Pritchard wins WWRS R.A.C. Rally Championship round five

Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke claimed a fine victory on the DMACK Carlisle Stages (Saturday 21 June), the fifth round of the West Wales Rally Spares R.A.C. Rally Championship.From a field packed with quality, Pritchard (Ford Escort Mk2) topped a fierce battle that raged over six dry and dusty stages in the Kershope region as the top three crews were covered by 23 seconds and less than a minute covered the top six at the end of a rally that drew rave reviews from the competitors.Second to Pritchard were Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis, while Meirion Evans and Iwan Jones turned in a fine performance on unfamiliar stages to take third overall. Crews were fulsome in their praise for the event, with first class forest stages and a compact format that included limited road mileage. The pace at the head of the field was tremendous and it could have been a different result had stage one pacesetter Matt Edwards not gone out on stage two with ignition failure.Graham Waite and Gill Cotton had a fine run in their Volvo Amazon to take Category 1 from the Lotus Cortina of Paul Mankin/Desmond Bell. David Stokes and Guy Weaver turned in another accomplished performance to win Category 2 in their Ford Escort Mk2, while in Category O brothers Simon Crook and Alister Crook (Opel Manta) took another victory.Heading into the western block of Kielder, this was perhaps the most open round of the season so far. Few, if any, of the drivers could claim much local knowledge and the warm weather added to the challenge of tyre choice. Edwards was awesome from the start, going five seconds up on Robinson in the opening 10-miles of Kershope. But his Ford Escort Mk2 went little further and Pritchard set the pace across just the river in Newcastleton. After five miles in Ash Park, Pritchard arrived at service four seconds down on the consistently fast Robinson. Evans was right in the mix in third from Tim Pearcey/Neil Shanks, Nick Elliott/Dave Price and Richard Hill/Pat Cooper. Half a minute covered six of the fastest Escort drivers in the country.After service at Murray’s near Longtown came a repeat of the three stages, now in even better condition after being swept on the first run. Pritchard flew through Kershope and took 10 seconds off Robinson to take the lead. Strong runs through Newcastleton and Ash Park sealed a first historic victory for Pritchard. “It’s been awesome,” he said. “We had a good clear run and the stages were really nice and flowing.”“Safe and tidy all day,” said Robinson, who ended the rally 10s down in second. In turn, he was 13s up on Evans who had delivered a very impressive run on his first rally in the region. “Brilliant stages: we were sleeping a bit in the morning but we really wanted a finish,” said Evans.Fourth overall was a great result for Pearcey on only his second rally of the season. “The stages were superb: we had a couple of moments, two on the same corner,” he said. Hill ended the day on good pace to take fifth, but a wrong tyre choice in the morning had cost him time. Elliott, meanwhile, was even more downbeat about tyre selection for the first loop. “We changed tyres at service and the car was transformed,” he said. Darren Moon/Alan Walker battled home seventh with an engine that would only run at more than 3000rpm and were chased by Category 2 winners Stokes/Weaver. “No problems: the stages were brilliant,” said Stokes. Chasing them in the Category were Chris Browne and Ali Cornwell-Browne (Ford Escort Mk1) and there was less than half a minute between them at the finish.Category 1 featured a tremendous battle between Waite’s Volvo and the Mini Cooper of Ray Cunningham/Andrew Bushe. At service, they were dead level on times, but it went wrong for Cunningham when a driveshaft failed near the end of Newcastleton 2 and his rally was over. That took the pressure off Waite, who had lost 15s on the second Kershope stage with an off at a hairpin. Running first on the road had given Waite a sweeper role on the first loop of stages.Elsewhere in Category 1 Steven Higgins and Don Bramfoot were out early in the first stage with a wheel missing from Saab 96 after a broken stub axle. Meanwhile, John Everard and Mark Sharpley unfortunately rolled their lovely Alfa Romeo Junior. Into second in the Category to Waite’s Volvo went Paul Mankin and Desmond Bell, who were glad to finish in their Lotus Cortina after a troubled season to date.In Category 2, there was a great win in class C3 for David Kirby and Chris Rixon (Ford Escort Mk1), with Phil Jobson and Arwel Jenkins second in their similar car. Kirby only finished repairing his car at 10pm on Thursday after its roll on the Severn Valley. “We kept it on its wheels this time,” said Kirby. A first-stage puncture put the Opel Ascona of Peter Smith/Patrick Walsh out of contention in class C3, though they rejoined in the afternoon and set competitive times. In Class C2 a relieved Robin Shuttleworth and Ronnie Roughead got to the finish ahead despite a broken steering rack on their Escort Mk1. Fortunately it was late in the final stage when the rack failed. Just 14s down in second was the Hillman Avenger of Barry Jordan/James Gratton -Smith. “Mint: a cracking day,” reported Jordan.Class D3, for the non-BDG powered Category 3 cars, heralded another win for Adrian Young/Gwynfor Jones in their Ford Escort Mk2. They dropped some time behind the ailing Peter Smith in the opening stage but otherwise had a strong run. Mike Reed/Joe Sturdy rolled their Escort out on the first Kershope and second in class went to Paul Fry/Mike Steele after a tussle with the similar Escort Mk2 of John Baker/Ian Jones.In class D2, for the 1600s, there was another sporting contest between Keith Davison/Henry Richardson (Hillman Avenger) and Dave Hopkins/Tony Vart (Sunbeam Talbot). The stages were new to Hopkins and he dropped time in the morning, but they traded times in the afternoon as Davison stayed ahead.In the Open category of the championship, brothers Simon and Alister Crook emerged for another victory despite spending 15s in a ditch in Kershope 2. However, a storming recovery from the Sunbeam Lotus of Owen Murphy and James O’Brien took them close after dropping a lot of time in the morning with a pedal box problem. Murphy’s pace in the afternoon against the leading Escorts showed that the project continues to get stronger and stronger.The DMACK Carlisle Stages was organised by the Roger Albert Clark Rally Motor Club Ltd.