EVANS

Evans pro­duced a world-class drive to fend off Ah­lin. By Jack Benyon DE­LIV­ERS ON HOME SOIL

Motor Sport News - - Brc: Mid Wales Stages - CLASS ROUND-UP RE­SULTS Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship, round 1/7, Midwales Stages, March 5-6

Acrowded me­dia room watches with an­tic­i­pa­tion as times come in for Ss1af­ter a long and ar­du­ous test. No, not, New­town. It’s in Gua­na­ju­ato.

Such was the reach of the newly formed Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship that even the me­dia in­volved with Rally Mex­ico were wait­ing with bated breath as one of their own – Elfyn Evans – won the Mid Wales Stages in a tri­umphant and dra­matic re­turn for the BRC.

As if the rally wasn’t tough enough with the first two stages used on Wales Rally GB, the typ­i­cally un­pre­dictable Welsh weather threw a curve­ball at the crews with treach­er­ous con­di­tions on the recce and then also on the stages, which were to be run in the dark. Easy!

Snow fell ag­gres­sively on Thurs­day night, mean­ing the crews had to make their notes for the rally on slip­pery and slushy stages, with a ques­tion mark hang­ing over the con­di­tions for the next day.

The first stage – Hafren/sweet Lamb – was a hy­brid snow and gravel test, with crews strug­gling to see which was which in the dark. Per­haps pre­dictably it went to Evans as the Welsh­man showed his class de­spite feel­ing he left time out on the tricky stages. He took 17s out of se­cond placed man Fredrik Ah­lin, who would be his clos­est chal­lenger.

The two had done bat­tle in Ah­lin’s back­yard in WRC Swe­den, but a punc­ture had set Ah­lin back con­sid­er­ably on that event. The 24-year-old Swede was un­happy with his pace at the end of the first stage, much to the con­trary of the time on the stop­watch, and he also cited a lack of grip. He has com­peted on Wales Rally GB be­fore, but hardly has the knowl­edge of the stages that the home favourites had on their side. The ta­bles had cer­tainly turned since Swe­den where Ah­lin held the home ad­van­tage.

It was a dif­fer­ent story through My­herin though, as Ah­lin struck back, tak­ing the stage win by a se­cond. The CA1 Sport driver had the ben­e­fit of Pirelli tyres that work well in cold con­di­tions, and the hills sur­round­ing the wind­mills on top of Pikes Peak/my­herin were coated in deep snow.

At ser­vice, the Swede was still adamant that Evans was out of touch the next day, and Evans added that he still had pace left in the tank. Was the rally al­ready over? The gap was 17.2s.

Be­hind the spar­ring duo, Ah­lin’s team-mate David Bo­gie – driv­ing a Skoda Fabia R5 – was third af­ter Tom Cave’s Fi­esta suf­fered a punc­ture through SS2 and held fourth. It was an in­cred­i­ble time to go sev­enth quick­est hav­ing run on the punc­ture for around six miles.

Euan Thor­burn was also in the mix in his new Peu­geot 208 T16 de­spite only hav­ing re­ceived the ECU from Peu­geot Sport France on Satur­day morn­ing. An­other pre-event favourite – Keith Cronin – was un­happy af­ter SS1 hav­ing not been in a gravel event in a rally car for two years. He was sixth overnight de­spite be­ing ex­pected to chal­lenge Evans as the se­cond-seeded driver

The real sur­prise of the evening was Matt Ed­wards; he planted his BRC 2 Group N-spec Mit­subishi Lancer E9 fourth on SS2, ex­cit­ing spectators with his flam­boy­ant style in the process. With 17 R5 ma­chines in the event, for a Group N to be so high up was a tes­ta­ment to Ed­wards’ skill. When asked what he would have said if he had been told he would fin­ish as high up as he did, the an­swer was not suit­able for print...

As the driv­ers awoke early for the start on Sun­day, there was an air of cer­tainty. With a lead gap to­talling 17.2 sec­onds, surely Elfyn was safe on th­ese stages? But un­der­es­ti­mate a rapid Swede at your own peril. Stig Blomqvist’s ri­vals will tell you that.

In­deed, in Pikes Peak Ah­lin went fastest again, 8.6s quicker than Evans, trim­ming the lead to 8.6s over­all, and the buzz around the ser­vice area was pal­pa­ble. The home favourite was un­der pres­sure and we had a rally. Again, the DMACK tyres were strug­gling to match the prow­ess of the Pirellis in the tricky con­di­tions, and sweep­ing the slushy snow off the road meant Evans was in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion to his French coun­ter­part Se­bastien Ogier in Mex­ico. Plenty of pace but too much road sweep­ing to do. Credit where it was due though, Ah­lin was re­ally on it. And boy did he de­liver through SS4 My­herin.

The Swede was through and into the lead by 3.5s. The ser­vice park was on edge, surely Elfyn couldn’t be beaten through his home forests? Ah­lin had three fastest stage times to Evans’ one.

An­other Welsh­man was fly­ing; Cave had a busy morn­ing and was through into third passed Bo­gie and happy enough at ser­vice, al­though still learn­ing the Miche­lin tyres he hasn’t run for sev­eral years. The Fi­esta’s seat also wasn’t ideal for the strap­ping driver, but that will be sorted for the next event.

In the first two stages of the morn­ing, a num­ber of con­tenders were lost, in­clud­ing Rhys Yates. The Ch­ester­field driver had im­pressed on the Cam­brian rally ear­lier this year and was fifth fastest over­all through SS2. A short spin cost him an­other top five stage time and then the no­to­ri­ous day-glo green ma­chine was beached in SS4, end­ing his rally early as spectators weren’t al­lowed to push him out.

Also on the re­tire­ment list was Neil Simp­son. He only lasted 400 me­tres into the rally thanks to a pop-off valve fail­ure on SS1. The Lan­cashire driver had been so pos­i­tive be­fore the event and it was a cruel end to pro­ceed­ings for him and co-driver El­liott Ed­mond­son.

Ah­lin was buoy­ant in ser­vice, adding that, in­cred­i­bly, he had turned the anti-lag sys­tem (ALS) off in his Fi­esta to coun­ter­act the slippy con­di­tions. He was happy to main­tain

Matt Ed­wards only ‘fin­ished’ his car on the Satur­day morn­ing of the rally, but the Lancer E9 cam­paigner wiped the floor with the BRC 2 com­pe­ti­tion. As well as sev­enth over­all, the Welsh­man headed fel­low coun­try­man and se­cond in class Roland Llewellin by over five min­utes, al­though the Lancer E10 crew suf­fered many is­sues, in­clud­ing a punc­ture over the course of the week­end.

Chris Har­ris/ Bryn­mor Pierce were the vic­tors in BRC 3 as the Toy­ota Mo­tor­sport name made a re­turn to ral­ly­ing with the GT86 CS-R3. A bat­tery is­sue cur­tailed their run­ning but Top Gear’s Har­ris and Pierce were the only en­try in class. They also scored max­i­mum points hav­ing played their joker.

BRC 4 went the way of Tony Simp­son af­ter bat­tling the lighter and more mod­ern Fi­esta R2s of Gee Ather­ton and Roger Plant. In his ST, Simp­son fin­ished ahead of Plant and be­hind Ather­ton but is the

Ah­lin shocked on­look­ers with his lead­ing pace Evans was cool un­der pres­sure to take vic­tory

Fu­ruseth won Spirit award 2016 in the same vein in his R2T Green­smith is the reign­ing BRC Ju­nior cham­pion and kicked off

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