By Paul Evans
Chris Hand used a most unlikely road rally car, a large 29-year old five-door Ford Sierra LX, to win one of Wales’ biggest and most famous night events at the weekend, the Cilwendeg Rally.
Co-driven by Dai Roberts (who is enjoying a fantastic season as both a driver and navigator), the Cardigan driver mastered the 100 mile route in the lanes around Newcastle Emlyn, many sections of which were treacherously wet and slippery after recent torrential rain.
While Hand in car number five made a good start, the top three seeds had a shocker. Top seeds Kevin Davies/Dale Bowen (Ford Escort) picked up an early five minute penalty for missing a code board and, after losing more time with a puncture, last year’s winners eventually finished in 17th place.
Daniel Jones/Gerwyn Barry suffered an early bath when their number two seeded Escort cut out after a jump and wouldn’t restart, while number three seeds Andy Davies/Michael Gilbey stopped with clutch issues in their Subaru Impreza.
Welsh Road Rally Championship frontrunners Mark Lennox/Ian Beamond also failed to reach the finish, after sheared wheel nuts prevented their Ford Escort from going any further. This means that Kevin Jones could still win the drivers’ title and Dafydd Evans and Jamie Mills can both win the co-drivers’ award, although Lennox/Beamond remain hot title favourites.
A battle between the west Wales hedgerows between Hand/Roberts and Gethin Morgan/Max Freeman (Ford Escort) raged for the rest of the night – with the latter leading by five seconds at around mid-distance.
Crews were pushing hard, with Andrew Dawe/Andrew Lowe putting their Nissan Sunny sunny-side up and even Hand/Roberts spinning their Sierra and getting it temporarily wedged between the hedges.
The outcome of this year’s Teifi Valley Motor Club-organised event wasn’t decided until the final section, with Hand/Roberts beating Morgan/Freeman by just four seconds, with John Davies/Eurig Davies (Vauxhall Astra) finishing third.
George Williams/Cadog Davies (Ford Escort) came home in fourth, Martin Curzon/Alan James (Ford Escort) were fifth and Kevin Jones/Dafydd Evans (Toyota Corolla) sixth, while Paul Morgan/Jamie Mills (Honda Civic) won the Experts class by finishing in seventh place overall. Simon Summers/Dilwyn John, Llyr Williams/Ceri Davies and Mike Roberts/Irfon Richards, all in Ford Escorts, completed the top 10.
Protyre Asphalt stage rally class champions Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (Ford Escort) won a very closely fought Semi-Experts/Novices class, after a great run on the final section put them ahead of Gethin James/John Allen (Peugeot 205).
One of the stars of the event was teenager Ioan Lloyd. The son of three time Cilwendeg Rally winner Gareth Lloyd had only passed his driving test the day before the event, but at half distance he was 16th overall and leading the Semi-Experts/Novices category. Unfortunately, he and co-driver Dylan Evans lost four minutes when his Escort drowned out in a ford, but he eventually got going again and came home third in class and 32nd overall.
“Ever since I can remember, the Cilwendeg was the rally that I really wanted to do – and passing my driving test thirty-six hours before the start added to the excitement,” said Lloyd. “It was my first ever rally in a Mk2 Escort, my first night event and it is definitely the best rally I have ever done.”