EVANS IN COMMAND
NICKY GRIST STAGES RALLY REPORT
fter two of the most gruelling days the British Rally Championship has seen for quite some time, it was no surprise that its current conqueror Elfyn Evans took victory on the Nicky Grist Stages.
The Saturday-sunday, gravelasphalt split didn’t deter the table topper, who will take a 39-point lead into the next and penultimate BRC round – the Ulster – with fellow Welshman Tom Cave second in event and standings.
Despite having done the gravel stages on the same event in 2013 as zero car in the then-new Fiesta R5, Elfyn didn’t go quickest on the first stage.
He had a costly spin at a right-hander, which also caught out multiple crews and meant Cave was the paceman. The Aberdovey driver has his mojo back after a pleasing second on the Scottish Rally, where a phenomenal onboard video, released by his Spencer Sport team, showed the level at which he was performing. Happily he brought form in a similar vein to a rally close to home.
Much like the Scottish, the early running was defined by what the rapid CA1 Sport duo were up to. Pirelli Carlisle winner Fredrik Ahlin was looking forward to this event with Welsh forests suiting his style. But he was soon out of the running. A piece of slippery mud caught him out as he understeered into a log pile and into an early exit. He’d be able to restart on the Sunday.
With Ahlin out early – as he was on the Scottish with a broken propshaft – it was his team-mate David Bogie’s turn to have an issue. The Scot – with James O’reilly on the notes as Kevin Rae takes a step back – took the jump on Route 60 a little too aggressively and went off into a proceeding field. That caused some light damage but heavy time penalties as he slipped back down the order. The impact had loosened a pipe restricting the turbo and it suffocated the Skoda Fabia R5. He’d set second quickest times on the first two stages and was 1.1s down on the lead, but was third and 23.2s off the lead a stage later.
With that, Evans’ dominance ensued. The first two stages proved how far the chasing pack have come as they stayed close, but with Ahlin and Bogie both suffering issues the writing was on the wall. However, a recurring pop-off valve issue meant Evans was having to compensate. The faulty valve can take away power in the click of the fingers which isn’t ideal in the slippy mud of mid-wales. The time that followed on SS3 was breathtaking. He was 15.1s up on his nearest challenger – Scottish podium finisher Desi Henry – as Cave took a hit, literally. “Frustrating this morning,” he said. “There was a bale on the corner and we lost a lot of time. It was stated in the roadbook and was supposed to be there on the recce and it wasn’t. We were told it wouldn’t be there on the rally but it was there. It tightened up the corner a lot and I couldn’t make the corner.”
Cave was 18.5s down on Evans and lucky to be in the rally, and completed the loop by losing 5.6s to Evans but still remaining second quickest overall.
The afternoon loop was a rerun of the morning’s stages, and little changed in the overall order. Evans’ pop-off valve issue was rectified in service and the real remaining challenge wasn’t for the drivers, but for the service crews that had just two and a half hours to convert the cars from gravel to asphalt trim ready for Epynt on Sunday.
The morning’s battle commenced earlier than expected; and not with the cars. The military were on the Epynt Ranges and delayed the set-up of the chicanes on the route, which had been a conscientious issue on the recce with drivers and co-drivers alike pointing to how tight they were and the likelihood that they’d be clipped and moved quickly, opening them up for the cars behind giving them an advantage.
As Evans left service, he was confident, as was team boss Glenn Patterson. Their tyre choice seemed perfect for the morning loop, until the start was delayed by 15 minutes. That left just enough time for it to rain which hampered Evans’ choice. He wasn’t alone in making tough tyre calls as the trickiness of Epynt was not made any easier by getting tyres wrong.
Evans’ grievances were clear as he topped the stage by just 0.1s from a charging Bogie who’d never been to Epynt before. Perhaps spurred on by his Donegal National win last month, the Scot was on fine form.
He was up into third overall on SS10, Quarry, while Jonny Greer produced shades of 2007 by beating Evans to the stage win. Both competed on the Mewla Rally over the ranges at the beginning of their careers, with Greer top N3 driver and Evans third. However, Greer’s win would be for a stage only.
On SS11, Evans returned to the top of the order. Less rain was good for the DMACK morning tyre choice as he stretched the lead over Cave to 58.3s. Someone enjoying the Epynt asphalt though was Henry – who was on Michelins for the first time in Wales having been Pirelli-shod for the first half of the season. He’d taken out a chicane bale on the first stage of the morning, but he was settling in nicely and improved on his second quickest time on Cilieni by topping SS12 Quarry. It was needed as fellow Northern Irishman Greer was lurking just under 20s behind.
That was soon lengthened though, as Henry again completed the top two behind Evans on the last stage before service. He’d taken the correct tyres and he was benefitting from it although there was plenty still to learn on Epynt.
Cave was holding second overall and felt as if he was in no man’s land. He was a minute behind Evans but a minute ahead of Henry, leaving the Welshman to go relatively conservatively over Epynt. There was plenty more in the tank.
With a five-stage loop after service, the drivers only got to complete two. BRC 3 driver Chris Wheeler’s heavy off on SS14 meant all safety crews had to attend and with the day already delayed the organisers cut their losses. Evans was quickest on both of the final stages to score a key victory. Much like the
Matt Edwards was the only entry in BRC
for the second successive event as one driver suggested – only half joking – that the Conway driver had been too good and scared away any competition. That being the case, Edwards and Rogers had a quiet run to 12th overall, but a loud run to BRC 2 champions ( see
The pairing are the first confirmed champions of the BRC’S new era after its hiatus last year.
Chris Wheeler was the only entry to BRC 3 in his Citroen DS 3 R3T, but crashed on SS14. Wheeler was kept