By Paul Evans
Having challenged for the lead on both his previous appearances, Jason Pritchard is hoping that it will be third time lucky when he goes for victory on the Roger Albert Clark Rally later this month.
The 31-year old Builth Wells driver retired from both the 2013 and 2017 events – the first time when he crashed whilst fighting for the lead and the second time when a broken half shaft stopped Pritchard in his tracks when he held a comfortable advantage at the top of the time sheets.
He has waited two years for another crack at one of the longest events in British rallying, and is naturally leaving nothing to chance in his meticulous preparations.
Co-driven by Phil Clarke, Pritchard will drive the same North Road Garage-backed Ford Escort RS1800 that he drove on the previous two outings. Originally built in 1980, the Mark 2 has a rich motorsport history, even in the modern era of top-flight historic rallying. Gwyndaf Evans won the Roger Albert Clark Rally in the car in 2011, the same year Stig Blomqvist drove it to victory on the Colin McRae Historic Forest Stages Rally and then Petter Solberg drove it on a demonstration event in Norway, before Pritchard acquired it.
Pritchard and Clarke are a formidable pairing and will start the Roger Albert Clark Rally as one of the favourites for victory. Together they have won five major national rally titles in as many years – the British Historic Rally Championship a record-breaking three times in a row (2015, ’16 and ’17) and the Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship twice (2018 and ’19) – and are the go-to British crew when Osprey’s star Scott Williams wants someone to drive a new Scott Williams Motorsport built Escort!
The Roger Albert Clark Rally is named after the famous rally driver who, in 1976, became the first British pilot to win a round of the World Rally Championship. In a lovely twist to the story, when Pritchard was born his father Eian was rallying the very same Ford Escort RS1800 that Clark won that RAC Rally in – and it’s a car that he still owns to this day.
“I have previously done the Roger Albert Clark Rally twice before, always using the same car. The first time was in 2013, and we didn’t have safety notes for the event back then and so it was on maps. I had the extremely experienced John Millington sitting next to me, but unfortunately while fighting for the lead I went off over a blind crest. I soon found out that McRae and Higgins had also gone off there in the past. On the second pass of this stage, one of the two drivers I was battling for the lead with went off on the same corner.
“The second time I attempted this event was in 2017. After the event took a sabbatical for a few years it returned, much longer and even more like the good old days of the RAC Rally. This time the event was using safety notes and we took the lead on stage one. We’d built up a good lead over the first few days and were maintaining the gap on new stages to me in Scotland when unfortunately we had a half shaft snap and we had to retire on the spot.
“Hopefully this year it will be third time lucky. The 2017 event was one of the lowest points in my rallying career. Having just secured my third British Historic Championship, I was full of confidence and familiar with the car and we were able to control the pace and hold a decent lead. It’s not often it all clicks like that, which makes it even more disappointing.
“I’ve waited two years for this event. The car has been painted, stripped down and is currently been rebuilt by myself, my Dad and Tim at North Road Garage. Nothing is been left to chance. Having my Dad in the workshop with us is even more rewarding, and having his experience from running these cars for so many years gives me even more confidence.
“There is no other event like this in the UK with just over 1,100 miles and 300 of these competitive running over five days – it’s a real challenge for crew, car and team. The pace is always going to be quick, but you have to keep in mind that everything has to last five days. Most UK gravel events are 40 miles long so basically we are doing a whole championship in one event.
“I wouldn’t be able to compete on this event if it wasn’t for my sponsors North Road Garage Builth Wells, Pirelli and Harkness Competition Tyres. I would like to thank Professional MotorSport World Expo, Brian James Trailers, Trailhead Get Jerky, Braces Bread and Leominster Car Auctions for also supporting me on my 2019 RAC Rally.”
Other Welsh interest on the forthcoming Roger Albert Clark Rally includes Patrick Walsh (from Aberystwyth) who will co-drive for Roger Chilman (Escort Mk2), Wayne Bonser (Abergavenny) and Rich Aston (Abergavenny) will contest the event in a Ford Escort RS2000, Adrian Young (Narberth) and Gwynfor Jones (Llandysul) start in a Ford Escort RS2000, David Jones (Ystradgynlais) and Glyn Price (Sennybridge) drive a BMW E30, John Leckie (Prestatyn) and Jon Madoc Jones (Colwyn Bay) have entered a Proton Satria, Robert Aeron Williams (Barmouth) and Lestyn Williams (Pwllheli) compete in a Ford Escort Mk1 RS2000, Malcolm Rich (Brecon) and Ryland James (Carmarthen) venture out in a Ford Anglia 105E and Steve Hopewell (Wrexham) drives a Ford Escort Mk2.
The 12th running of the Roger Albert Clark Rally is billed as the toughest yet, with 32 special stages and 300 stage miles in Wales, England and Scotland spread over five days. The event will start in Leominster on Thursday (21 November) and go into Radnor forest for 18 miles of stages in the dark. The event stays in Wales on Friday (22 November) for a further 40 miles of stages in Crychan, Gwibedog, Epynt and Halfway. Saturday (23 November) is a huge day, with over 100 miles of stages in Kielder forest, including classics like Kershope, Chirdonhead and Pundershaw, before an overnight halt in Carlisle. The event heads into Scotland on Sunday (24 November) for stages in Greskine, Ae, Twiglees, Castle O’er and Craik, while the final day on Monday (25 November) takes surviving crews back into Northumberland, before the final back in Carlisle.
Roger Albert Clark Rally – top 10 starters
1. Martin McCormack/Barney Mitchell (Ford Escort Mk2)
2. Matthew Robinson/Sam Collis (Ford Escort Mk2)
3. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Escort RS1800)
4. Nick Elliott/Dave Price (Ford Escort)
5. Roger Chilman/Patrick Walsh (Ford Escort Mk2)
6. Paul Barrett/Gordon Noble (Ford Escort)
7. Simon Webster/Jez Rogers (Ford Escort RS1800)
8. Wayne Sisson/Neil Shanks (Mitsubishi Galant VR4)
9. Adrian Hetherington/Andrew Grennan (Ford Escort RS1800)
10. Alan Walker/John Connor (Ford Escort RS1800)