This weekend sees the opening round of the FIA European Rally Championship when crews head to Portugal for the Rally Seras de Fafe which includes the famous Fafe stage including the notorious jump made famous on Rally Portugal, reports PAUL WILLETTS.

The opening gravel round is one of eight rounds throughout Europe.

The quality of the entry is the best the Championship has seen in many years with over 45 R5 cars alone.

Joining the entry will be Monmouthshire’s Dale Bowen co-driving for Philip Allen in a PCRS run Hyundai R5 Rally 2 seeded at car 22.

The duo did a small event in Portugal two weeks ago but were one of a number of crews caught out in snow and fog and slid off the road and were stuck fast.

But Bowen, from Abergavenny, and Allen plan to do the whole ERC championship and the talented Irish driver has the speed to be competitive.

Back closer to home, Abergavenny’s Jamie Vaughan together with Brad Cole started their Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship campaign with an excellent 14th overall and third in class on the recent East Ridings Stages based in Beverley, East Yorkshire.

The 45-mile eight-stage event was run over closed roads in a very compact route and attracted nearly 150 crews.

Cole and Vaughan, who finished second 2WD car last year in the Championship, were soon embroiled in a three-way battle with championship rivals Darren Atkinson and John McCrone in similar 2.5 Millington-engined Escort RS1800s. At the end it was Atkinson who took the class honours and 12th overall.

Just six seconds behind was McCrone and a further 17 back was Cole in 14th with some excellent championship points.

“It was good to get a solid start under our belts. We’ve some stiff competition this year and it’s going to be an exciting battle ahead, but this was an excellent event to get the championship under way and we’ve had a trouble-free day,” said Vaughan.

Coleford’s Mike Jode finished second overall on the Lee Holland Memorial Junior Rally guiding young Jack Birch in the Nissan Micra over a twisty Anglesey racing circuit, their best finish so far in the junior series.

This weekend will also see a host of local crews heading for Cumbria and the Malcolm Wilson Rally, the event-opening round of the British Rally Championship and BTRDA series

Last year 1400 front runners Nigel and Karen Jenkins, also from Coleford, will take the NJ Autos Vauxhall Nova, while Bream’s Luke Watts will have the experienced Mark Ammonds calling the notes in the Ian Watts & Son-backed 1400 MG Rover ZR

In the open field, Ben Friend with Monmouth’s Cliffy Simmons pushing him on in the Allglass Escort RS1800 have switched to the BTRDA Historic championship this year in readiness for the Roger Albert Clark Rally in November.

Joining them on the trip north are Newent’s Geoff Phelps and Colin Jenkins in the Hartpury Farms Escort RS1800 and Geoff’s brother Tim in the Britpart backed RS1800 with Elwyn Manuel on the notes.