Welsh rally star Osian Pryce leads the British Rally Championship after a quick, consistent and sure-footed debut podium at the Ypres Rally, one of Europe’s most notoriously tricky events.
Ahead of the start of the Belgian classic, Pryce admitted the season’s first all-asphalt encounter was the rally he was looking forward to least, having no experience or knowledge of what remains a hugely specialist event where success first time out is almost unheard of.
To make matters worse, Ypres was the first asphalt event for Pryce in a four-wheel drive car. It was for that reason that he and co-driver Dale Furniss took a measured approach as they tried to dial the Alphera/Hills Ford Fiesta R5 into the specific requirements of the Belgian asphalt.
Once they were more comfortable, they began a charge which would end with them at the top of the British Rally Championship standings with third place – two minutes 29/9 seconds behind Ireland’s Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin
“I knew this was going to be a tough rally,” said the 24-year-old, “but I think I might have underestimated how tough.
“Never having competed in a car like this on Tarmac, it was a heck of an ask to come here and drive it for the first time. People told me Ypres was tricky and they’re not wrong!
“The biggest thing to try to understand was the way the grip changed. You would go through one corner with really good grip where you could push on and lean on the car and then get to the next corner and find there was absolutely nothing; it was like driving on ice. Maybe this was because the temperature was a bit higher on Friday’s first loop, I don’t know, but it was really difficult.”
To make matters worse, Pryce couldn’t find much comfort from the car, either.
“We changed the set-up a lot and, to be honest, we were going around in circles for the first half of the event,” he said.
Then it clicked.
“We found a set-up which worked for us and everything started to make much more sense then,” he said. “In the last two loops, I was really pleased with the progress we made with the car and the result this had on the times.”
But the most pleasing thing was the move from P2 to P1 in the championship race.
“To come away from a tough weekend like this with the championship lead is a real boost,” said Pryce, who now leads the standings by three points.
“There were lots of incidents and a few problems for our rivals and we know we’ve benefitted from those, but we had a straightforward plan for this one: bring it home.
“The one thing people talked about was the attrition rate in Ypres and that was always in the back of my mind. We weren’t favourites to win this one, so the most important thing was to keep the car on the road and bag as many points as possible. And that’s just what we’ve done. If you like, Ypres was the bogey rally for Dale and I, so we’re delighted to be heading home on top of the table.”
Except they’re not heading home. Flying out of Belgium, the Welsh stars were heading north-east, bound for Warsaw and the World Rally Championship.
Just five days after moving into the lead of the British Rally Championship, the duo take their bow in the DMACK World Rally Team at Rally Poland. They will drive a DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 as part of their prize for winning the World Rally Championship-based Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy last season.
“It’s always nice to start a rally quickly after you’ve just finished the last one,” said Pryce, “you feel the speed’s there from the start and everything feels quite normal. It’ll be fantastic to join the DMACK team for Poland, an event where I’ve finished second [in class] for the last two years – be nice to go one better this time around.”
After Poland, they will be heading home for their home British Rally Championship fixture, the Builth Wells-based Nicky Grist Stages on July 8/9.