For James Wilson from Keady and his Co. Derry co-driver Gavin Doherty a third place R2 category finish amongst the British Championship runners, and fifth R2 car home was a dream result on their first sortie to the Ypres Rally in Belgium.
“This was a big challenge for us and the team. The rally was unlike anything we had experienced before, the nature of the roads, the big cuts you had to take, even the lack of crests and land-marks. It was a very long event, even the pre-evet recce was tough. On the shake-down stage on the Thursday evening we realised just how fast it was going to be in places!” said James who is back home at his day job in Road Tankers Armagh.
Amongst the best crews in Europe, the crew with the Philip White Tyres supported Peugeot 208 R2 started off strongly on the opening loop on Friday night. The stages were all close to the town of Ieper scene of the World War 1 battles, and the crew battled into an early fifth position. “We had a good start to the event, although it was difficult for me and Gavin. It was hard to get a rhythm going, the stages would be flat out for a few kilometres and then you could be into a really tight square corner where it was hard to judge the braking, and then twisty for a few kilometres. At times the intercom system was cutting in and out, and we eventually cured that on Saturday morning. We had a minor engine power isssue but all in all a pleasing start.”
Starting the second big day the crew where just two seconds behind Donegal’s Marty Gallagher in his similar 208, but the tricky Belgian roads where about to bite back! “I hit a jump too hard near the start of the first Saturday stage and the car landed on it’s nose. I didn’t realise it had dislodged the bumper, which in turn tucked itself under a front wheel. When we went to brake for the next square left the car wouldn’t stop and we went straight through what must have been the only hedge in Belgium!” The Tec Industrial 208 survived and the boys maintained their fifth spot but had lost ground on rival Gallagher, who later was to retire with engine problems.
“Although it was very hot weather the tarmac was still quite slippery and a lot of gravel was pulled out also from the big cuts. It was a big rally, we were always on the go, with short road sections and long demanding 12-20 kilometre stages. We got into a nice pace on Saturday, and once again our Kumho Tyres were performing really well and the car ran perfectly. I didn’t really change anything much on it regarding set up or tyres.”The car had been prepared by the team at their James Wilson Garage Services base in Keady, and the service crew of Trevor Wilson, Nigel Wilson and Phil Gillespie set off on the Tuesday to make it for Thursday scrutiny and tend to car duing the event.
There was drama on the penultimate loop when William Creighton got his 208 R2 stuck in one of the infamous ditches and James and Gavin where to find themselves in third position entering the final loop of stages. “The final loop was actually a big one, with as much mileage as a full national rally at home, and overall the event was just forty kilometres shorter than WRC Wales Rally GB which we intend to tackle later in the year. We had a good run on the final loop and didn’t realise Josh McErlean was running into problems, as we just missed second by two seconds. However we never dreamed we would get third and fifth R2 home, especially as the pace was extremely hot. It was some experience, rallying is a national sport in Belgium and the fans were in their thousands everywhere. There were also a lot of people over from home, giving a lot of support and people like Robert Lyttle from Sligo who was acting as a competitor liaison were very helpful to us.”
The result also leaves James placed third in category in the MSA British Rally Championship (BRC) before his home round the Ulster International Rally, which this year is based in Antrim on 17th-18th August. “The plan now is to really go for it on the Ulster. We have a joker to play in our points and certainly the aim for the Ulster would be to use that and go for a win.” James who was nominated for the Motorsport Ireland Billy Coleman Award earlier in this year, has once again shown pace and maturity on what was his first foreign rally sortie, and now the County Armagh based team is looking forward to the much shorter trip to County Antrim in August the next chapter in this rallying adventure.
Image from Damien Saulnier Photography