CAN THE BTRDA BUILD ON A RECORD SEASON?
Jack Benyon looks at what to expect in 2016
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 btrdarally.com