Matt Edwards began his quest to win a third British Rally Championship title in style with an almost dominant win on the opening round, the Cambrian Rally.
Edwards and co-driver Darren Garrod swept to five of the rally’s seven stage wins in their Ford Fiesta R5 Mk2 and checked out when their rivals ran into strife.
New pairing Osian Pryce and Noel O’Sullivan secured a strong second place in their Hyundai i20 R5 albeit 38.4 seconds adrift of the rally winner. Rhys Yates and James Morgan were third in another Ford Fiesta R5 Mk2.
But it was Edwards’ chief title rival in 2019, Tom Cave, that stole a march on the opening Crafnant test. Cave stopped the clocks 0.6s faster than second-quickest Rhys Yates to claim the bragging rights of the opening stage win of the season.
However Edwards, who stalled his Fiesta off the start-line of SS1 and then had to battle with his headsets rattling around in the footwell, hit back on the succeeding Gwydyr stage to close to within 1.7s of Cave’s rally lead.
The stage was set for a titanic tussle on the demanding 11.7 miles of Penmachno, but Cave defused the fight as he lost the rear of his Hyundai on a third gear right-hander and severely damaged a wheel. Three and a half minutes and any hopes of the rally win were lost.
Edwards duly went faster than Pryce by 5.3s to build a 12.2s lead that would only extend as the rally wore on as Pryce battled to get accustomed to his i20 R5’s behaviour on gravel. The Cambrian was just his second rally in the car and first on gravel.
Yates meanwhile was settled in fourth behind Josh McErlean, but suffered a spin and a stall at the same corner that wrecked Cave’s charge: “It was probably the bit I know the best out of the whole rally and I went into there and thought ‘I’m going to send it through here’ and just forgot it nipped up,” he said. “I just went straight, couldn’t find the start button and then stalled it again.”
McErlean was busy impressing as he had on his R5 debut on Wales Rally GB last year, but the Billy Coleman Award winner’s rally was run at the flying finish of SS6 Gwydyr 2. Yates had jumped ahead on the previous test anyway, but McErlean exited the competition from fourth, wedged down a bank after he clipped a rock and broke the steering.
Ollie Mellors had been tipped by many to shine on an event he won back in 2018, but the 2020 event was all about learning. Mellors hadn’t driven to his own pace-notes since 2016 and the Proton Iriz R5 was an untried machine in the BRC, so a fourth place finish despite a smashed front brake disc on the final stage was a tremendous result.
James Williams topped off a great weekend for Mellors Elliot Motorsport with a fifth place on his R5 debut. Williams was nearly three minutes down on rally winner Edwards but was ecstatic to have realised a dream of competing in an R5. He overcame a moment of fury when he got caught behind BTRDA runner George Lepley on SS3. Williams and navigator Dai Roberts thought they’d been deliberately held up but sportingly they buried the hatchet and discussed the incident at the finish at Llandudno.
Cave climbed up to sixth on the final stage with a second stage win of the rally, jumping past former JWRC driver Tom Williams in his Ford Fiesta R5. The Cambrian was Williams’ first event in a four-wheel-drive car and he was happy with the progress he made on what was a learning event.
BRC National winner Alan Carmichael was delighted to get to the end in eighth overall in his right-hand-drive Ford Fiesta R5, while Irish Forestry champion Cathan McCourt fell foul of SS3 Penmachno.
William Creighton had never rallied a turbocharged car before the Cambrian but his pace belay this. First Eddie Lewis and then Finlay Retson headed him on the opening two tests, but once Creighton hit the front on stage three there was no looking back.
The Northern Irishman netted ninth overall and the JBRC win by 23.5s over Retson as David Kelly usurped Lewis in the final stage to seal third by just 0.7s.