Cambrian Rally gets BRC underway for 2020

The 65th running of the Cambrian Rally took place on the 8 February 2020 in the Welsh Forests, incorporating many sections from the 2019 Rally GB route. Crews from the BTRDA and BRC series would compete over seven stages, laid out in the Conwy Valley around the Betws y Coed area and Llandudno town centre. The running of the event would see the Saturday split into two halves, with runs through the forests and the testing tarmac of the Great Orme. Making up the forest gravel stages for the 2020 event were Crafnant and Gwydyr, which would be run twice, with the crews also visiting Penmachno and Elsi to complete the day’s action. The layout would allow spectators the chances to see the crews more than once at a choice of locations.

For the opening event of the British Rally Championship (BRC) the talent spread between the R5/WRC2 specification was strong, with home hero Matt Edwards targeting his 3rd British title. Partnered alongside co-driver Darren Garrod, Matt was again campaigning the BRC with his trusted sponsors in a M-Sport prepared Fiesta R5 MkII. In 2019 Matt was run close in his quest for back-to-back titles by Tom Cave and the fellow Welshman was out to challenge again. Partnered by co-driver Dale Furniss, Tom lined up in the PCRS Hyundai i20 R5. Whilst Cave was expected to be Matt’s main rival, there was a rival across the garage as Ireland’s Josh McErlean was running a Hyundai i20. As the reigning Junior British Rally Champion, high hopes were expected of Josh, who in the off season collected the Billy Coleman Award. This may be Josh’s debut in the R5 category, but he had trialled the Hyundai already, after a run at Wales Rally GB and then an entry at the famous Monza Rally. Another driver from Ireland hoping to make an impact was the 2019 Irish Forestry Champion, Cathan McCourt, who was making his British Rally Championship debut in a Ford Fiesta R5. Majority of the stages would be new to the Irishman and co-driver Barry McNulty, but experience of going well on gravel, could be of significances at the Cambrian in working him up the order for a strong result. The Fiesta contenders were also boosted in the run up to the Cambrian, as fresh from an outing at Monte Carlo for M-Sport to start his WRC2 campaign, Rhys Yates announced his BRC 2020 entry as he looked to bag the British title, supported by M-Sport in the Fiesta R5 MkII. A champion back in 2015 in the English Rally Championship, Rhys’ last competed in the BRC back in 2018, his best result being fourth in the standings. Since then he has mostly competed at WRC2 level in a Hyundai i20 before being signed by M-Sport for the 2020 season. The last driver expected to make an impact on the Cambrian Rally, in what is a boost to the championship is Ollie Mellors in the Proton Iriz R5. A new car launched in 2019 and now enhanced to R5 specification, the Iriz has been a car to watch in recent months. Ollie’s goal in 2020 was to challenge for the British title and then push towards the World Rally scene in WRC2 at some stage throughout the year or for 2021.

Edwards and Garrod get Title Defence off to Best Possible Start

In the main BRC Category, eyes were on the local man, Matt Edwards, but his rally got off to dodgy start, as he stalled the Fiesta R5 MkII off the line, potentially losing crucial time to everyone else. It was his main title rival from 2019 who got off better, as Tom Cave completed Crafnant in a time of 5:29.9, 0:00.6 quicker than the second M-Sport Fiesta of Rhys Yates. Osian Pryce split the M-Sport Fiestas after stage 1, by tying with Rhys Yates with a time of 5:30.5 as Edwards lied in fourth.

Edwards struck back on the first pass of Gwydyr as he topped the times ahead of Tom Cave, going 0:01.6 quicker and as a result moving second in the standings behind Cave. Rhys Yates also moved up the order in Gwydyr as he went third fastest to drop Osian Pryce by 0:00:00.1. Ollie Mellors completed the top five after SS2 going well in the Proton Iriz in a contest with Ireland’s Josh McErlean.

In Penmachno the order was turned on its head, as with Edwards taking the stage win, rival Tom Cave suffered heavy damage, collecting a rock face towards the end of the stage and broke the rear wheel. Dragging the Hyundai across the line, 3:38.9 down on Edwards resulted in Cave dropping to tenth overall. As Rhys Yates also had a difficult stage, the Hyundai of Osian Pryce moved into second, followed by Josh McErlean. The stage also saw a retirement for Ireland’s Cathan McCourt, who dropped out of the rally in the Fiesta R5 after running in eighth position.

On the Great Orne for stage 4, Edwards showed why he is a two-time BRC Champion, going 0:07.0 faster than Ollie Mellors and extending his lead of the event over Osian Pryce. Even though finishing the stage down in seventh, Josh McErlean continued to hold third spot, but was closely followed by Phys Yates.

Edwards dominated again in the afternoon by going fastest through the second run of Crafnant, with Tom Cave his closest challenger to a stage win. Team mate Rhys Yates regained third from McErlean, but the rally seemed all about Edwards, who was getting closer to another BRC victory and the best start to the defence of his crown.

Stage 6 saw another stage win for Edwards ahead of Tom Cave, effectively cementing a Cambrian Rally win. The gap over Osian Pryce increased to 0:00:35.4 with only Elsi remaining. Behind, the final podium spot looked set to go to Rhys Yates, as drama for McErlean saw his rally come to a halt and his Cambrian Rally was done. With Ollie Mellors promoted inside the top five, the gap to Yates was 0:00:26.0, with the second Proton of James Williams looking set on fifth position overall.

The final stage was taken slightly easier by Edwards to secure the rally win, but he still went second quickest. The final stage win went to Tom Cave, who had been on a comeback drive after Penmachno and to his efforts, would be rewarded with a sixth-place finish. The top five would remain unchanged on the final stage and when he crossed the line, Edwards had defended his Cambrian Rally title of 2019 to win the BRC season opener by 38.4 seconds from Osian Pryce and Noel O’Sullivan.

At the Ceremonial Finish in Llandudno along the sea-front, Edwards and Garrod were greeted to homecoming welcome, as the large crowd gathered celebrated a Welsh victory, as Edwards was joined on the podium by Hyundai’s Osian Pryce in second and Rhys Yates scoring a 1-3 for M-Sport with third on his BRC return.

BRC1 Top Five Times after Stage 7

Matt Edwards = 0:46:08.6

Osian Pryce = 0:46:47.0

Rhys Yates = 0:47:18.6

Ollie Mellors = 0:47:58.0

James Williams = 0:49:03.6

Junior BRC opener goes to Creighton

In the Junior BRC Championship for competitors in the front-wheel-drive Fiesta R2, a competitive field were out to claim the EUR 60,000 prize money from M-Sport and Pirelli. With the champion from 2019 moving onto BRC1, the attention switched to the runner up for the past two seasons, William Creighton and co-driver Liam Regan. A host of series returnees and newcomers were ready to take the fight to Creighton and this was evident after the opening stage, as Eddie Lewis set the quickest time with a time of 6:22.4, only 0:00.2 quicker than Finlay Retson, who was looking to put a horrendous 2019 behind him. Creighton had work to be done after the opening stage and would head to Gwydyr in fourth.

Stage two was where Creighton showed his talents, fighting hard through Gwydyr to go 0:00.9 quicker than Retson, who had inherited the lead of the category, with Lewis now second and Creighton third as the field headed to Penmachno.

In Penmachno Creighton pushed the Fiesta to its limits, breaking the timing beam at 12:50.3, 0:08.6 quicker than Finlay Retson and therefore took control of the Cambrian Rally for the Junior BRC field. Finlay Retson and Rhys Stoneman started to take control of second place and created a margin over Eddie Lewis, who was now in a fight for the final podium place with Irish crew David and Darragh Kelly. Stage 3 unfortunately saw the class’ only retiree as Brain Brady dropped out of the rally in his Fiesta R2 after originally running in fourth.

As the crews tackled the Great Orne for stage 4, Finlay Retson began a fightback against William Creighton, taking the stage win with a time of 3:01.8, when Creighton could only clock 3:06.4. The gap between the two closed, whilst behind David Kelly closed in on Eddie Lewis by going second quickest before the crews repeated Crafnant and Gwydyr.

In stage 5, Finlay Retson continued to apply pressure to Creighton by taking another stage win to reduce the gap to 0:00:07.3 overall, as he went quicker by 0:02.0. David Kelly again went quicker Eddie Lewis to challenge for the final podium spot with two stages remaining.

In the second round of Gwydyr for stage 6, William Creighton fought back to stop Retson’s win of stages and created a gap of 0:00:07.9 as they would head into the final stage, Elsi. David Kelly would again beat Lewis to third on the stage, closing the gap even further and created a tense finish for third.

The final stage was perfect for William Creighton as he crossed the timing beam with a time of 8:54.9 to secure the first win of 2020 in the brand-new Fiesta R2. His time was enough to make sure Finlay couldn’t catch him, but also it ended up with a stage win, as Finlay’s time was 0:10.0 slower. The big shock in the final stage was David and Darragh Kelly grabbing the final podium spot from Eddie Lewis and Don Adams. Kelly’s time of (;15.4 compared to Lewis’ 9:27.6 was enough for the Irish crew to nip ahead by 0:00:00.7, a titanic tussle between the pair all rally long. Out of the six competitors in the Junior BRC, Rupert Flynn would end the event as the fifth and the final finisher in class.

Junior BRC Times after Stage 7

William Creighton = 0:52:46.5

Finlay Retson = 0:53:09.0

David Kelly = 0:54:26.0

Eddie Lewis = 0:54:26.7

Rupert Flynn = 0:58:41.9

In the Motorsport UK National Rally Championship of the BRC, Alan Carmichael and Claire Williams brought home their Ford Fiesta R5 to record class victory, a finish of eighth overall. Since being launched at the start of 2020 for competitors competing in Motorsport UK log book cars, allowing for cars such as 1400cc front-wheel-drive pocket rockets through to right-hand-drive R5 and pre 2005 WRC cars. The class mainly caters for non-FIA Homologated machinery. The caveat of the championship is that a minimum of five drivers need to be registered for the title to be valid on at least three rounds of the BRC Championship. Unfortunately, at the Cambrian Rally only Alan Carmichael and Claire Williams were registered, but a finish after seven challenging stages was a great start to their season.

For the second round of the 2020 season, the crews will travel across the water to the Irish town of Cork, for the Clonakilty Park West Cork Rally on Paddy’s weekend, the 14th and 15th of March. A fast and furious tarmac rally and one that is popular with the crews, features unique tests on the roads of Cork. As part of the rally, the British crews will face stiff competition from the competitors of the Irish Tarmac Championship in a battle for overall honours. Two days of action cover 150miles and this could swing the championship in favour of defending champion Matt Edwards or see a fightback from his rivals. Heading to Cork, Edwards sits atop of the standings on 25 points with Osian Pryce holding second and Rhys Yates in third. Last years’ runner up Tom Cave has work to be done lying sixth in the standings behind the Protons of Ollie Mellors and James Williams, but its Hyundai team mate Josh McErlean who finds himself outside of the top ten in the standings after his opening round DNF.

The British Rally Championship Standings are round one are as follows:

Matt Edwards & Darren Garrod (Fiesta R5 MkII) = 25 Pts.

Osian Pryce & Noel O’Sullivan (Hyundai i20 R5) = 18 Pts.

Rhys Yates & James Morgan (Fiesta R5 MkII) = 15 Pts.

Ollie Mellors & Ian Windress (Proton Iriz R5) = 14 Pts.

James Williams & Dai Roberts (Proton Iriz R5) = 10 Pts.

Tom Cave & Dale Furniss (Hyundai i20 R5) = 8 Pts.

Tom Williams & Jamie Edwards (Fiesta R5 MkII) = 6 Pts.

William Creighton & Liam Regan (JBRC Fiesta R2) = 4 Pts.

Finlay Retson & Rhys Stoneman (JBRC Fiesta R2) = 2 Pts.

David Kelly & Darragh Kelly (JBRC Fiesta R2) = 1 Pts.

For full photo album from the Cambrian Rally, including the BTRDA, please click here.

Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.