Ireland’s loss is the British Rally Championship’s gain as Jason Black ferries his pristine Toyota Starlet to Wales’ Nicky Grist Stages this weekend. The young Northern Irish driver will make his gravel rally debut in what is set to be a highly competitive two-wheel-drive contest.
Black has already been in action this year, finishing third in two-wheel-drive on the Bishopscourt Stages Rally which kick-started the Northern Ireland Rally Championship.
“It had been a long gap since our last outing,” said the two-litre Starlet driver, “so it was a nice event to get settled back into things again and we ended up with a good result which is a bonus too.”
Coronavirus hasn’t been the only interruption to the 23-year-old’s rally plans. 2020’s Galway International Rally was Black’s first event in nine months after suffering serious injuries from a crash while testing a Peugeot 208 R2 on gravel.
Senior class victories in Galway and Mayo for the 2018 Junior National Rally Champion proved his pace hadn’t disappeared during his recovery.
A short test before the Nicky Grist Stages will have put any bad memories to bed but the modified man had other concerns in his mind when asked if it was a hard decision to take his Starlet into the forests.
“Very much so – it has always been in my head to make the switch [to gravel] but I didn’t have it in me to see the Starlet covered in stone-chips.
“It has been a busy few weeks getting the car all properly sorted for gravel but I’m excited about the challenge ahead.”
Black is hoping to pull together a budget to compete in the remaining five rounds of the British Rally Championship as well as outings at home in Northern Ireland.
With a strong rear-wheel-drive entry in Wales this weekend including Jason Pritchard, Paul Barrett, and Frank Kelly; Black has great company to gauge his early development on gravel.
“The test gave me a true taste of how different gravel rallying is from tarmac. Getting to grips with how the car handles in the corners is the main thing.
“It will be a steep learning curve but I think seat-time will be the main thing. It’s like doing my first rally again!
“Set-up is definitely another factor. We have a good base setting now but it will take a bit of tweaking to get it sorted to suit the stages in Wales.”
There has been plenty of interest in the Nicky Grist Stages from Irish crews with Saturday’s event counting to BTRDA and Welsh Forest Championships as well as BRC.
Photos by William Neill