DAVID EVANS I
“Shelsley altered my opinion of hillclimbs”
’ve never been a big fan of climbing hills. Don’t mind coming down them and I like looking at them, but I’m more than happy to let a chairlift or car take the strain on the ascent. Last weekend changed my mind. I climbed a hill in Worcestershire for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the view. Looking out over the valley through which the River Teme winds its way, the scene was unmistakably that of an idyllic English summer afternoon.
Then the day improved immeasurably as the first in a long line of Group B cars left the line and powered through a long left-hander just beneath my feet. Perfect just got better at Shelsley Walsh’s Classic Nostalgia event.
Last month’s Goodwood Festival of Speed had whetted the appetite with Audi UK’S quattro S1 E2 and that car was back with the David Llewellin remaining behind the wheel. You simply never tire of watching drivers of Dai’s ability trying to persuade way too much horsepower to find traction via a set of soft-compound wets.
It was the same for Jimmy Mcrae, reunited with the Prodrive MG Metro 6R4 he drove in 1986. As was the case then, the five-time British champion had embarked on this event with advice ringing in his ear from David Richards. This time, however, DR’S words were more focused on the net worth of the beautiful Rothmans-dressed machine rather than how to best use it to edge Llewellin’s RED 6R4 or a Hannu Mikkola-wheeled Audi.
Russell Brookes completed the period job perfectly with an Opel Manta 400 while Ryan Champion made a brave hill debut in a Ford RS200.
I’d been in two minds about whether or not to go. I’m so glad I did. Not often enough do we get the chance to wheel these cars out and listen to their tunes – and the same should be said about the drivers and their stories.
The banter between Llewellin and Mcrae was like the last three decades had been wiped away in a flash.
I was, of course, slightly miffed that Group B and the boys weren’t seen as the main event. But even I had to admit I was mighty impressed at the sight of the Type C Auto Union, and that was before I heard the backstory of Hans Stuck driving a similar motor up the same hill his father had 80 years earlier.
I’d never expected the cake to be iced in quite such a way. But it was.
Just before I go, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my sadness at the death of Malcolm Neill. When I first started in this job, folk like Malcolm scared the life out of me. He didn’t suffer fools, so once I’d blindsided him and got him sitting down, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment that we worked together.
As Andrew Kellitt says in MN’S obit, he was something of a visionary in the way he ran a rally and it’s his sort that added a real richness to the fabric of our sport.
Finally, signs of movement. Rally4wales’ business proposal is at least being looked at by the Motor Sports Association. It’s a good week for rallying this week.
There’s been a definite shift in recent weeks towards the decision-making side of rallying’s future in Wales. All parties want the best for themselves, but perhaps realisation has kicked in that a decision needs to be made, and made soon.
R4W’S proposal involves a co-operative with Coedwigaeth Percelyn, run by former competitor Richard Ceen who runs his own forest complex, and here’s where this could be a double dose of good news.
It’s been said countless times on these pages by staff and drivers, but the quality of the forest roads in Wales have been decreasing for some time. With Ceen and Rally4wales cleaning the roads, competitors will have to maintain current entry costs (although that is only rumoured and could change by the final deal) but will benefit from better roads.
There’s still a long way to go, but the signs of doors opening and discussions being entered into is something almost unimaginable a few months ago.
That’s not the only good news for Welsh rallying. It’s giant-killing rally driver Matt Edwards has triumphed for the little man and scored a big entry in the BRC next year. While this isn’t a fundamental change in rally funding, and Peter Smith doesn’t deserve to have his front door cluttered with people asking for a Fiesta World Car, it is a sign that hard work is rewarded. Smith – after helping son Guy Smith in his career – has mentored and helped Edwards in a truly selfless manner. Giving him a lot, but not quite enough forcing him to get out and find the rest. A life lesson Edwards reckons he wouldn’t be the same without.
Edwards debuted splendidly in a Fiesta on the DMACK Carlisle Stages and it’s only recently come to light ( see story on p15) that the car was an R5 and not an R5+ which makes the fact he was leading over Desi Henry even more impressive. Edwards had that lead in a Fiesta equal to the Skoda of Henry.
With Edwards out in the Fiesta on the Ulster, there’s another driver in a similar car who could be one to watch out for.
After an excellent second place on the Pirelli Carlisle, Matthew Wilson is planning another comeback on the same event. It would be great to see the Cumbrian back out on asphalt and increasing what could be one of the largest R5 contingents of the year in the championship as it combines with the Irish Tarmac Championship for a second time this year. It’s nice to celebrate some good news, for a change.