ELFYN BEATS THE BEST ON THE ISLE OF MAN

BRI­TISH CHAM­PION SHOWS HIS CLASS – AGAIN

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Jack Benyon

It was fit­ting that the DMACK Bri­tish Rally Team ded­i­cated Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry’s vic­tory on Rally Isle of Man to Mark Lovell. DMACK man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Dick Cor­mack had worked on the car of the 1986 BRC cham­pion, who fa­mously never won the Manx, con­ced­ing cer­tain wins on two oc­ca­sions to team or­ders.

But with an all star line-up of Evans – newly crowned BRC cham­pion – and five-time Manx in­ter­na­tional win­ner and tre­ble BRC cham­pion Mark Hig­gins, there was no sign of any team or­ders. The pair were there to race.

And race they did. The event be­gan with the fan­tas­tic Su­per Spe­cial prom­e­nade stage, and fastest was Fin­land WRC podium fin­isher Craig Breen, in a one-off out­ing, mainly thanks to Team Ire­land phi­lan­thropist John Cam­pion.

It was a good start for Breen, but he strug­gled for rhythm on the sec­ond test of the day and gifted 2.6s to Evans. On SS3 though, the Dgm-pre­pared Citroen of Breen was out with a ter­mi­nal en­gine fail­ure. He and Scott Martin got a good cup of tea thanks to a kind mar­shal, but he would have pre­ferred to join his hero Frank Meagher on the win­ners’ list. Just like the Cir­cuit of Ire­land ear­lier this year – where Evans also went out on the third stage – fans were robbed of a bat­tle be­tween two of the finest young driv­ers in the world.

That left the other one-off fron­trun­ner, Hig­gins, rev­el­ling in his home is­land af­ter his run to a record time on the TT course in a spe­cially mod­i­fied Pro­drive Subaru ear­lier this year. Thanks to rally com­peti­tor Dave Hol­land and his com­pany Pal­let­force, Hig­gins joined Evans in the DMACK out­fit with an­other Ford Fi­esta R5.

But al­ready there was trou­ble. There wasn’t a set of long ra­tios for Hig­gins’ gear­box, which meant he was los­ing time sat on the lim­iter in the five-speed Fi­esta ’box. Evans was keen to point out that he was los­ing out to Hig­gins in the slower sec­tions, though. The games had be­gun.

Af­ter a day of bed­ding in, Hig­gins lay third and 22.5s down on Evans, with Tom Cave split­ting the duo. Cave’s as­phalt pace has been spo­radic in re­cent rounds but the Welsh­man, aside from what he deemed an in­cor­rect tyre choice, was on form. It was just as well, he was fight­ing for sec­ond over­all in the BRC cham­pi­onship with Jonny Greer and Fredrik Ahlin.

Af­ter top­ping the first two stages of Fri­day, Evans’ lead was just un­der 29s at ser­vice and the Welsh­man was prov­ing why he’s one of the hottest prop­er­ties in world ral­ly­ing right now. In per­fect sync with Parry, the times were rapid and the Welsh­man looked un­stop­pable. With Breen gone and Hig­gins fight­ing the ’box and a lack of knowl­edge of the Fi­esta on as­phalt, it looked all over.

How­ever, there was a glim­mer of hope. The next three stages went away from Evans with Hig­gins tak­ing two of them. Up over the in­fa­mous Druidale and past the Brandy­well Cot­tage, the Manx­man was push­ing hard, cock­ing the rear wheel up through a right-left sec­tion leav­ing no time on the ta­ble.

There was more good news for Hig­gins. Af­ter Evans re­bounded and went on a phe­nom­e­nal run to eke his lead out to 38s over Hig­gins, there was drama. The Welsh­man broke a drive­shaft and the left-front wheel was the non-bene­fac­tor. His time was 10th quick­est and enough to hand his team-mate a 17.5s gap. Would he push in the morn­ing to take the win? A play­ful smile was the only hint of an an­swer.

Not to worry. It was an­swered with a shock and awe dis­play on Satur­day morn­ing. He had just six stages to reel in Hig­gins. It started un­dram­mat­i­cally re­duc­ing it to 16s on Tons Bridge, but the next time was breath­tak­ing. Hig­gins could only man­age fourth quick­est and Evans com­pleted the test in 9m17.6 over 11.49 miles. As­tound­ing. What made it even more spe­cial was the fact that the cars were go­ing into the stage with cold tyres af­ter a de­lay. Evans was forced to take it easy in the early sec­tion and could have gone even quicker.

Af­ter the Snuff the Wind stage, Evans was within 0.1s and look­ing bullish. But there was even more drama ahead as the Manx de­liv­ered the kind of nail-bit­ing con­clu­sion it’s fa­mous for.

In the bril­liantly named .179+ (dot 179 plus) af­ter a plot on a road rally, Hig­gins caught a course car. What­ever the er­ror was, the Es­cort Cos­worth held up Hig­gins and he fol­lowed it out of the stage. He was given a no­tional time ex­actly the same as team-mate Evans.

Evans was still qui­etly con­fi­dent and not out­wardly up­set that Hig­gins had got the same time as him for that stage, on a test Hig­gins was ex­pected to lose time on due to his short ra­tio ’box. On­look­ers com­mented that the course car in­ci­dent was bet­ter for Hig­gins be­cause he got his team-mate’s time, but Hig­gins reck­oned that was rub­bish thanks to a mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the sec­ond run­ning of the stage which re­moved parts un­suit­able to Hig­gins’ gear­ing.

Evans hadn’t let it get to him; the ice cool driver from Dol­gel­lau did what he has done in all cases of ad­ver­sity in the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship this year, in­deed how he has re­acted from los­ing his M-sport World Rally Cham­pi­onship seat for this year. He put his head down and drove quickly.

The re­sult was dev­as­tat­ing. Hig­gins was de­moted from a 0.1s lead to a 8.4s deficit. But Evans wasn’t the only cool cus­tomer in the rally and Hig­gins struck back to trail by 5.9s go­ing into the de­cid­ing stage, Clas­sic, which hadn’t been run be­fore dur­ing the week­end.

Hig­gins went quick­est and at the sto­pline of the stage lo­cated out­side the TT cir­cuit grand­stand and start­line: bated breath. Had he done enough?

It wasn’t enough. Evans got

re­demp­tion for his drive­shaft break­age. With­out that, the bat­tle wouldn’t have been close. One myth was put to bed; at the start of the year there were plenty of ques­tions about DMACK’S as­phalt tyre. With a 1-2, those ques­tions were re­turned over the net for an ace.

On an­other day, the bat­tle for third over­all would have been the most in­ter­est­ing el­e­ment of the rally. With Evans and Hig­gins’ bat­tle the fo­cus was taken away, but Cave was in a dog­fight with fel­low-miche­lin driver Desi Henry.

The Ir­ish­man’s Skoda was on song and a cou­ple of fastest times over the week­end proved how far the builder from Port­glenone has come with his rel­a­tive lack of ex­pe­ri­ence.

One name miss­ing from the fight was Fredrik Ahlin. The Swede has been Evans’ clos­est ti­tle ri­val for a lot of the year af­ter win­ning for CA1 Sport on its home round in Carlisle. On this event, his sec­ond all-as­phalt four-wheel-drive car, he was match­ing Hig­gins on stages, also suf­fer­ing from the short-ra­tio ’box.

How­ever, a box from be­hind the ped­als which houses vi­tal wiring came loose, and in a panic in­duced by the re­sul­tant lack of power in the Fi­esta, he banged down the gear­box

and the en­gine ex­pired. The rest of the Swede’s sea­son is now in doubt ( see news, page 19).

Cave en­tered the event sec­ond in the cham­pi­onship, and his other main ri­val other than Ahlin, was Jonny Greer, Breen’s team-mate in a Citroen DS 3 R5. He was steady in the car, tak­ing sixth over­all, but it wasn’t enough to trou­ble the points stand­ings.

In­stead, Cave ad­mit­ted that co-driver James Mor­gan had to rein him in as fin­ish­ing ahead of Greer would give him the run­ners up spot, but the Welsh­man was en­joy­ing the bat­tle with Henry. The Skoda driver closed but Cave cru­cially had more in the tank and eked out a gap in the last hand­ful of stages. A hug from his sup­port­ive mother was an emo­tional sight at stage end, Cave tak­ing the run­ner up cham­pi­onship hon­ours in his first year in an R5 car and in the team run­ning him, Spencer Sport, first year of ex­is­tence.

Henry set­tled for fourth but fifth was a sur­prise. In his sec­ond event in an R5 car, Matt Ed­wards had an im­pres­sive run. Still new to as­phalt ral­lies de­spite all his ex­pe­ri­ence, the Welsh­man who was crowned BRC 2 cham­pion on the Nicky Grist, de­liv­ered a solid re­sult for new team Swift.

The im­pres­sive Rhys Yates had been on for a ca­reer-best fifth ahead of Ed­wards, but on Satur­day morn­ing he tried to carry too much speed out of a tight right-han­der and he hit a bank. Still, a sec­ond quick­est over­all stage time was some­thing for the Ch­ester­field driver to take home and build on for 2017.

Greer took sixth with no ma­jor is­sues to re­port, in com­plete con­trast to the man be­hind him, David Bo­gie. His first out­ing in a new Skoda Fabia R5 didn’t work. The Scot strug­gled to get heat in the tyres and couldn’t put his fin­ger on an un­der­steer is­sue. It came as a shock be­cause of a good re­sult on the Ul­ster Rally pre­vi­ously and the car had the same set-up.

Way out of the top 10, two BRC cham­pi­ons were con­firmed on the event. In 26th, Robert Blomberg and Lars An­der­s­son sealed the Na­tional Rally Cup in their Mit­subishi Mi­rage. Tony Simp­son and Ian Be­van crossed the line in 52nd and sealed BRC 3 in their Ford Fi­esta.

They joined Evans, who has left the com­pe­ti­tion trail­ing in his wake in 2016. Beat­ing Hig­gins in his own back yard was the ic­ing on the cake. With Evans al­most cer­tain not to be re­turn­ing full-time to the BRC in 2017, there’s some enor­mous shoes to fill.

Parry (l) and Evans (r) fin­ished BRC sea­son on a high

Evans and Parry were on an­other level

Hig­gins rapid on BRC come­back

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