payne won the Track­rod in 2015 and with the car bed­ded in, will be a con­tender. Steve Perez – 2014 cham­pion – could end up com­pet­ing in more events in 2016 and he’ll be one of the Ford fron­trun­ners should he de­cide to com­plete a full slate.

Some­one who pushed Petch hard on cer­tain events last year was Luke Fran­cis. The Welsh­man only com­peted a part sched­ule in the new hol­lowed out B13 Mit­subishi Lancer E9, but was bang on the pace in­clud­ing an ex­cep­tional per­for­mance on last year’s Cam­brian, where he fin­ished ahead of two WRC Fi­es­tas in what is es­sen­tially a light­weight Group N car. Also in the Evo camp is the in­trigu­ing propo­si­tion of Shaun Gar­dener. A pre­vi­ous dou­ble cham­pion, he’ll be a podium con­tender for sure in his Lancer E6 WRC, which he de­buted on the Wood­pecker last year.

Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing en­try is Con­nor Mccloskey. The North­ern Ir­ish­man fin­ished a very close run­ner-up to Thor­burn in 2013 and, with a Pro­drive Mini WRC, he’ll be a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion out on the stages.

“I’m buzzing at the thought of get­ting back be­hind the wheel again,” he ex­plains. “I’m go­ing to drive my own rally on the Cam­brian and wher­ever that takes me I’ll be happy. Ev­ery­thing is go­ing well and I’m chomp­ing at the bit to get go­ing.”

The cal­en­dar for this year’s cham­pi­onship re­mains largely sim­i­lar, with the well dis­cussed ab­sence of the Wyedean and con­se­quent shuf­fling the only changes to the or­der.

The Cam­brian is the sea­son opener while the Track­rod now con­cludes the year. With av­er­age speeds high on the gravel-based Track­rod, it should be a corking end to the cam­paign.

Per­haps the big­gest change to any event is the Nicky Grist Stages, which will also run as part of the BRC. With cars seeded on per­for­mance, that means some BTRDA en­tries will run near the front of the or­der.

All in all, en­tries are down on a record year, which is hardly un­ex­pected, but the qual­ity of the crews and events has been main­tained. The BTRDA now needs to sus­tain the num­ber of en­tries on the Cam­brian through the year, and there’s no rea­son why the se­ri­ous fun motto won’t at­tract driv­ers and co-driv­ers back to the se­ries. ■ ● For info on the BTRDA and its cham­pi­onships, visit btr­dar­

Mccloskey was close to ti­tle in 2013 and now re­turns in a Mini Payne (r): Fa­mil­iar with new car Fran­cis was im­pres­sive in 2015

Fi­esta ST Tro­phy proved pop­u­lar on Wales Rally GB in 2015

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