ESCORT MAN TAKES HIS FIRST HISTORIC RALLY VICTORY
‘Killer’ Kielder wreaks havoc with BHRC crews.
The challenge of Kielder on Saturday’s Pirelli Historic Rally turned the Mintex MSA British Historic Rally Championship on its head as key title contenders Jason Pritchard and Nick Elliott both slid off the road and Joe Price swept through for a debut victory at this level.
Four long stages in the main Kielder forest block on Saturday morning delivered a short, sharp test for the historic crews, with the odd patch of ice and loose gravel lying in wait to fire cars into the notorious ditches.
But Price and Chris Brooks did everything right to score a victory that has been on the cards ever since the Ludlow ace made the switch to historics. “We came here wanting a podium, so a win is a massive bonus,” said Price after an event that drew universal acclaim from the crews. Other stars included Paul Barrett and Max Freeman, who pushed their Pinto-powered Escort Mk2 into second, and Matthew Robinson/sam Collis, who had a strong rally to wrap up the podium with the ever-improving Fiat 131.
Heading north after the opening two events in Wales, the early title race was all about Pritchard/phil Clarke and Elliott/dave Price and Elliott knew he needed to beat Pritchard to redress the points’ balance. After frustrating time loss on each of the opening rallies, Elliott had finally traced the car’s refusal to restart to nothing more complex than the ignition switch and headed out of Carlisle on Saturday morning aiming for a repeat of his 2015 victory.
The 2015 Pirelli had been Pritchard’s only mechanical non-finish in his title season and this year’s event was even more shortlived for the defending champion. On the opening stage, running first on the road, he found a patch of ice and a Kielder ditch swallowed the car without hesitation. They later drove the undamaged car out of the stage after being recovered, but their rally was over. “The joys of being first on the road,” said Pritchard.
Elliott knew this could now be a big pay day and he took a half-minute lead into the second pair of stages, determined to find a safe pace over the second half of the rally. But Kielder is never straightforward and early in the Roughside stage the Escort was off heavily into a stream and out of the rally. It was a devastating result and a massive opportunity missed.
Instead, Price slotted readily into the lead and kept his nerve through the final 13-miler in Pundershaw, where he was 23s up on the rest of the field. His winning margin was 35 seconds after a mature and nicely measured performance. “We weren’t on Nick’s pace this morning but the second leg suited us better,” said Price as the stages dried steadily through the day.
As impressive as Price’s BDG-powered victory was, Barrett’s Pinto-powered second overall, one of the leading BHRC results for the less powerful engine, was stunning. Despite claiming he struggled to find the pace in the first pair of stages, the Northern Irishman was on it for Roughside and Pundershaw and almost matched Price on the seven-miler in Roughside.
There were more smiles from Robinson/collis after third overall and Category K victory for the work-inprogress that is the 131. “That was a lot better,” said Robinson. “We’ve halved the gap to them and after another three or four rallies we’ll be even closer,” he promised. Steve Bannister, on his first event with Callum Atkinson co-driving, was a rather low-key but consistent fourth. “We’ve gone a bit better on the second loop, but these guys are flying,” said Bannister of the leading BHRC crews.
For Stanley Orr and Guy Weaver there was an impressive third Category 2 victory on the bounce in their Escort Mk1, with their only issue being the loss of 10 seconds after an outbraking moment into a chicane in Pundershaw. Once again leading the chase of the flying Irishman were Simon Tysoe and Paul Morris in their Escort Mk1.
The lower reaches of the overall top 10 included some heroic performances on a day when the conditions caught out the two fastest drivers of the moment in historics. Guy Anderson and Steven Davey forged their Talbot Sunbeam Lotus into a class-winning sixth, while giant-killing was the order of the day for the 1600cc Escort Mk2 of Chris Skill/tom Jordan. Rounding out the top 10 historic runners was a great result for the Pinto-powered Mk2 of Rex Ireland and Adrian Scadding. ■