By Paul Evans
Jason Pritchard has taken the lead of the Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship after winning the Manx National Rally for a fourth time in his North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05.
Co-driven by Phil Clarke, the 29-year old Builth Wells driver led the Isle of Man event from start to finish, setting fastest time on all but one of the 16 stages. He mastered the most difficult Leg 1 conditions – when torrential rain, standing water and poor visibility, followed by a repeat run of four difficult stages in the dark, made the stages extremely challenging – and continued his domination on the following day’s dry tests. Victory was also the perfect present for his father and renowned competitor, Eian, who celebrated his 60th birthday on day one of the event!
Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell finished second, 3mins 06.2 secs behind, in their John Cooper Works Mini WRC, while Wayne Sisson/Max Freeman finished third in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Another star drive came from Dai Roberts in a Peugeot 205 GTI. Better known as a co-driver, the Llanpumsaint man showed his class behind the wheel by exploiting the wet conditions to compete Leg 1 in an impressive 14th place overall. The following day’s dry and fast stages didn’t suit the car as well, but despite breaking a driveshaft and doing the final three stages in one-wheel drive, Roberts won his class and finished 18th overall.
West Wales’ Lloyd Morgan finished 19th overall to take the Asphalt Rally Championship 1400S class lead after a great run in his Euro Tech Roofing/Dynamic Fluids-backed Nissan Micra, while fellow Isle of Man rally rookie Rhidian Daniels finished 24th overall and third in class, despite a few rear suspension geometry issues with the Carmarthen driver’s Citroen C1 Max.
A complete lack of grip, suspension setting issues and many massive moments saw Abergavenny’s Damian Cole in a very uncharacteristic 16th place after SS4. The car’s handling was even worse after service, and after a second wild run through Druidale (SS6) he and Wrexham co-driver Jamie Edwards called it a day in their Get Connected Ford Fiesta WRC, before the inevitable big accident happened.
Llanelli’s Bob Fowden made a cautious start in bad weather, but fought back from 18th to 4th by the overnight halt. Disaster struck on day two, when his Comline Auto Parts/NGK-backed Subaru Impreza WRC S11 caught fire – a broken exhaust manifold creating a blaze that destroyed everything under the bonnet.
Ruthin’s Hugh Hunter had won the Manx National last year and was seeded at number one in his Fiesta WRC, but his event came to an early end with electrical problems just two miles into the opening stage. Llandysul’s Jamie Jukes was second overall in his Spencer Sport Mitsubishi Mirage R5 before a collision with a chicane on SS2 ended his hopes of victory. Former Welsh Tarmac Rally Champion Rob Tout recorded his fourth Manx National retirement in five starts after the Ammanford driver’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo suffered centre diff failure.
“It was a pleasure to drive the Focus WRC this weekend, Phil was great on the notes, we had no dramas and we really enjoyed the event,” said Pritchard. “Leg one was the worst conditions I’ve seen in all my years in rallying. There was water running off the fields and onto the roads and being first on the road we were the first to find the worst patches, so it was a real challenge. I’m a little gutted I was playing with the switches on stage six and didn’t set a clean sweep of fastest stage times because of it, but we started day two with a nice lead and managed to extend it without any problems. It’s nice to be leading the Championship after two rounds, but it’s leading at the end of the season that’s important and that’s what we’ll be aiming to do. We’ll take the Fiesta S2000 to Belgium, but we’re not sure what car we’ll do the Down Rally in. I’d like to do more rallies in the Focus WRC – the car’s for sale, but I’m hoping we don’t sell it!”