By Paul Evans
Osian Pryce and Matt Edwards are embroiled in a close fight for this year’s British Rally Championship title, with the advantage swinging from one driver to the other after each round.
And that’s good news for Melvyn Evans Motorsport, who run both Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 cars for the battling stable-mates, as it attempts to win the BRC Teams’ trophy.
Pryce, from Machynlleth, and Edwards, from Colwyn Bay, finished third and fourth respectively on the opening round of the series, the Neil Howard Stages at Oulton Park.
Then, Edwards took the lead of the BRC after a sensational victory of the Nicky Grist Stages in his Yuasa Rally Team Polo, while Pryce finished third again.
But now Pryce has moved up to second in the BRC after finishing a season’s best second on the Grampian Rally in Scotland – and remains the only driver to finish on the podium in all three rounds of this year’s series.
He is only one point behind series leader Rhys Yates (who is co-driven by Hirwaun’s James Morgan), although the Ford driver has already used is bonus points scoring Joker.
Meanwhile, Edwards has dropped to third, having retired from the Grampian Rally whilst challenging for the lead.
Pryce had to use all his high-speed skill to control his Michelin-shod Polo on the very loose surface Scottish event last weekend, with a rear differential setting adding to the car’s tendency to slide sideways far more than the 28-year driver wanted.
Pryce simply had to ease off to stay on the road, costing him valuable time. But determination, bravery and the experience of knowing when caution is the best option paid dividends, as Pryce scored yet another excellent BRC result in the new car.
“I’m happy to finish second, albeit by taking the position off Matt [Edwards] when he retired. These things happen in rallying, but we would have preferred to have fought for the result and achieved it on merit,” said Pryce.
“It’s been a very challenging day and we’ve learnt a lot. The road conditions weren’t really what we were expecting, and we were caught out a little in terms of set up.
“At least we know exactly where the time was given away, and it’s still very much work in progress with the new car.
“That said, the Polo GTI R5 has been great, Melvyn Evans and his team have done another excellent job and we’re leaving Scotland with food for thought and plenty to work on going forward.
“It would have been nice to win the Grampian Rally, as that’s what we came here to do.
“But we’ve finished on the podium on every round of this year’s British Rally Championship, and with two thirds and a second place finish it’s time to work on getting that win.
“It’s been a good but not a perfect start to the season, but we’ve strengthened our position in the standings and I can only see things getting better from now. It’s a good situation to be in.”
Edwards’ hopes of challenging for victory on the Grampian Rally came to an end when an engine misfire halted his Polo whilst he was in a closing second position with two stages remaining – although his BRC title aspirations remain very much on song.
The double British Rally champion arrived at the event leading the drivers’ standin and was thus seeded at number one. Running first on the road was a distinct disadvantage, as the ferociously fast Durris, Fetteresso and Drumtochty forest roads near Aberdeen were covered in loose stones – meaning that Edwards had to change his driving style to suit the conditions.
Despite this, he and co-driver Darren Garrod were third after the opening two stages, a mere 13 seconds off leaders Matthew Wilson/Elliot Edmondson (Ford Fiesta Rally2), who were running a more favourable seventh on the road.
A few set up changes by the Melvyn Evans Motorsport team further fine-tuned the Polo for the Scottish terrain, enabling the 36-year old driver to immediately move up to second on SS3 and cut the time deficit between him and leaders to eight seconds.
Despite a misfire towards the end of SS4, Edwards set equal fastest time with Wilson on that stage to come into the second and final service of the day, hoping a fix would give him the opportunity to push hard and close in on a possible victory on the final two stages.
Unfortunately, the misfire got worse on the road section to SS5 and fearing that more serious mechanical problems would arise if he continued, Edwards was forced to surrender his second place and retire from the event.
“Retiring on the Grampian Rally was a big disappointment,” admitted Edwards.
“We made a big change to the car in first service and everything was working very well.
“The times on the middle group of stages showed that it was night and day better and we’d given ourselves a good chance of closing in for the win.
“At the end of stage four the engine started to misfire. We thought we’d cured the problem in service immediately after that, but on the road section to stage five it started to misfire again.
“We had taken spares with us, so we used a lot of our available time lateness to change the plugs and coil, but we couldn’t fix it.
“The car was getting extremely hot. The cockpit was filling up with smoke and with the risk of the car catching fire or causing some other serious mechanical damage it was too risky to carry on.
“I think the middle two stages in Scotland in particular proved what we and the car are capable of – so it’s a case of onwards and upwards and hope that we can carry that pace onto the Trackrod Rally [24-25 September].”
Grampian Rally – Top 10 overall
- Matthew Wilson/Elliot Edmondson (Ford Fiesta Rally2)….38mins 49secs
- Osian Pryce/Noel O’Sullivan (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)….39mins 09secs
- Rhys Yates/James Morgan (Ford Fiesta Mk2 R5)….39mins 27secs
- Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin (Ford Fiesta)….39mins 28secs
- Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes (Ford Fiesta WRC)….40mins 17secs
- Garry Pearson/Niall Burns (Škoda Fabia R5)….40mins 17secs
- Cathan McCourt/Brian Hoy (Ford Fiesta Mk2 R5)….40mins 38secs
- Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Ford Fiesta)….40mins 42secs
- Sam Moffett/Keith Moriarty (Ford Fiesta Rally2)….40mins 44secs
- Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta WRC)….40mins 57secs
British Rally Championship for Drivers’ – points after Round 3
- Rhys Yates….49pts Joker
- Osian Pryce….48pts
- Matt Edwards….37pts
- Sam Moffett….37pts
- Matthew Wilson….35pts
- Josh Moffett….24pts