Matt Edwards sealed his third British Rally Championship title in succession after winning the series’ Ulster Rally decider. Pre-event championship leaders Osian Pryce and Noel O’Sullivan battled hard with Edwards before rolling out of contention on the penultimate stage.
Pryce and Edwards headed to the Ulster Rally knowing they were in a straight-fight shootout for championship honours. Pryce was quickest out of the blocks on Ulster’s opening stage but Edwards and co-driver Darren Garrod bounced back on the next two.
Edwards had built an eight-second gap by the end of the fourth stage but Pryce produced an epic time on Stage 5 to retake the rally lead.
The ding-dong battle came to an unfortunate end on Stage 8, when Pryce rolled his Volkswagen Polo R5 halfway through the tough 13.5-mile Bronte Homeland test.
“It will take a bit of time to sink in,” said the now three-time British Champion. “It has been an intense day, we’ve been hammer and tong [with Pryce] all day.
“We didn’t leave a tenth, well we did when we overstepped the mark a few times. It was a hard rally with all the changing conditions so I’m just really pleased that we didn’t put a scratch on the car.
“It was a big fight and one of us was going to break with the speed we were going at. I was going to make sure that it wasn’t me. You can’t criticise him [Pryce] for going off because he had to go and do something.”
Such was the pace of Ulster Rally’s Welsh rivals, Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick, who finished second, were over two and a half minutes off Edwards’ rally-winning time.
Greer was one of the few local drivers to stay out of trouble on a very demanding 95-mile Ulster Rally. While a rally challenge was never within reach of the Citroen C3 R5 driver, Greer was kept on his toes by Josh Moffett for most of the day.
“It has been a tough event,” explained Ulster Rally runner-up Greer. “We came here with a car that we didn’t really know what to expect from. When you’re up against the top BRC and Irish Tarmac guys, it is nice to know where you are at.
“From the first loop this morning, we were always in the mix, so that was encouraging. People started to run into a few problems and we managed to stay out of them so it came good in the end.”
Like Greer, Moffett had a relatively clean run, although an overshoot on the final pass of McGaffins Corner gave Greer a bit of breathing space ahead. It also let Moffett slip within the grasp of Callum Devine who was fighting back after a troubling first half of the rally.
A fastest-time on the final stage of the rally, which was completed in darkness, was enough for Devine to sneak ahead of Moffett and into third overall.
It’s a result that brings an end to Devine’s string of rally wins as he struggled with a new suspension set-up on his Rally2 Ford Fiesta. Devine was fastest of the Irish crews on Ulster’s first stage but a trip into a field on the next test dropped him down the pack.
Devine continued to struggle with his dampers and eventually reverted back to the ones he used on last month’s Donegal Harvest Rally.
Rounding out the top five were Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin in their Hankook shod Rally2 Fiesta. Cronin’s performance deserved much more than fifth as he was very much the closest man on pace to BRC’s red hot title contenders at the front. A puncture on Stage 2, power cut on Stage 3, and time penalties accrued from service cost him the guts of two minutes and what should have been a podium finish on his home BRC round.
Sam Moffett finished fifth in a borrowed Lyons of Limerick Ford Fiesta R5. It was an extremely eventful rally for the Kerry Winter Rally winner. Moffett began the day struggling with brakes that were coming and going through the stage. After bleeding the system, Moffett had to deal with brake fade but it was a problem he felt more comfortable coping with.
A Stage 5 kiss with a hedge reshaped Moffett’s back bumper but worse was to come on Stage 8 when he got stuck in a field. Describing his incident at the end of the stage, Moffett could only laugh at “the bit of sport” he had with the spectators who helped him get back on the road.
Garry Jennings, Stuart Biggerstaff, Jason Mitchell, and Aidan Wray completed Ulster Rally’s top ten.
Eamonn Kelly claimed an impressive Junior BRC win in the Ulster Rally but a second-place finish for William Creighton meant the overall Junior BRC title went Creighton’s way. It has been a great season for both Ulster drivers.
In two-wheel-drive, Jason Black fought back from gear linkage issues on Stage 1 to win all but one of the remaining eight stages and take modified honours. Marty Toner was second in his BMW.
Photos by Roger Dawson and Adam Hall