“Shel­s­ley al­tered my opin­ion of hill­climbs”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

’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.

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