HOW THE BRC WAS WON
Evans was predictably supreme as Ahlin challenged.
It was a foregone conclusion. There wasn’t a person alive who really believed Elfyn Evans could be beaten in the 2016 British Rally Championship season.
But, he was probably run closer than people expected. The quality of the driving in the BRC 1 class this year was near exceptional. And there’s no doubt, as the season wore on, drivers were improving in their efforts to keep up with Evans.
There was only one in the same league at the start of the year though, Fredrik Ahlin. The Swede has scalped some big names in his Junior career, but showed up as a virtual unknown in Newtown for the Mid Wales Stages. As Evans struggled on DMACKS, trying to clear the slushy and snowy gravel roads of Myherin and Pikes Peak, the Swede revelled. Such was the threat to DMACK that it sent out Evans’ teammate, Max Vatanen, on R2 tyres to see if they’d work better. Although Evans pulled out one of the stages of the year through Hafren/sweet Lamb to gap Ahlin by 16s, the gauntlet had been thrown down. Evans left the opening round with a 35-point lead thanks to playing his double-points joker, which inflated his 25 points for winning.
There would be a reprieve from Ahlin on the next round, the Circuit of Ireland. Or so we thought. The Swede had no prior experience of a fourwheel-drive car on asphalt. But Evans – despite matching and often beating eventual event winner Craig Breen’s times on DMACKS not suited to asphalt – retired on SS3 and it was game on. Could Ahlin narrow the gap?
No, he couldn’t. A late pacenote left the Swede in the bushes and any chance of cutting Evans’ lead had gone.
The Swede is fiery, more like a Latin driver than a Scandinavian, and it showed on the next round. The ‘Bogeygate’ fiasco – in which many drivers were given notional times for going too quickly – meant he’d gone faster than Evans on the opening stage of the Pirelli Carlisle Stages but had none of the benefit as both received notional times. A sandwich was thrown into the trees, the Swede wasn’t happy. He’d played his double-points joker and to have a chance of staying with Evans in the title race, he’d have to win. His Pirellis worked wonders, but Evans had tyre issues of his own. The Welshman copped a puncture on the Saturday and was restricted to a third place finish. Ahlin took a majestic win and the points were closer. And then it all fell apart. Scotland; Ahlin suffered propshaft failure. On the Nicky Grist Stages, he hit a log pile.
Evans continued to be the fastest and most consistent of the lot, winning both events. The DMACKS that were talked about so much at the start of the year were working well. And Evans had the sweet spot. It’s easy to forget at the start of the year he was dealing with the mental stress of losing a WRC seat and his co-driver. By mid-season he was competing regularly in an R5 in WRC2 with new navigator Craig Parry. After Ahlin’s woe in Scotland and Wales, a win on the Ulster would do the job for Evans. He wrapped it up, 20 years after his father, Gwyndaf, won the same title. A fitting end to a fairytale year.
Only it wasn’t the end. He rocked up and beat Manx master Mark Higgins in his own backyard. Yes, Evans had a preferable gear ratio setup, but he also had a driveshaft failure. And still overcame Higgins in the same car. BRC? Mission accomplished.
Ahlin set some staggering times in Ulster and Isle of Man, considering his lack of experience. But two pacenote errors ruined his Ulster assault and a blown engine ended the Manx. His fourth in the championship explains none of his 2016 BRC assault. Other than the disappointment.
Sadly, both drivers are unlikely to return to battle in the BRC next year.
Best of the rest
Tom Cave took second in the championship, after consistency proved the key to his title assault. Four podiums in seven rounds – including back-to-back second place finishes on the Scottish and Nicky Grist – was a good year for the R5 debutant with new team Spencer Sport.
Behind Cave was Jonny Greer, who was one of a number of drivers in with a shot of taking second on the final round. Another driver displaying consistency, the likeable Greer deserved his spot. Ahlin finished fourth, with Josh Moffett’s Circuit of Ireland win boosting him to fifth. Desi Henry was rapid in the second half of the season, and will be aiming to finish higher than sixth in 2017. ■
Evans took title 20 years after father, Gwyndaf (r)
Parry played a part in DMACK’S BRC title success
Ahlin won in Carlisle to worry Evans