British Rally Championship

The ultimate preview of BRC deciding Ulster Rally

International rallying is back on the Emerald Isle this weekend as the Ulster Rally concludes 2021’s blockbuster British Rally Championship. BRC’s overall and Junior titles will be decided this weekend and with plenty of local challengers, the Ulster Rally is set to be a cracker.

Currently second in BRC, Matt Edwards will open the road on this year’s November running of the Ulster Rally. Edwards, who is co-driven by Darren Garrod, finished runner-up behind Craig Breen on the event’s most-recent running two years ago.

The two-time defending British Rally Champion is eight points behind championship leader Osian Pryce. He knows a victory in Ulster is required if he stands any chance of making it three BRC titles on the trot.

“It’s the most straightforward final round of the British Rally Championship that I’ve ever had,” said Edwards, “I’ve got to go and win it. There are no variables, no ifs and buts – it’s a case of maximum points or nothing.

“And I feel good about it too because I go to the final round with a lot of confidence in the Polo. We proved in Mull that we have the speed and we know that we have the pace on asphalt to get the job done.

“I’ve also gone well in recent years in Ulster. There is nothing going against me at the moment.

“Everything feels aligned and I see no reason why we won’t be able to score maximum BRC points in Ulster and come home with the title.”

Pryce and Kerry navigator Noel O’Sullivan have been steadily tightening their grasp on a maiden BRC title together. They have finished in the top three on every round so far this year, winning the British series’ last two events in Mull and Wales.

Ironically, the Welsh rivals both drive Volkswagen Polo R5s looked after by Melvyn Evans Motorsport. The Polos go well on Ireland’s asphalt roads and Pryce knows if he can finish within Ulster’s top-two, he’ll have done enough to become a British Champion.

But as he explains, he can’t afford to change his approach.

“Based on our performance on the Cambrian, I rate our chances quite high,” explained Pryce. “But this event is a completely different challenge.

“Should we find ourselves in the same rhythm, that will be a good place to start.

“The plan of attack has been the same all year and it doesn’t change now, we have had a good approach to every event this year and this is the one where we have to be on the ball from the very beginning.

“Getting the first title would mean everything right now just because we have come so close in the past and never won it, and we all as a team have worked so hard for it this year.”

Local challengers

A string of Ireland’s fastest rally drivers will follow Edwards and Pryce through Ulster Rally’s nine closed-road stages. Callum Devine leads the local charge ahead of Sam and Josh Moffett, recently crowned Northern Ireland Rally Champion Jonny Greer, Garry Jennings, and Keith Cronin.

Devine has recorded a hat-trick of rally wins in Ireland this year. Cork 20 was his first-ever international win but he knows he faces an even bigger battle to win his second this weekend.

“To be honest, I would like to be fighting for the win if it is possible,” Devine told Rally Insight. “But I am under no illusions that it won’t be easy.

“My aim is to be on the podium, I want to see what our pace is like, and to be in the mix with Osian Pryce and Matt Edwards in the two Volkswagens.

“They’re in good machinery and obviously the last time Matt was here he was fighting with Craig Breen. I was a little bit off that pace in 2019 but we will see what we can do.

“The Moffetts have been getting more seat-time and I see Sam has jumped back into the old Fiesta which I think will work well for him in the slippery conditions you get on the Ulster.

“He has plenty of experience in that car over the years too. You can never rule Josh out either, he had a good win in Wexford where he upped his pace.”

The Ford Fiesta Rally2 driver is hoping to optimise his new car’s Irish tarmac set-up on a test ahead of the Ulster Rally. While Ulster’s home drivers may have more familiarity with the slippery County Down conditions, one ace Edwards and Pryce hold under their sleeves is recent experience rallying in the dark.

The BRC frontrunners had plenty of night-time stages on last month’s Mull Rally and it could prove invaluable as the sun sets through Ulster Rally’s final loop of stages.

25 R5 and Rally2 cars front Ulster Rally’s entry list ahead of the top modified and two-wheel-drive crews. Other drivers to watch include Cathan McCourt, James Wilson, Tour of the Sperrins challenger Philip Allen, Bushwhacker Rally winner Patrick O’Brien, and young Donegal driver David Kelly.

Junior BRC

The second British Championship title to be decided on the Ulster Rally is between William Creighton and Eamonn Kelly. The Junior BRC rivals have starred throughout the season but it is world rally competitor Creighton who holds a 15-point advantage.

Kelly will play his joker on the Ulster Rally, meaning if he wins he’ll receive an extra five championship points. Still, in that case, Creighton only needs to finished eighth or higher in Junior BRC to claim the title thanks to BRC’s two-dropped-scores regulation.

A Rally2 prize-drive on a World Rally Championship round is up for grabs, providing an extra incentive for Creighton and Kelly.

“We’re in a good position in the championship,” said Creighton. “It’s nice that the Ulster Rally is the last round of it. Our Junior title and the overall title are both going down to the wire so it will be quite exciting.

“We don’t necessarily need to win but nothing is ever straightforward so we just have to keep focused and get to the finish-line on Saturday night. I’m looking forward to it, it is nice to have a big event running again, especially so close to home.”

For Kelly, the plan is clear:

“The plan of attack with us is just to try to be on it from the word go,” said the 22-year-old. “We have no other option than to win if we have any chance of winning the Junior BRC. It makes our job very clear-cut, so at least we know what we have to do.

“But that is part of what I am looking forward to, it will be a big challenge. It is challenges like this that bring you on as a driver.

“It should be good and the other guys like Kyle [White] and Jason [Dickson] will be pushing hard as well. They’re all going to be giving us a good race, it will be good to watch with all the different battles.”

National

Elsewhere, Damian Toner leads modified protagonists Jason Black, Camillus Bradley, Marty Toner, and Ed O’Callaghan. Toner was first in two-wheel-drive on his home event two years ago.

The Toyota Starlet of Jason Black and Karl Egan may lack the grunt of its 2.5-litre rivals but if the conditions are as slippery as crews expect, you just don’t know what they could pull out of the bag.

It’s Black’s closest rally to home this year and he has unsurprisingly been a star in BRC’s National categories all season. He is another to benefit from recent Mull Rally experience and could be a force to be reckoned with when darkness falls on Saturday afternoon.

There is a nice array of historic cars on the Ulster Rally, which runs one week ahead of Killarney Historic Rally. Ford Escorts of Fintan McGrady and David Armstrong lead Donagh Kelly’s BMW M3 and Andrew Bushe’s Vauxhall Chevette.

The 2021 Ulster Rally comprises the same three by three format showcased between Newry and Banbridge two years ago. McGaffins Corner gets the action underway at 08:30 on Saturday morning before cars regroup in Banbridge at 09:10. Bronte Homeland and Shinn Bridge complete the loop which is repeated a further two times.

At 155 stage-kilometres, it will be an intense one-day event for all the crews, especially with muck, rain, and night-time driving all on the cards in Ulster’s unusual November finale.

Ulster Rally Top 20

1 // Matt Edwards / Darren Garrod (Volkswagen Polo R5)
2 // Osian Pryce / Noel O’Sullivan (Polo R5)
3 // Callum Devine / Brian Hoy (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
4 // Sam Moffett / Keith Moriarty (Fiesta R5)
5 // Josh Moffett / Andy Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5)

6 // Jonny Greer / Kirsty Riddick (Citroen C3 R5)
7 // Garry Jennings / Rory Kennedy (Fiesta R5)
8 // Keith Cronin / Mikie Galvin (Fiesta Rally2)
9 // Cathan McCourt / Liam Moynihan (Fiesta Rally2)
10 // James Wilson / Arthur Kierans (i20 R5)

11 // James Williams / Dai Roberts (i20 R5)
12 // Alan Carmichael / Claire Williams (i20 R5)
14 // Philip Allen / TBC (Fiesta R5)
15 // Patrick O’Brien / Stephen O’Brien (Fiesta R5)

16 // Aidan Wray / TBC (Fiesta R5)
17 // David Kelly / Dean O’Sullivan (Fiesta R5)
18 // Sebastian Perez / Gary McElhinney (Fiesta Rally2)
19 // Stephen Petch / Michael Wilkinson (Fiesta WRC)
20 // John Stone / Tom Woodburn (Polo R5)

Ulster Rally timetable

SS1 // McGaffins Corner 1 – 08:30
SS2 // Bronte Homeland 1 – 09:30
SS3 // Shinn Bridge 1 – 10:00

Service A // Newry – 10:30

SS4 // McGaffins Corner 2 – 11:25
SS5 // Bronte Homeland 2 – 12:25
SS6 // Shinn Bridge 2 – 12:55

Service B // Newry – 13:30

SS7 // McGaffins Corner 3 – 15:20
SS8 // Bronte Homeland 3 – 16:20
SS9 // Shinn Bridge 3 – 16:50

Finish Ramp, Newry – 17:30

Subscribe for free to receive more stories like this direct to your mailbox


Photos courtesy of British Rally Championship and Mark McCullagh

%%footer%%