AHLIN PROFITS FROM EVANS’ PAIN
Bogey times interfered as Ahlin won and Evans’ hopes deflated .
On the 25th anniversary of Pirelli’s sponsorship of the Carlisle Rally, it was fitting that a Pirelli-backed car run by a local team triumphed as Swede Fredrik Ahlin earned his first British Rally Championship victory in what was an event marred by controversy.
Three stages saw the bogey time beaten ( see Rally News page 20) – meaning drivers went through the stage at a speed greater than 70mph and were given an average notional time for each test. Elfyn Evans beat a bogey by 27s on stage four but got none of the benefit against his competitors as the notional time was awarded.
However, even a drama-laden event couldn’t stop Ahlin and co-driver Erik Morten Abrahamsen as they conquered the fast and flowing Kielder roads. The CA1 Sport outfit that prepares Ahlin’s car is run by ex-colin Mcrae and M-sport engineer Martin Wilkinson and based just six miles down the road, with Pirelli’s factory even closer. It was a real hometown fairytale win for all involved, except Ahlin. But a win is a win and the British Rally Championship doesn’t visit Sweden!
The drama was on tap from the off. For the third round in a row, a BRC event featured snow with a powdery white Kielder welcoming crews on the recce, as if creating notes for one of the fastest forests in rallying wasn’t enough.
The stages themselves proved challenging even for the seemingly bulletproof Evans. He reached a chicane on SS1 but misjudged the braking slightly, a stab at the brake pedal didn’t help on the loose. He had to reverse and lost just under 10s to Ahlin, but the Swede didn’t benefit. The first instance of the bogey being beaten meant they tied and the time the Swede had taken from Evans was irrelevant. “I do not understand,” said Ahlin at service with some distress. “I’m quicker but I don’t get the time.” The foreign crews were left scratching their heads with the bogey rule not commonly known by the likes of Ahlin.
The Swede’s misery was compounded by the fact that Evans took 8.8s on the next test, meaning the two drivers would have been around the same time in total for the first two stages overall but the beaten bogey saw to that.
Was the Swede’s luck turning though? After a quick stop at remote service, the cars were into Roughside and Ahlin was into the lead. Evans suffered a puncture on his Fiesta and dropped just under 50s. The new DMACK tyres were working well on Evans and Craig Parry’s car, but no tyre is indestructible and Kielder claimed many puncture victims over the weekend, including WRC2 championship leader Evans.
With the Welshman dropping to fifth overall, the lead battle was reshaped and it was the CA1 Sport Skoda of David Bogie joining Ahlin at the top, 7.3s adrift overnight as no fewer than six cars beat the bogey time on SS4. Evans beat it by a narrow 27s and Ahlin was reportedly only seven seconds or so slower through. But again that didn’t matter.
Also joining the lead battle was Matthew Wilson. The Fiesta driver – in Evans’ Rally Argentina car in the same livery – predicted he would be rusty at the start of the day, but there was no signs of any cold feet as he blitzed his way through the Kielder Stages with father Malcolm watching on. Despite being on crutches, Malcolm was in good form and was clearly impressed with Wilson Jr’s ability to get back on the pace straight away. Matthew confirmed he was comfortable and that there would be a big push in the morning now he had reacclimatised.
That was absolutely rammed down his competitors’ throats on the first test of Sunday. Wilson had a push and he was visibly faster through Shepherdshield. But, disaster. A puncture with just under two miles to go meant he dropped time. The fact he was only 5.7s down to pacesetter Evans at the end of the stage means there should have been a Wilson winning stages again in the BRC. It wasn’t to be on this occasion, but the crew of Wilson and Stuart Loudon were enjoying themselves.
Another person with problems in SS5 was David Bogie. His lead charge came to an end in a ditch, but the Scot was happy to push for the win and drove the stage accordingly. The 2011 winner was out and his team-mate Ahlin almost secure.
Despite the organisers adding three chicanes into the morning’s stages, many predicted that the bogey would again be beaten on Blackaburn, and was it just. Thirteen crews beat the bogey, and it really put an end to any victory charge from Evans.
The Welshman is arguably the quickest driver in an R5 anywhere in the world at the moment, but the puncture on SS4 cost him too much time. A big push in the morning from the Dolgellau man would be futile given the short stages and the likelihood of the bogey being beaten on at least one of them. He was still quickest on SS5 and SS7 but the puncture really had ended his victory charge.
That being the case, Ahlin’s lead was 18.3s heading into the 16-mile Chirdonhead. Ahlin went 9.3s quicker than Wilson and the rally was his. The fast flowing roads – not unlike his native Sweden – suited him all weekend and he was on or near the leading pace on all seven stages.
Evans’s puncture robbed fans of a lead challenge and the bogey times meant spectators didn’t see an all-out last day assault from Evans, but he drove well to snatch a podium on the last stage of the rally, fastest over Ahlin by 8.1s. The Swede now leads Evans by five points in the championship after playing his joker and similar roads await in Scotland in June. The title fight is on.
Outside the podium spots, Tom Cave managed fourth and was more comfortable back on gravel after a disappointing Circuit of Ireland last time out. The Welshman still has set-up work to do with the Ford Fiesta R5 which is still relatively new to him, but the fact that he keeps scoring points ensures he’ll still be on for a good championship finish. When car and driver are in sync he’ll almost certainly be challenging for wins later this year.
Marty Mccormack delivered another standout performance to round out the top five in an underpowered Skoda Fabia S2000. He finally finished a round, having not started in Mid Wales with a broken diff and retiring from the Circuit of Ireland while leading the BRC runners with a fuel pump breakage. The fact he delivered the result in an underpowered car in one of the fastest forests Europe has to offer sums up his weekend with the ever-reliable David Moynihan.
Jonny Greer followed as the only DGM offering with Keith Cronin competing in Killarney. Greer and Kirsty Riddick scored more valuable points, while two Skodas got important finishes behind.
Desi Henry set some blistering times in his Fabia R5 after a difficult start to the year in the new car, while Neil Simpson scored a finish on his first gravel rally in 16 years.
Jamie Anderson continues to improve in his Ford Fiesta R5, having competed only sporadically in a Wrc-spec Mitsubishi Lancer WRC last year, while Max Vatanen scored his first top 10; another driver who needed some luck after nothing has gone his way at start the year.
The discussion about bogey times will rage on, but nothing could take away from an excellent drive from Ahlin. The Swede showed his pace in Mid Wales, but this is the first victory and he’ll be hoping the camel’s back has been firmly broken as the championship heads even further north for the RSAC Scottish.
Puncture and bogeys ruled Evans out of win shot Swede Ahlin was at home in fast forests
Ahlin takes points lead from Evans
Williams/morrison headed BRC 5
Wilson flew on return