Two of the leading contenders for this year’s Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship title will drive different cars on the next round of the series, the WOODSTOXX – MOTUL Rally van Wervik (Saturday 15 June), with Jason Pritchard electing to use his North Road Garage Ford Fiesta S2000 and Damian Cole switching back to his Get Connected/Energizer-backed Ford Fiesta WRC.
Having scored maximum points on all three rounds so far this year in a Focus WRC05, series leader Pritchard wants to give that car a rest in preparation for later qualifying events, and in a tactical move is aiming for a strong points scoring finish in a Fiesta S2000. The reigning champion did precisely this last year, finishing third on the Tour of Epynt in the S2000. He and co-driver Phil Clarke also took the S2000 to Wervik, but retired with clutch problems. With the best five scores from seven rounds counting towards the title, it could prove to be a clever ploy by Pritchard – although only time will tell if swapping his more powerful Focus WRC for the Fiesta S2000 in Wervik was the correct thing to do.
Cole has been driving a Focus WRC05 this year, but was delayed by what was thought to be a faulty clutch pedal sensor last time out on the Masterpixel Media Manx National Rally. With the problem not fully rectified, the six time champion will return to the car in which he contested the series in last year, a Fiesta WRC. The power advantage over a S2000 gives Cole a magnificent opportunity to close the 12 point gap on Pritchard, setting up what could then be a very close race for the title over the remaining three rounds. In Belgium, Cole will be co-driven by Dale Bowen.
Rallying in Belgium is something that Hugh Hunter has wanted to do for a long time, and the Ruthin man doesn’t have to wait much longer for his West Flanders debut. His car, meanwhile, will be completely at home on the flat roads that meander between cabbage fields, as Pieter Tsjoen drove this exact same Ford Focus WRC to victory on the 2006 Belgian Rally Championship. Before that, it was a works car driven by Belgian driver François Duval. Co-driven by Rob Fagg, Hunter will have to adapt quickly to the unique characteristics of the challenging open and fast asphalt lanes, and despite so many things being new, a big haul of points could be on the horizon.
John Stone will also be a force to be reckoned with in his Legend Fires-backed Ford Fiesta WRC. Co-driven by Jack Morton, the Blackburn driver picked up third place Championship points on the Rallynuts National Tour of Epynt, but a turbo problem put him out of the Manx National. It will be great to see Stone in his ex-Mikko Hirvonen car on the Belgian lanes, and he’ll have his sights set on taking maximum points too.
Likewise, everyone is looking forward to seeing Gary Le Coadou back behind the wheel of his ex-Dani Sordo Hyundai i20 WRC. The untimely passing of his co-driver Carl Sorensen after a road traffic accident sent a shock wave through the rallying community, so it will be an emotional event for everyone in the team.
Spencer Chard is equally at home on gravel rallies as he is on asphalt, and the Bristol driver is expected to go well in Belgium in his Chris Palmer Motorsport-prepared Subaru Impreza WRC. He’ll be partnered by the reigning B10 class champion co-driver David Tortoishell.
Two other Subaru crews to look out for are Richard Clews/Hamish Campbell in their rapid ITG Air Filters Impreza and David Longfellow/Mark Broadbent in their Witch Craft Beers-supported Impreza LX.
Chris Ford quickly got to grips with his new Fiesta R5 on the Manx National, only for a broken exhaust to deny him a good result. Co-driven this time by Matt Daniels, the Century Hose-backed driver will be aiming for a strong finish this time out.
Leading the two-wheel drive attack is Belgium will be two outstanding Escort Mk2 drivers – Darren Atkinson and Ross Brusby. On his first Championship appearance since 2014, Atkinson won the B13 class on both the Friday and Saturday legs on the Isle of Man, finishing 10th and eighth overall respectively in his Atkinsons Sandblasting/Dennison Trailers Escort Mk2. He goes to Belgium with a magnificent chance of extending his class lead. Brusby was one of the stars of last year’s Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally and was ahead of many four-wheel drive cars when his Chesterfield Transporters-backed Escort Mk2 stopped on Otterburn with gearbox failure. He will also be sensational to watch on the Wervik roads.
The exciting Championship B10 class battle continues as Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (Citroën C1 Max) go head-to-head against Adrian Drury/Cat Lund (Drury Deliveries Peugeot 106 GTi). Just six points separate them after three rounds.
Defending B12 champion Mike Pugsley will be aiming to extend his class lead in his 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000. Co-driven by Marc Clatworthy, the Welshman overcame a whole host of problems on the Manx National to score well on the Isle of Man, and will be hoping for a more trouble-free run this time.
Last year Amaury Molle was in Wervik as part of the Special Stage commentary team, and this year the former Belgian RC5 / R1 and RSBE Trophy (Renault Sport) Champion returns to contest the event in a Peugeot 208 R2. Molle, who finished runner-up in the 2014 Belgian Junior Championship, will be co-driven by Renaud Herman.
Special Stage will be out in Belgium again this year, with an expanded two camera crew team broadcasting the action LIVE on its Facebook page. Howard Davies and Gemma Watson will be commentating from the many magnificent vantage points the event has to offer.
The 45th Rally of Wervik is organised by the Auto club Scuderia Vervica V.Z.W. The recce, documentation and scrutineering takes place on Friday (14 June), with all 12 stages (three stages tackled four times) taking place the following day. The rally starts at 08.30 on Saturday (15 June), with 60 stage miles and a very compact 42 road mile route. This year, all registered Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship teams will service together in their own designated area, which is sure to create a magnificent ‘home-from-home’ atmosphere. The rally’s finish ceremony takes place at ‘De Graankorrel’ in the town of Wervik at 19.30.