Jason Pritchard is the 2018 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Champion, after taking his third maximum points score of the season on the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally.
In a thrilling and dramatic season finale, he and co-driver Phil Clarke delivered a masterclass performance in their North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05, on their first ever visit to Northumberland’s Otterburn Military Ranges.
Their target of winning the title was made harder by just one pass over each stage on a very icy Saturday recce, while the weather played an even more significant part in the outcome of the title on rally Sunday, with snow, sleet and torrential rain making the undulating and narrow asphalt roads exceptionally slippery. Yet Pritchard made only one mistake, overshooting a junction on SS10, to bring the car home without a scratch.
Winning the title is extra special for Jason and the Pritchard family, as it is 30 years since his father Eian narrowly missed out on clinching the Asphalt title on Otterburn – in the same year the now champion was born. It’s also Jason’s fourth major rally title in as many years, having won a record-breaking three MSA British Historic Rally Championships in a row (2015, ’16 and ‘17) and now the 2018 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship.
Daniel Harper was Pritchard’s main rival for the title, and whoever finished ahead of the other would become drivers’ champion; providing either one of them finished the event. Harper’s Minisport-run John Cooper Works Mini WRC had been rebuilt after an accident on a French rally three weeks ago, and at “zero miles an hour” he skidded into a bridge on SS2 – although much worse was to follow for him and co-driver Chris Campbell. Thanks to a monsoon-like downpour, there was running water in the downhill braking area coming down to a square right. Virtually all of the top 20 cars, and more after, either spun, went off or had some near miss there, but it was here that Harper’s title hopes vanished. The Mini snapped sideways under braking in the wet and went straight on at the junction, smashing through a fence and coming to rest in a field. This rally, and title aspirations, over.
This meant that Wayne Sisson/Max Freeman are runners-up in the Asphalt Championship, having decided not to enter their AMS Arnside Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10 on the final round. The dropped score rule meant that they would have needed both Pritchard and Harper to retire to win the title anyway, and whatever points they’d score on Otterburn would probably have been irrelevant. Whilst they were missed by all, it turned out to be a wise decision, and Sisson was delighted to add second overall to his Class B14 trophy.
Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh picked up second Asphalt Championship points on the Cheviot after a spirited drive in their CA1 Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta. They had a big spin at the same corner as Harper, but survived to allow Simpson to leapfrog into seventh in the final points standings.
David Hardie hadn’t even sat in his TEG Sport Subaru Impreza for the best part of two months, but he quickly got back into his stride to finish third, despite downshift problems on the final three stages, with John McCulloch on the pace notes.
Damian Cole spent the opening loop of three stages getting reacquainted with his Get Connected Ford Focus WRC05, which he hadn’t rallied for three years. Co-driven by Jane Nicol, everything was going well until the rear end broke loose on a fifth gear uphill left hander after a crest, which sent the car spinning off the road. There was virtually no damage, but the grass was so wet that only a winch could eventually rescue him.
A new Frank Meagher inspired colour scheme was working wonders for Ross Brusby, who was up to an incredible fourth in his Chesterfield Transporters-backed Ford Escort Mk2. “I’m driving on the limit and hoping for the best,” said Brusby, who was well ahead of many four-wheel drive cars. Co-driven by Sam Collis, his brilliant run came to a cruel end with gearbox failure on SS10.
Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle enjoyed a fantastic Otterburn debut to be the fourth registered crew home and to finish sixth on the overall points table. This was an even more impressive performance, considering they started the event on part worn tyres they’d used on the Mewla Rally and lost a minute when their rapid Citroen C1 Max broke a driveshaft on SS6.
The Class B10 drivers’ title had already been won by Kevin Harbour, and having sold his Citroen C2 R2 the Dovebank Motors driver brought his Peugeot 205 GTI out of a two year retirement to try and secure David Tortoishell the co-driver’s title. Despite alternator problems throughout the day, which meant he dare not turn on the Lazer laps for the final stage, Harbour achieved what he set out to do – and completed the only 100% finishing record in the series!
There wasn’t much luck this time for Graeme Sherry, however. After a strong season in his Honda Civic, he and Sam Colman retired on the opening stage after damaging the radiator – although they were far from the only ones to return to service at The Airstrips on a tow rope, as 34 out of the 88 starters failed to finish.
Paul and Julian Doroszczuk are celebrating becoming Class B11 champions after another excellent performance in their normally-aspirated Cosworth-engined Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2. They had an eventful rally, witnessing a Subaru crashing right in front of them for one, and the only damage they sustained to their car was a crumpled rear arch, dented when it was being put on the trailer for the journey home!
The Welsh brothers were pushed hard for the title by Geoff Glover/Keith Barker – the RWD Astra crew taking the class win on the Cheviot after a great run, but finishing four points behind in the standings.
Great sportsman Mike Pugsley had already become Class B12 champion, but because so many northern-based drivers had come to his local region to contest the two Epynt rallies, he thought it only fair to go and support their local event. He was stopped behind several accidents (not involving registered Asphalt Championship competitors) and didn’t complete all the stages, but he finished the rally in his 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000 to secure Marc Clatworthy the Class B12 co-drivers’ title, to go with the 1400S title he’d already won!
With Brusby out, Steve Retchless had a nervous last few stages in his Morris Lubricants/ralloy.com Ford Escort Mk2. After an accident on the Manx National, the B13 crown looked a tall order, but a faultless run over Otterburn by him and co-driver Sasha Heriot indeed gave him a very well deserved title – settling a very closely fought class battle that had raged all season. Brusby’s misfortune was also good news for Tim and Jack Waters, who finished second in class in their V6-engined Renault Sport Clio. It was a difficult event for the father and son team, who had to fix a fuel pump relay problem on the road section between SS1 and 2 and then drive around a rear brake issue.
1400C drivers’ champion Bill Paynter completed the morning’s loop of stage with power steering problems in his rapid Hilka-backed Peugeot 106 Rallye. He and co-driver Andy Hall came across a number of bad crashes during the course of the day, and were relieved to reach the finish unscathed.
Adrian Drury had rallied on Otterburn just once before, but together with Cat Lund had a great run in his orange Peugeot 106 GTI to record another good finish.
Jason Pritchard (1st) said: “We’ve had everything thrown at us today, even snow, so it was a case of keeping it clean and getting the car to the finish without a problem. We almost managed to do that without making any mistakes, but we had a bit of an overshoot on one stage, but apart from that everything was steady away and spot on. It was a hard day’s rallying and anyone who reached the finish deserves a medal. Winning the Asphalt Championship means a lot, because Dad tried so many times and came so close. Thirty years ago, I’d only just been born and he was fighting for the title up here on Otterburn, and now I’ve got it. It’s going to take a while to sink it.”
Stephen Simpson (2nd) said: “It was particularly slippery on the first three stages this morning, and then there was a lot of sleet and torrential rain on the next three stages, so we were pleased to reach the mid-point without too many dramas. The stages this afternoon were okay really and we were able to pick a bit of speed up and we started to really enjoy it. It was a bit late to challenge for victory by then, but I’m very happy to have reached the finish of such a tough event.”
David Hardie (3rd) said: “I’m very pleased because I haven’t been in the car for about eight weeks, so I was just taking it easy in the morning – and in many ways the rain before lunchtime probably helped us. We picked up our pace and were faster in the middle part of the rally and just maintained that pace to finish with a good result. We were struggling a little on the last three stages with the down change on the gearbox and, as a result, we couldn’t do much late braking, but we managed that problem pretty well and got the car home for a good result.”
The live streaming broadcasts from the Whickham & District Motor Club and Hadrian Motor Sports Club organised Cheviot Rally, with commentary from Howard Davies and special guest Ryan Champion, will remain on-line for viewing on the Special Stage Facebook page. Edited highlights will be broadcast on Front Runner and on the Motor Trend On Demand channel, as well as the Special Stage Facebook, YouTube and App platforms, in due course – please check TV guides for details.
The 2018 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship gala prize-giving takes place at the beautiful Billesley Manor Hotel, near Stratford upon Avon, on Saturday 17 November.
2018 Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally – Top 10 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship finishers
1. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC)….49mins 04secs
2. Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta)…. 50mins 11secs
3. David Hardie/John McCulloch (Subaru Impreza)….50mins 53secs
4. Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (Citroen C1 Max)….55mins 35secs
5. Steve Retchless/Sasha Heriot (Ford Escort Mk2)….56mins 18secs
6. Geoff Glover/Keith Barker (RWD Astra)…. 57mins 34secs
7. Paul Doroszczuk/Julian Doroszczuk (Ford Escort Mk2)…. 59mins 32secs
8. Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy (Ford Escort Mk1 RS2000)….1hr 00mins 35secs
9. Kevin Harbour/David Tortoishell (Peugeot 205 GTI)….1hr 00mins 53secs
10. Tim Waters/Jack Waters (Renault Clio V6)….1hr 00mins 58secs
Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship – provisional overall driver points after Round 6
1. Jason Pritchard….139pts
2. Wayne Sisson….126pts
3. Daniel Harper….113pts
4. Melvyn Evans….83pts
5. Steve Retchless….82pts
6. Rhidian Daniels….80pts
7. Stephen Simpson….79pts
8. Paul Doroszczuk….79pts
9. Geoff Glover….76pts
10. Barry Groundwater….75pts