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