World Rally Championship ace Elfyn Evans overcame “Arctic like” conditions on last weekend’s Mid Wales Stages to take victory on home soil and first blood in the opening round of the MSA British Rally Championship.
Along with Oswestry-based co-driver Craig Parry, the Welshman battled with Swede Fredrik Ahlin in his similar machine during the tough Newtown-based event, but came out victorious after battling through six snow and ice covered stages to take the win in his Ford Fiesta R5. Another Mid Wales hero Tom Cave from Aberdyfi took third in a similar Fiesta R5.
The Newtown and District Automobile Club organised event was based around the Theatre Hafren complex on the outskirts of Newtown, where for much of the weekend it remained chilly but dry.
It was a different story, however, on the stages some 20 miles away where heavy snow made for treacherous driving conditions for crews during both the pre-event recce and the rally itself.
Hosting a round of the British Rally Championship for the first time, the Mid Wales Stages took on a different format this year and the event kicked off with two stages under the cover of darkness on Saturday night.
Evans drew on his recent experiences on the World Rally Championship in Sweden where he won the WRC2 class, to end the opening leg with a 17 second advantage over the hard chasing Ahlin, with Scottish crew David Bogie/Kevin Rae creeping into the top three in their Skoda Fabia R5.
With mild overnight conditions on Saturday, the snowy conditions eased for the four stages on Sunday and the battle resumed in the Hafren and Myherin Forests. Ahlin and co-driver Morton Erik Abrahamsen were fastest out of the blocks on the opening two tests to take the lead from Evans who left himself with a huge battle on his hands during the final two stages.
Leaving the Theatre Hafren service park, Evans remained confident, hoping to emulate Saturday night’s time in the penultimate test. He duly delivered, taking 16 seconds from the Swede to regain the lead of the rally which he held over the final stage to eventually take victory by over 17 seconds.
“It’s been a really tough event with so many changing grip levels, it’s been very challenging,” said Evans. “We had a much better afternoon after changing tyres in service which boosted my confidence for the final loop. I have to admit, Fredrik had me worried and I really didn’t want to let him win. I’m happy!”
Ahlin was also pleased with his result: “A win would have been hard this weekend,” he said. “Elfyn was quick today and we knew it would be hard to beat him. I`m happy with my progress, we didn’t have any moments or dramas and we have proved we have the speed, so second is good.”
Third was Cave with James Morgan alongside, who recovered from a spectacular pre-season accident just 10 days ago to occupy the final podium spot. Bogie took fourth whilst fellow Scot’s Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton grabbed fifth in their Peugeot 208 R5.
The BRC National Cup competitors also joined in the fun in Newtown and popular Welsh crew Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss dominated the proceedings all weekend long and took victory in that category by a huge eight minutes from Swedes Robert Blomberg and Lars Anderson, both in Mitsubishi Mirage R5’s.
Pryce’s time would have been good enough for fifth overall in the main event and the rising star also took maximum FMP Rally Challenge points to boot.
The Viking Motorsport/Links Electrical Mid-Wales Clubmans Stages Rally took place across the Sunday stages of the event and victory went to the Subaru Impreza crew of Dylan Davies and Llion Williams who overcame a small off on SS3 to win by almost a minute from Andy Davies and Max Freeman.
Thomas and Eurig Davies took third in their Ford Fiesta R5. Dylan also had the honour of being first Pirelli MSA Welsh Rally Championship crew home, Andy was second and fellow Subaru Impreza crew Wug Utting and Dan Nieroda was third.
The Land Rover Defender Challenge by Bowler Motorsport provided some fantastic action towards the back of the field as the large 4x4s coped with the conditions admirably as expected. Edd Cobley and John Tomley took “country mile” victory, beating Belgians Christian Femont and Peter Janssens by almost six minutes.
Clerk of the course Chris Tomley had endured a nerve wracking week and was indebted to the hundreds of volunteers who made the event happen. “It’s been a mammoth task to turn the Mid Wales Stages into the opening round of the British Rally Championship, all eyes have been on us this year,” he said.
“On top of that, Mother Nature played her part and dumped all this snow on us, giving us a nightmare scenario. But the team worked wonders and made sure the event ran pretty much to schedule which is impressive considering the conditions. I also really do have to thank all the marshals who braved the weather to ensure we ran a safe event for everyone. They have been amazing.”