Nick Elliott and Dave Price were in control over the classic stages of South Wales when they charged to a 20-second victory on the Neath Valley Stages (Saturday 9 August), the penultimate round of the West Wales Rally Spares R.A.C. Rally Championship.While other leading contenders hit trouble, including Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke who rolled out of the rally, Elliott threw his Ford Escort Mk2 around the stunning gravel stages to move very close to securing the 2014 championship title. “No real problems,” reported Elliott. “A good tyre choice made a big difference and the stages were great.”Category victories fell to Tomas Davies/Eurig Davies (Ford Escort Mk2), David Stokes/Guy Weaver (Ford Escort Mk1) and Graham Waite/Gill Cotton (Volvo Amazon). Once again, the fast and flowing stages received rave reviews from competitors, with unanimous praise for both the condition of the stages and the organisation of the event.Ray Cunningham and Arron Forde (Mini Cooper) set a fearsome early pace in the Walker Diecastings Category 1, but it all went wrong on Rheola 2 when they lost first and second gears. They elected to battle on, but dropped four places in the process. “Starting stages in third gear was hard work,” said the Irishman.Instead, Waite took over at the head of the category, but just 40s covered the top four cars at the finish. Ian Beveridge and Paul Price had the Volvo PV544 buzzing along to take an excellent second from the Lotus Cortinas of Paul Mankin/Desmond Bell and Gwilym Roberts/Don James.Stokes took a commanding victory in the Capital Construction Category 2, with his only concern coming when he lost the handbrake on the opening stage. Chris Browne and Ali Cornwell-Browne (Escort Mk1) led the chase of Stokes in Category 2 on Browne’s first taste of these stages. “The stages here are absolutely incredible,” he said.Peter Smith had his Opel Ascona flying along and, partnered by Patrick Walsh, took a commanding win in class C3 as David Kirby and Tom Hutchings (Escort Mk1) headed the pursuit. “These flowing stages really seem to suit the car,” said Smith. Meanwhile, in class C2 Barry Jordan and James Gratton-Smith had a ball en route to class spoils in their Hillman Avenger.In the Rob Smith Rallying Category 3, Elliott was on it from the start, finishing the opening Rheola stage six seconds up on Pritchard. Hill signalled his intentions for the day with third best, ahead of Matthew Robinson/Sam Collis (Escort Mk2). Robinson made good pace as they ran on maps rather than route notes in preparation for the Roger Albert Clark Rally, but elected to retire at main service with overheating concerns.Out in a rather more spectacular style went Pritchard when he slid wide on a fast left-hander and barrel-rolled out of the rally in what he described as the biggest accident he’s ever had. Thankfully both crew members were unharmed and the car will repair.Elliott pressed home his advantage on the second run through Rheola, but could never relax as Hill maintained a fierce challenge and the winning margin was just under 20s as crews headed back to the finish at Resolven. “We had a couple of little overshoots, but otherwise okay,” reported Elliott. Hill, meanwhile, acknowledged that Elliott’s pace in Rheola was critical. Over the Margam and Bryn stages, there was little between them. “Rheola is where he’s done it all,” said Hill. Never far adrift to take a fine third were Meirion Evans and Iwan Jones (Escort Mk2), but they rued a wrong tyre choice for Bryn 2 that cost them as much as 15s.One of the drives of the rally came from young Ben Friend who, partnered by Sean Kennedy, almost got his Pinto-powered Escort Mk2 into the top 10 overall as he claimed a first victory in the highly competitive class D3.While Friend drove a mighty rally to win class D3, Adrian Young and Gwynfor Jones (Escort Mk2) pushed all the way to finish only 13s adrift. Young lost the time when the car cut out twice on the opening stage and spent the rest of the day trying to claw time back. In class D2, Dave Hopkins and Tony Vart took the spoils in their Talbot Sunbeam. “We loved every minute of it,” said Hopkins.Fifth overall and winners of the Holton Homes Appendix K category were Tomas and Eurig Davies (Escort Mk2) after a strong run only hindered by a brake scare in Rheola 2 after a change of pads at service.The Zutec Neath Valley Stages was organised by the Three Counties Car Club.