SCOTTISH SAVOUR SUCCESS ON WELSH CLASSIC
Andrew Gallacher and Jane Nicol capped a memorable year with victory on the Wales Rally GB National Rally that once again shadowed Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, the UK’s round of the high-profile FIA World Rally Championship.
A month after clinching the Scottish Rally Championship national crown – thus winning a free entry via the ‘Road to Wales’ initiative – they topped the timesheets once again on the Welsh classic.
Although Gallacher won by over a minute, he was never able to relax. The Ford Focus WRC driver was fastest on four of the ten Special Stages that made up the two-day National event, which provided huge numbers of fans with some great entertainment on Friday and Saturday’s WRC schedule.
“My late father, Drew Gallacher, won the Scottish Rally Championship four times in the 1960s and ‘70s,” he said, “so to win it for the first time myself last month was rather special. I hadn’t planned on doing the Wales Rally GB National Rally, but the prize for winning the Scottish title was a free entry, and naturally being a Scot, I couldn’t turn it down!”
Gallacher actually competed on this event in 2014 and finished second overall behind another Scot, Mike Faulkner, so there was a feeling of ‘job done’ when he pulled into the finish at Deeside on Saturday evening: “It was a great event; it ran on time and there were no delays, we just kept going. I really enjoyed the stages on Saturday, but we were a bit lucky. We broke a driveshaft on Friday, so had a spare sent down from Paul Benn’s workshops in Cockermouth and fitted it overnight. The car has run well, but we were beginning to lose oil pressure over the last stage. It wasn’t easy – my fellow Scot John Wink kept me honest. I was never able to relax with him on my tail.”
Joined on the podium by rally legends Juha Kankkunen and Nicky Grist at the ceremonial finish in the packed Deeside Rally Village, he added: “What a way to end the season. Winning the Scottish title last month, getting a free entry and winning this here today. It doesn’t get much better than that!”
Last year’s winner Tom Preston set the fastest time on the opening stage of the event on Friday morning, but then crashed out on the second test. As he said prior to the start: “I’ve only done two gravel events this year – the Pirelli Rally way back in May and the Trackrod in Yorkshire last weekend – and I was all over the place!” Running first on the road, Preston was caught out by the slippery conditions, his Skoda Fabia R5 striking a bank and rolling over onto its roof. Both he and co-driver Carl Williamson were unharmed, though bitterly disappointed.
Gallacher assumed the lead at that point and was never headed, although he was harried all the way by second-placed Wink and John Forrest in their Hyundai i20 R5 and the Subaru Impreza WRC of Roger Duckworth and Mark Broomfield.
Having never finished higher than third on a rally before and in only his second season with the Hyundai, Wink’s runner-up position was his best ever result. “I struggled for grip on Friday in the wet,” said Wink, “but we were very fast on Saturday when the mid Wales stages suited me and the car much better.” Like the rally winner, he held position all the way from the second stage to the end.
Third place for Duckworth was better than he had hoped for. “The last time I did a rally was here last year,” he said. “I enjoy competing on this event and these stages and don’t really get the time to do other events.” He was just sixth-fastest on the opening test on Friday, but once he had ‘settled back into the old routine’, he consistently set top three times including a trio of stage wins on his way to third place. After Stage Two, he was 15 seconds behind Wink, but by the end he had narrowed the gap to only eight seconds. “That wasn’t too bad considering I had lost fifth and sixth gears,” said Duckworth. “I lost sixth gear on Friday and then lost fifth today and did the last three stages with just four gears. Top speed was only 88mph, so I was flat-out most of the way. The stages were beautiful today – that’s why we do this!”
Like Duckworth, Bob Ceen and Andy Bull were slow out of the blocks. Ceen was tenth-quickest on the first stage and ninth on the second, thereafter getting amongst the top six times all the way apart from the fifth test when he punctured a tyre on his Subaru on Slate Mountain. The pair went on to finish fourth.
Wales Rally GB veteran Wug Utting, with Bob Stokoe, finished fifth in his Subaru. “That was superb,” he said at the finish. “I ‘endured’ yesterday but thoroughly enjoyed today. This is what we come to Wales for – good sport, wonderful stages and a nice battle with the others.”
Rounding out the top six were Simon Hay and Calum Jaffray in their Mitsubishi Lancer. Hay had to run all day on Saturday with reduced power after having to shut off the anti-lag function when the exhaust pipe fractured close to the fuel tank and, understandably, he didn’t want any additional heat build-up in that area! “That’s better than I could have hoped for,” said Hay. “We had a puncture on the first stage this morning, so I’m really pleased with sixth.” Immediately after the rally, Hay left his team to pack up and return north to Aberdeen while he headed south with his wife Hollie – on honeymoon.
They had got married in Drumtochty Castle the previous weekend, and earlier in the year Hollie had mentioned that she had always wanted to visit Wales so that’s where she thought she was headed for their honeymoon. It was only some time later that she realised Dayinsure Wales Rally GB was scheduled to run three weeks earlier than it did last year – coinciding with their honeymoon dates. Despite that, the marriage went ahead and honeymoon plans were changed – immediately after the rally, they jetted off to Las Vegas.
Young Sam Bilham from Bingley in Yorkshire scored a sensational result with ninth place overall, first two-wheel-drive car home and first in class with his Ford Fiesta R2. It was only his second time in the R2. “This was way beyond my expectations,” said Bilham. “Friday was rough – I had a puncture and the windscreen kept misting up in the rain and I couldn’t see – but the first three stages on Saturday were mega. We had another puncture but this was a great birthday present.”
Celebrating his 22nd birthday on Friday, Bilham arrived in the service park to find his car festooned with balloons and under strict orders from his team not to remove them until after he had left the start ramp!
Ludlow Castle’s Gary Smith finished 11th overall and won the H1 Historic class in his Ford Escort Mk1, while the Ford Escort Mk2 of Steve Ward finished 12th and won the H2 class.
The presence of many more historic cars in the WRGB National always delights spectators, who can watch world rallying’s current generation of superstars compete in the latest automotive technology while later in the same stage wallow in more nostalgic memories of times past and the evocative sound of non-turbocharged engines.
One car which certainly delighted the tens of thousands of fans who flocked into the forests was the MG Metro 6R4 of John Saunders. The Hong Kong-domiciled businessman normally flies ‘home’ to compete on Tarmac rallies, but this was his first forest gravel rally and he finished 17th after an eventful debut. “I contested the Goodwood Special Stage a month or so ago,” said Saunders, “and it was my co-driver Tony Hart who suggested we do the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB National, so here I am. We clipped a log pile yesterday which damaged the rear off-side corner and broke the tailgate catch, and every so often the tailgate would fly open and act like an air brake! We lost the pacenotes three times on Friday but it all came together today. I’m a bit of a convert now, so I’d like to do more gravel rallies.”
Meanwhile, at the other end of the field there was another very private battle going on between the 60-year-old Volkswagen Beetle of Robert Beales and the similar 1953 car of Mark Fereday. Initially, Beales held the upper hand over the first stage, but thereafter Fereday led until his Beetle snapped its chassis in Sweet Lamb. He felt the handling ‘go funny’ but was unable to check out the problem on the tight road section to the next stage. He was rather surprised to see the extent of the damage when he did look underneath, but still managed to complete the final three stages – albeit at a reduced pace.
On his fourth outing on this event, Beales had his own issues, damaging the suspension on what ‘looked and felt like a crater’ on one stage. “I could have done with some more clearance,” said Beales at the finish, “but the stages were great today – albeit very slippery running at the back.” Fereday lost three minutes in Sweet Lamb and Dyfi with his problems, but had little doubt the car would finish. “This has been a racing car all its life,” he said. “It did the Tulip Rally in 1953 and 1954 – although I wasn’t driving it then!” Beales finished 55th overall to take the class win, with Fereday 56th – and not last!
1 Andrew Gallacher/Jane Nicol (Ford Focus WRC) 1hr 29min 46.9secs
2 John Wink/John Forrest (Hyundai R5 i20) +01m 05.1s
3 Roger Duckworth/Mark Broomfield (Subaru Impreza WRC S6) +01:m 3.8s
4 Bob Ceen/Andy Bull (Subaru Impreza S9 WRC) +04m 18.0s
5 Wug Utting/Bob Stokoe (Subaru Impreza N12b) +04m 58.4s
6 Simon Hay/Calum Jaffray (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI) +06m 07.3s
7 Mark Worley/Hamish Campbell (Subaru Impreza) +10m 15.5s
8 Richard Barrow/Andrew Richards (Subaru Impreza) +10m 40.9s
9 Sam Bilham/Cameron Fair (Ford Fiesta R2) +11m 49.6s
10 Ellya Alec Gold/Jean Hay (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI) +12m 18.0s