Rowlands stars on inaugural ST Trophy event FIESTA ST TROPHY
11 Barry Groundwater/ Sean Donnelly (Lancer E10); 12 Karl Simmons/ Mark Glennerster (Subaru Impreza S11 WRC); 13 Paul Davy/ Roger Allan (Impreza); 14 Simon Rogers/ Wyn Davies (Lancer E9); 15 John Rowlands/ Glenn Latham (Ford Escort Mk2); 16 Gavin Edwards/ Caron Tomlinson (Escort Mk2); 17 Roland Llewellin/ Ian Lawrence (Lancer E10); 18 Phil Burton/ Mal Capstick (Escort); 19 Meirion Evans/jonathan Jackson (Fiesta R2T); 20 Toni Carannante/ Chris Williams (Impreza STI).
throttle stuck open. Aside from that, he was back on the pace quickly.
Thorburn wrote off his chances of a win by dropping over 40s to the leaders on Clocaenog East. There was no damage on the car after a spin but Thorburn has his mind set on Mid Wales in March, and wasn’t going to put that in jeopardy. He was sixth and 41s down overall after the incident.
With Thorburn out of contention, it was left to Francis and Payne to fight it out in the kind of close battle that became a familiar feature in the second half of last season. After four stages, Francis was the leader but his seventh fastest time on stage five, Alwen, gave Payne the advantage. Francis was much closer on stage six, former Rally GB test Gwydyr. That left eight seconds in it heading into the final two runs.
Crews reported Elsi to be rutted and not in the best condition, and Payne capitalised in his Fiesta to lead heading into the final stage by 10s. That gap might have been manageable against Francis on any other stage in the country. Except this one. The Great Orme, which caught out Sebastien Ogier in 2011, is something of a special stage for Francis and co-driver John H Roberts and the pair set off with a major dose of deja vu.
On the Cambrian last November, the home crew needed 10s to jump Josh Moffett for second place overall, and they pulled it off with a 2m38s. In 2016 they managed a 2m40s to take what turned out to be the overall victory by a second. It was the perfect start to the season for Francis as he also scored maximum points towards the Welsh championship which also got underway in Llandudno.
Payne was in the situation nobody wanted to see, having celebrated the win with co-driver Carl Williamson only to have it so cruelly taken away.
Thorburn hit back to take third having set scratch times through stages five and seven, happy with the pace of the Peugeot ahead of his assault on the BRC. For Mccloskey it was mission accomplished as he and Duffy held onto fourth, acknowledging taking his foot off the gas slightly with the rest of the season in mind.
With the lead battle throwing up sparks of drama, there was more further back as the R5s of Hunter and Yates battled down to the wire. Hunter’s experience of the Orme asphalt allowed him to tie with Yates. On another countback, a faster SS1 time for Hunter gave him the spot. But as Yates’ father John had said in service after SS3: “We could pack up and go home now. We’re really pleased with the pace.”
Stephen Petch had a day to forget in his Fiesta R5 with mechanical issues and errors leaving him seventh, one place in front of Stephen Simpson in his underpowered Fiesta S2000. Wayne Sisson, debuting his Lancer E10 B13, was ninth ahead of Peter Stephenson. ■ founder John Pritchard’s car.
Second was Tom Easson – nephew of John Easson who is remembered through the annual John Easson Award – albeit four minutes behind Rowlands. Easson reported a relatively straightforward day on his first gravel rally, having only competed in single-venue events up until now.
The final finisher was Sam Bilham, a John Easson Award finalist in the past and former Next Big Step Award winner who spent five minutes in a ditch in Clocaenog East. However he didn’t allow that to stop him and recovered to 67th overall in his first event in the car having previously rallied a Micra.
There were two entries in the class who didn’t finish. Jason Lepley looked likely to fight for the class win before his gearbox went on stage three, ruling the former Junior F1000 champion out of action. He needed a scratch score as he is likely to miss multiple rounds due to school exams.
The other entry missing at the finish was Jon Ambler/doug Chivers after a wheel bearing went on their ST on SS4.