By Paul Evans
Jason Pritchard dominated the Manx National Rally, winning the two-day, 16 stage, 133 stage mile, event by over three minutes in his North Road Garage-backed Ford Focus WRC05.
It was the fifth time that the 30-year old Builth Wells driver had won the Isle of Man classic, equalling Kenny McKinstry’s record number of event victories.
Co-driven by Phil Clarke, Pritchard had opened up a 57 second lead after a slippery first eight stages on Friday night – with not even showers of rain and darkness slowing him. His rivals had a glimmer of hope on Saturday when his car’s launch system failed on SS10 and then he left his braking a little bit too late for a corner on SS11, locked up and stalled the engine. But it was only a temporary glitch, as Pritchard put his foot down on the now dry and fast stages to run away with the lead.
Having won the Tour of Epynt earlier in the season, Pritchard scored maximum points again on both Friday and Saturday’s doubler-header round to extend his lead in the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship – with the defending champion now sitting on a perfect 90 points.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to win the Manx National Rally five times and to equal Kenny McKinstry’s record number of victories,” said Pritchard. “Hopefully we’ve got a few more wins in us yet! I love driving this Focus WRC, I love driving these Manx stages and when the two combine it’s just such a pleasure to do. It’s not easy to win here, but when it all clicks you feel in a comfort zone and it’s the best feeling in the world. Losing time with a launch problem and a stall with the overshoot on day two made it difficult to work out exactly where we were in terms of the Asphalt Championship points, but we gave it a good go on a couple of stages to try and make the time up and ensure we came away with maximum points from both days.”
Jamie Jukes/James Morgan finished second in a Mitsubishi Mirage. A spin on Saturday was the Penrhiwllan driver’s only worry, as he continued to develop the car in competition.
“To be the best of the rest behind Jason is a fantastic result for the Mirage and realistically the best result we could have hoped for,” said Jukes. “I’m really pleased for the team, because they have worked hard on this car and you can see in the stage times how much it has leapt forward.”
Hugh Hunter lost over four minutes on Friday with a large number of problems in his Ford Focus WRC05, including a time-consuming stall at a hairpin. Saturday started almost as badly, with another stall costing one minute on the opening stage of the day. But thereafter the Ruthin driver flew, as he set three fastest stage times to climb back to fourth by the finish.
Damian Cole had launch system issues with his Get Connected/Energizer-backed Ford Focus WRC05, which after a long delay getting away from SS2 saw him down in 16th place overall. A change of clutch at halfway service didn’t cure the problem, but he and new co-driver Max Freeman pushed on and had climbed up to seventh overall by the end of the night. The fault was traced to a sensor on the clutch pedal, and once that was put right the Abergavenny driver was able to get cleanly off the start line – eventually finishing seventh overall.
Bob Fowden had a troubled run on Friday night, starting with intercom issues on the first loop and then a more serious mysterious problem with their Subaru Impreza WRC S11 not warming up to full operating temperature and running significantly down on power. It left the Llanelli man down in 15th place overall after day one, although Saturday was much better – if not perfect, as the power steering was playing up under severe braking. Saturday was much better, although he had to stop on the penultimate stage when the road was blocked by an upside down Proton Satria – but after the time loss was sorted by the officials, Fowden finished 11th overall.
Bedlinog’s Mike Pugsley reached the finish in his 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000, despite the alternator falling off on SS11 and costing him over 10 minutes.
Phil Turner/Ryan Griffiths hit some debris in the middle of the road on Friday night in their Toovey Race Engines/ST Motorsport-backed Escort Mk2, which punctured a tyre. They were worried that the differential might have been damaged, and retirement on Saturday proved that it had.
Welsh brothers Paul and Julian Doroszczuk were flying in their Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2 until their newly-built Cosworth engine blew its head gasket.
Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle were one of the stars of Friday night, finishing a superb 19th overall in their little Citroën C1 Max. Unfortunately engine problems forced them out on Saturday as well.
Will Mains declared himself an “island virgin” as he started his first ever rally on the Isle of Man. The Llandysul pilot and his Ammanford co-driver Claire Williams set off at their normal giant-killing pace in their Ray Thomas & Sons/WCS Environmental-backed Vauxhall Nova, despite a lack of grip on the opening stages. The car felt a lot better in the dry on Saturday, as they dominated the 1400cc class.
Manx National Rally – top 10 finishers
1. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC05)….1hr 54mins 33.7secs
2. Jamie Jukes/James Morgan (Mitsubishi Mirage)….+3mins 19.8secs
3. Andrew Dudgeon/Joe Dooley (Mitsubishi Lancer 6.5)….+4mins 33.7secs
4. Hugh Hunter/Rob Flagg (Ford Focus WRC05)….+5mins 01.7secs
5. Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Fiesta R5)….+5mins 20.9secs
6. Aaron McLaughlin/Darren Curran (Ford Fiesta)….+5mins 27.1secs
7. Damian Cole/Max Freeman (Ford Focus WRC05)….+6mins 13.4secs
8. Darren Atkinson/Phil Sandham (Ford Escort Mk2)….+7mins 27.8secs
9. Wayne Sisson/Neil Shanks (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10)….+7mins 29.6secs
10. Stu Bainborough/Paula Swinscoe (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6)….+9mins 15.5secs