Last weekend’s Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally saw Ben Friend and Monmouth co-driver Cliffy Simmons secure BTRDA Silver Star 2 Wheel Drive championship by the smallest of margins – just two points after eight rallies, reports PAUL WILLETTS.
That was despite a soul-destroying last-stage puncture where the crew thought all hope had gone, but some calculations were going to be needed at the finish in Llandudno.
Going into the event there was a possibility that the duo could win both the Silver Star and Historic Cup titles debuting the new stunning looking Allglass Anglia-backed Escort RS1800.
The idea was to shake the car down ahead of the RAC but apart from a few small niggling issues the new machine ran faultlessly.
The event attracted more than 100 crews to the North Wales seaside town, for the final round of the British and BTRDA Rally Championships, plus the the penultimate round of the Pirelli Welsh National championship and the Bowler Landrover Challenge and Mini Cup.
The event welcomed back the Clocaenog forestry after a few years’ sabbatical and where the bulk mileage took place, plus two trips through the difficult test near Betws y Coed, the five tests totalling 42 miles over roads that could only be described as treacherous at best.
But nothing was straight forward, with Ernie and Karen Graham in prime position to take the Historic crown providing he finished and Friend and Simmons needing a good points haul to take the Silver Star title from Boyd Kershaw, so it was certainly all to play for.
A superb run saw them holding ninth overall and first in class after four stages, with just the final 13-mile test – a combination of the morning’s Clocaenog Main and Brenig tests – providing a real sting in the tail.
Unfortunately a puncture cost them over four minutes having change it, which plunged them down the leaderboard to 29th overall and fourth in class.
“We drove on it for a while then decided we’d lose less time if we stop and change it, plus we didn’t want to damage the car with it delaminating,” said Cliffy at the finish.
“Absolutely gutted, so we’re not sure on the outcome now of the Silver Star championship we’ll have to get the abacuses out, but congratulations to Ernie and Karen on winning the Historics, the new car has been brilliant first time straight out the box. What a team, what a car, it’s been a really good championship.”
But subject to official confirmation it looks like they have won the Silver Star title, as well as finishing Historic Cup runners up and class H4 winners.
BTRDA Bronze Star champions Nigel and Karen Jenkins from Coleford finished off their campaign with yet another 1400 category win by just five seconds after a terrific battle with Dave and Freddy Brick in a similar Nova, netting 20th overall as well as first in class.
The NJ Autos Vauxhall Nova hasn’t missed a beat all year and these two have throughly deserved their championship success, before their attention now turns to the Wyedean and English rally championship as they try to do the double.
Newent’s Geoff Phelps with Colin Jenkins alongside in the Hartpury Farms Escort RS1800 had a fraught day by their standards as they chased Welsh championship points.
Having not experienced any punctures for over two years they had two on the opening two tests, and were languishing in 57th after stage, three.
A good run on the final long stage moved them up to take 41st overall and sixth in class
Bream’s Luke Watts who had Ross Motor Club’s Matt Rogers back alongside was another who had a troubled day in the Ian Watts & Son MG ZR.
Having been hampered with brake issues previously in Yorkshire they hoped this had been sorted but from the off, brakes or the lack of them, were to hamper their progress all day.
On the opening test they had a huge moment on a downhill section, and the brake issues continued until service when they were able to try and rectify the problem.
With the second run of Elsi cancelled they headed for the final 13-mile test, where all was good for the first five miles.
But then braking hard for a corner the pedal went to the floor, and with some frantic pumping of the pedal and throwing the car sideways they went up a bank and nearly over the edge, just surviving to finish 51st overall, 11th 1400 and third in 1400 C.
It ended Luke’s first BTRDA campaign in sixth 1400 and third in the 1400 C class, a very creditable performance against more sophisticated machinery.
“It’s been the worst rally I’ve ever done, the brake issues were there from the off and it just didn’t give me any feeling with the car,“ said Luke
“We had a huge moment on the last stage which we thankfully got away with, but it’s bent the axle, and got a bit of work to do before the Wyedean now.
“It certainly didn’t help the confidence today, that’s for sure, and we lack the power of the Micras in my class so I rely on carrying speed which with little or no brakes costs me time with not being able to commit “
The youngster has impressed many onlookers this year with his aggressive style in a very underpowered car, and with a new car on the horizon for next year who knows where this may lead in the future.