Reigning British Rally Champion Matt Edwards leads a quality entry of Rally2 cars set to contest this weekend’s Grampian Forest Rally in Scotland, keen to “neutralise” the handling characteristics of his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Edwards made the switch from M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 power to the Melvyn Evans Motorsport-prepared VW in the extended off-season, and won second time out the box on last month’s Nicky Grist Stages.
But despite the win, Edwards didn’t quite feel at one with his new steed so is hoping to have that extra bit of comfort in Aberdeenshire for round three which he began to find on a short test at Sweet Lamb last weekend.
“The Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 is working well, but there are a couple of things I want to try,” said early BRC points leader Edwards.
“I found that on the Nicky Grist Stages I had a bit of oversteer on throttle, so I’d like to neutralise that. It meant that I was thinking too much about my driving, rather than just driving. It needs to be a bit more instinctive and natural – it’s more about seat time and making tiny adjustments to suit my driving style, rather than me having to change my driving style to suit the car.
“The Polo GTI R5 is awesome, don’t get me wrong – it’s just a case of making everything 100% perfect. And it needs to be perfect, as this year’s British Rally Championship will be a very close fight.
“Every event in this year’s calendar is vitally important, and we’ll be leaving no stone unturned in our preparations. I’m fully focused. I want to win the title for a third time, and I’m leaving nothing to chance in my efforts to make that happen.”
Edwards’ victory in Wales was the first for VW in the BRC since Tapio Laukkanen won the 2000 Scottish Rally in a Golf IV Kit Car, and the VW squad is a double threat this season with Osian Pryce piloting another Melvyn Evans Polo.
Pryce has two third place finishes to his name this season but is in a unique position as the only driver to have experienced the Durris, Fetteresso and Drumtochty stages before. He drove a Citroen DS3 R3T on the event when it was known as the Granite City Rally back in 2013
“My plan is to go for the win,” said Pryce.
“We have been the most consistent crew this year so far, finishing third twice and don’t plan to make a habit of finishing third again.
“I’ve done a lot of analysis since the Nicky Grist, and with a bit of luck we should be on the pace. It looks a great rally and a leveller for all the crews so it will be a close battle.”
Another of the favourites this week is M-Sport’s Rhys Yates. The Chesterfield driver has been on red hot form this season and lies second in the title race, just three points shy of Edwards.
The former WRC2 driver struggled to match the front-running Welshmen on their home turf last month, so the opportunity to run in a more neutral setting should see Yates right back at the sharp end.
Yates will once again be joined in the M-Sport attack by Seb Perez and Matthew Wilson who will be partnered by ex-WRC co-driver Elliott Edmondson. Edmondson will start his first rally since being replaced by Chris Patterson in Gus Greensmith’s Fiesta WRC after Arctic Rally Finland.
Elsewhere, 2018 Irish Tarmac Champion Josh Moffett leads the Irish charge seeded at two in his Hyundai i20 R5. Although he’s down to enter a Ford Fiesta R5, it’s understood Moffett will stick with the Hyundai and remain eligible for BRC points.
However it’s brother Sam, seeded at 11, that has enjoyed the brighter BRC season so far in his Ford Fiesta Rally2, with a victory on the season-opening Neil Howard Stages at Oulton Park that places him third in the title race.
Four-time British champion Keith Cronin is another Fiesta Rally2 threat as the Bantry ace starts the third rally of his comeback and his second in the BRC. His mission in Scotland is to bring himself closer to the front-running pace as well as developing Hankook’s new range of rubber.
Cathan McCourt will also start this weekend, taking a pause from his European Rally Championship commitments, and will be joined by Jason Mitchell in another Fiesta. Garry Jennings, Joe McGonigle and James Wilson will also feature, as will former Junior WRC pilot Tom Williams.
William Creighton skips the trip to Scotland in the Juniors as he contests the Ypres Rally in Junior WRC, leaving the path clear for Ruairi Bell to try and double up following his maiden win on the Nicky Grist Stages.
Finlay Retson starts as a favourite though given his local knowledge of the Scottish woods, and the pair will be chased by the usual hungry Irish gaggle of drivers like David Kelly, Brian Brady and early series leader Kyle White in his older Peugeot 208 R2.
Scotsman Garry Pearson looks like a strong shout for National success in his Skoda Fabia R5, but will be chased hard by Elliot Payne’s Fiesta R5 and Stephen Petch’s WRC variant.
Notable absentees include Ollie Mellors, who has paused his programme for the time being following his terrifying accident on the Nicky Grist Stages, and five-time Scottish champion David Bogie.
Set to contest in the Scottish Rally Championship rather than the BRC, the close proximity of his wedding and the unavailability of both regular co-driver John Rowan and old navigator Kevin Rae has led to Bogie electing to give up his entry. He had been seeded fifth.
Tom Cave is another top-line driver missing the Grampian Forest Rally, in his case, due to budget constraints.
The event, based in Milton of Crathes, comprises 44 stage miles across six special stages.
Photos courtesy of British Rally Championship / Jakob Ebrey