The 2017 Prestone MSA British Rally Championship has been one of the most eagerly-anticipated seasons in recent memory, with a star-studded entry list descending on the Scottish border town of Jedburgh for the first round. Nine speed tests and more than 55 slippery miles awaited for the 33 registered crews, all of whom were ready to fight for supremacy on the gravel stages of southern Scotland.
On Friday evening, a large crowd gathered for the Ceremonial Start in the heart of Jedburgh. To get the proceedings underway, cars were waved off by double British Touring Car Champion John Cleland, at the foot of the dramatic 12thcentury Jedburgh Abbey. Rally goers were treated to a feast of entertainment – with the Prestone Rally Simulator testing spectators’ skills behind the wheel – and to bring the evening to a close, a spectacular firework display lit up the Jedburgh sky. BRC crews then travelled to the forest to tackle two adrenaline-fuelled, heart-pumping night stages. You can’t win the event on the first night, but drivers were eager to throw down their marker, as time was to be had for the brave.
Bravest on stage one were local stars David Bogie and Kevin Rae in their Skoda Fabia R5, as the all-Scottish crew took the spoils with a chasing pack in hot pursuit. Tom Cave and James Morgan were the model of consistency in their Ford Fiesta R5, notching up two second-fastest times on Friday evening to grab a slender 2.8-second lead at the overnight halt. Ahlin and Eriksen held third as they got to grips with their new Fabia R5 in the darkness of Craik. Triple BRC Champion Keith Cronin with Mikie Galvin alongside stole the march on stage two to hold fourth overall going into the second day.
Wet and slippery conditions in the forests around Jedburgh played host to Saturday’s action, with seven tricky stages waiting to catch out the unwary. The lead of the rally changed hands no fewer than five times throughout the event and out to grab it for good was Ahlin, who woke up in determined mood. The Swedish sensation was 5.3 seconds clear on the first stage of the day to snatch the advantage, before Cave wrestled it back on stage four.
Ahlin, however, was in emphatic form as he subsequently tallied two further stage wins to reclaim the overall lead. The Swede was flamboyant through the forestry tracks and cool, calm and collected out of the car. Ahlin last won a BRC round in May 2016, and hadn’t struck gold since. A new year, new car, new co-driver and new approach saw the driver from Karlstad come out fighting, taking the top step by a healthy 38.6 seconds at the close of play.
Six different drivers clinched a fastest stage time with Marty McCormack/David Moynihan in a Fabia R5 storming to the top of the timesheets on stage five before retiring a stage later after hitting a rock. That same rock claimed many victims, including podium-hunter Bogie, who similarly had to end his event early.
Cave was the only man left who could take the fight to Ahlin. The Welshman struggled running first on the road after the departed Bogie, as he cleared the mud and stones for competitors behind. Giving it all he could, Tom couldn’t catch Fredrik and maturely settled for second place while also playing his ‘Joker’ to earn an additional four points – positioning him perfectly for a 2017 title tilt. Cave will be swapping cars ahead of the next round as he brings the Hyundai i20 R5 into the BRC.
With Bogie retiring, up stepped Cronin and BRC returnee Osian Pryce, who had Dale Furniss calling the notes, in the scrap for the final podium spot. Former BRC rally-winner Pryce was straight back onto the pace on his return, showing his rivals a clean pair of boots on stage eight and enjoying an event-long duel with Cronin, with the Welshman ultimately gaining the upper hand over the Irishman. Cronin got his season off to a strong start, bagging fourth for the M-Sport BRC team while fellow Fiesta R5 driver Rhys Yates recorded his best BRC finish to-date, rounding out the top five with co-driver Carl Williamson.
In the Prestone Motorsport News Junior British Rally Championship, the action was fast and furious throughout with the latest crop of young talent putting on a brilliant display in their front-wheel drive machines. The famous Solberg name immediately made an impact in the BRC, as Oscar Solberg and Patrik Barth claimed a hard-fought win on the Border Counties Rally in their Ford Fiesta R2T. Son of Henning and nephew of Petter, Oscar delivered a stellar run to take the championship lead as well as clinching the honour for fastest two-wheel drive car and a hard-earned outright BRC point.
Hot on the Scandinavian pairings’ heels were a brace of Peugeot 208 R2s. Making his BRC comeback was Irishman Dean Raftery and new co-driver Tom Woodburn. Having not been in competitive BRC action for a few years, Raftery quickly brushed off the cobwebs to settle into the overall mix from the outset, netting second in the standings.
Surprising many was young William Creighton in another Peugeot 208 R2. The Northern Irishman had only entered a handful of gravel rallies before making his BRC debut, and he put the cat well and truly amongst the pigeons. With Liam Regan expertly guiding, the pair chalked up the fastest time on the first stage to lead the rally before being overhauled by the more experienced gravel drivers.
The newly-formed Cadet Cup is the perfect springboard for competitors stepping up from clubman rallying competition into the BRC. Leading from flag to champagne were Josh Cornwell and Richard Bliss in their Ford Fiesta R2. Despite suffering lampod issues on the opening stage, the Surrey-based star took the first win of the season in convincing style, eking out a 2m47s lead going into the Ceremonial Finish in Jedburgh. Second home after a tough two-day event was Fergus Barlow in a similar Fiesta R2 with Max Freeman sitting alongside, while rounding out the Cadet podium was the crew from Harper Adams University. James McDiarmed, Max Haines-Messenger and the team only finished the car the day before the event, having built their Ford Fiesta National from scratch. They were delighted to round out the top three.
In BRC4, World Mountain Bike Champion Gee Atherton was experiencing the BRC for the first time. With Keaton Williams alongside, the Red Bull athlete grabbed the advantage from the off in his new Ford Fiesta R2T – putting his mud and dirt experience into practice to take the class win from David and Matthew White. The father and son partnership overcame gearbox gremlins on the first night to make it to the finish, gaining much needed mileage in their new Ford Fiesta R2 before their trip to Corsica to contest the French round of the FIA World Rally Championship next month.
Donnie Macdonald got his first taste of R5 rallying machinery in the BRC, with the Scotsman picking up from where he left off last season – top of the timesheets in the National Rally Cup, with Andrew Falconer calling the notes. Spencer Wilkinson and Glyn Thomas enjoyed their BRC experience in the iconic Subaru Impreza, with the duo claiming Production Cup victory at the end of the demanding two-day test.
Quotes from Round One – Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally:
Border Counties First Overall – Fredrik Ahlin – Skoda Fabia R5
“It’s been a very, very good weekend for us. We took it steady to begin with as I had a new car and new co-driver, but I am really happy with how today went and I think we showed that on stages five and six, when we increased the pace, David [Bogie] and Tom [Cave] were struggling a little bit. After taking a big chunk of time in the middle of the day, we just kept that gap and made sure we got to the finish.
“There is lots to come from the car, which is really good as we are quite quick already. We will continue going forward with a smart approach, being neat and consistent and thinking about the championship. We couldn’t have asked for a better start – it’s going to be a good year.”
Border Counties Second Overall – Tom Cave – Ford Fiesta R5
“We started brilliantly on the opening night. The second day was good as well, but we dropped a little bit of time on the first stage. We had to do some road sweeping as we ran first on the road when David [Bogie] went out, which really helped Fredrik. I am disappointed to have lost the time that I did, but we kept on pushing in some really tricky conditions when others made mistakes.
“We have an exciting new car for the next round when we bring the Hyundai i20 to the championship – so I am really looking forward to getting into that and get back to fighting Fredrik and enjoying another good battle next time out.”
Border Counties Third Overall – Osian Pryce – Ford Fiesta R5
“It was a really difficult weekend for us. It has been a long road to get us here and I sadly didn’t get enough time to test beforehand. The opening night was okay; we were gutted to get a puncture but were determined to keep spirits high and fight on and keep learning. We managed to set a fastest stage time which was great, and to get a podium was a real bonus. If you had said a podium was on offer this weekend, I would have taken it with both hands. The team have done a tremendous job and everybody who got me here is over the moon – as am I.”
Prestone Motorsport News Junior BRC First Overall – Oscar Solberg – Ford Fiesta R2T
“It’s really good to have finished our first BRC rally, and if I am honest I am totally surprised we got the win. I got into a good rhythm really quickly which helped us, as the roads were incredibly difficult with so many stones and big rocks, meaning not getting a puncture is very important. I’m feeling really good with the car and looking forward to the rest of the series. We will try to drive as fast as we can and get more points on the next round.”
Prestone MSA British Rally Championship
Round 1 – Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally
- Fredrik Ahlin (SWE)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Skoda Fabia R5 – 53:01.6
- Tom Cave (GBR)/ James Morgan (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +0:38.6
- Osian Pryce (GBR) / Dale Furniss (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +1:07.4
- Keith Cronin (IRL) / Mikie Galvin (IRL) Ford Fiesta R5 +2:02.2
- Rhys Yates (GBR) / Carl Williamson (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +3:08.8
- Matt Edwards (GBR) / Darren Garrod (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +3:14.5
- Jamie Anderson (GBR)/ Ross Whittock (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +3:21.3
- Jonathan Greer (GBR)/ Kirsty Riddick (GBR) Citroen DS3 R5 +3:27.2
- Euan Thorburn (GBR)/ Paul Beaton (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +3:27.2
- Oscar Solberg (NOR) / Patrik Barth (SWE) Ford Fiesta R2T +7:36.2
Prestone Motorsport News Junior British Rally Championship
- Oscar Solberg (NOR) / Patrik Barth (SWE) Ford Fiesta R2T
- Dean Raftery (IRL)/ Tom Woodburn (GBR) Peugeot 208 R2
- William Creighton (GBR)/ Liam Regan (IRL) Peugeot 208 R2
Prestone MSA British Rally Championship Standings (Drivers)
- Fredrik Ahlin – 25
- Tom Cave – 22*
- Osian Pryce – 15
- Keith Cronin – 12
- Rhys Yates – 10
- Matt Edwards – 8
- Jamie Anderson – 6
- Jonathan Greer – 4
- Euan Thorburn – 2
- Oscar Solberg – 1
Prestone MSA British Rally Championship Standings (Co-drivers)
- Torstein Eriksen – 25
- James Morgan – 18
- Dale Furniss – 15
- Mikie Galvin – 12
- Carl Williamson – 10
- Darren Garrod – 8
- Ross Whittock – 6
- Kirsty Riddick – 4
- Paul Beaton – 2
- Patrik Barth -1
(* = Joker nominations have been played. Rally Isle of Man is a double header with two points scoring opportunities. Every driver to drop one score.)