Cole capitalises on Pritchard’s misfortune to take series lead after Rally van Wervik

After completing 12 special stages in mixed conditions, Damian Cole / Dale Bowen emerged as leading Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship contenders as they finished eighth overall on the Rally van Wervik, moving into the Championship lead as a result.

On this occasion, Cole opted to use his Get Connected/Energizer-backed Ford Fiesta WRC rather than the Focus lWRC he campaigned earlier in the season, and after completing the first loop of three stages he confessed that he didn’t know how he had kept the Fiesta on the road as the stages were so slippery, particularly the third test, following early morning rain, and he was forced to give second best to Championship leader Jason Pritchard.

Softening the springs on the Fiesta for the second loop transformed the car as he overtook Pritchard for the lead of the Protyre Asphalt crews, and then extended his lead over the third group of stages, though he admitted to finding it “hard work” in the by now hot and dry conditions.

There were no dramas for Cole/Bowen over the final loop as he returned to the finish in Wervik town with a lead of just under 16 seconds to take the Championship honours on the day.

For John Stone, this would be his first Belgium rally, and he and Jack Morton brought their usual Legend Fires Fiesta WRC for the event. Following a good start, Stone opted to put extra cuts in his tyres to cope with the slippery conditions, and also opted to soften the Fiesta’s suspension, though he still managed to bend the steering on the Fiesta after “cutting” a number of bends.

Stage seven went well as he took time out of Cole, before conceding a handful of seconds on the following test, his Fiesta now riding higher in order to prevent further steering problems, and he was now getting into the event and enjoying it as he moved into the top ten. With the car now as he wanted, Stone managed to beat Cole on two of the final three special stages, and was rewarded with second championship contender and ninth place overall.

Not so happy early on were Darren Atkinson/Phil Sandham; Atkinson being another driver on his first Belgium outing. Fresh from a good run on the recent Masterpixel Media Manx National Rally, Atkinson’s choice of slicks for the first loop and wet tyres in the second one were both incorrect, and the Lancashire driver felt he wasn’t as competitive as he expected to be in his Ford Escort Mk2, which almost slid into a ditch on special stage five.

Atkinson felt that running his Escort on 13 inch wheels wasn’t helping, as he seemed to be getting wheel spin everywhere, but as the day wore on, and tyre choice became more straightforward he was able to increase his pace. A final loop push ensured his Atkinson Sandblasting Ford Escort was the first two wheel drive car home as he took the final place on the Championship podium, finishing in the top 20 overall.

In 2018, Belgian driver Amaury Molle helped Howard Davies with the event commentary and so decided to enter the Championship this year. On his first Championship outing, he and Renaud Herman were also using the event as a test for the forthcoming Ypres Rally later this month, but his choice of slick tyres for the opening loop made things difficult in the wet conditions. During the day, he altered the settings of his Peugeot 208 R2 with mixed results, being disappointed with his run over the third loop. With some more amendments for the final group of stages, things improved and he was pleased with his days testing as he finished fourth of the Championship crews, winning his class in the process.

There was a nasty surprise for Belgian debutants Spencer Chard/Dave Tortoishell when their Subaru Imreza developed a fuel leak on stage eight, which thankfully they were able to repair. From then on everything went well and the pair were delighted to finish the enjoyable event.

Last year, Chris Ford failed to make it to the start of the first stage following technical problems with the Subaru Impreza WRC that he was using. For this event he returned with his new Ford Fiesta R5 which he was using for only the second time. Ford was another driver to find the opening loop slippery, and with correct tyres for the drier second loop he and Matt Daniels adopted a “smooth and safe” approach which reaped dividends with their times. Like Stone, Ford had to raise the ride height of his Fiesta to cope with the corner cutting required to set competitive times. Despite finding the day tiring, Ford was pleased to have an early birthday present by finishing sixth championship contender.

Championship leaders prior to the start of the event. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke, elected to use their Ford Fiesta S2000 rather than the Focus WRC they have campaigned on earlier Championship rounds, and their choice was vindicated as they completed the first loop as leading crew. The second loop saw them slip just behind Cole, only to be forced out of the event following brake problems after the sixth special stage.

Fastest of the Protyre crews on the first special stage were Hugh Hunter/Rob Flagg who were only four seconds off the overall fastest time in their Focus WRC, but unfortunately the crew spun the Ford on a very slippery left hand bend on stage two were forced to retire. Gary Le Codeau/Bill Paynter struggled early on in the difficult conditions, and then had launch control issues on their Hyundai i20 WRC which saw the car stall on a couple of occasions, and they later retired from the event. Ross Brusby was pleased with his early tyre choice and was the early leaders of class B13 in his Ford Escort Mk 2 but was another who failed to finish.

Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle also got off to a good start in their class Citroen C1 Max and were well on the class place, before a coil lead came loose on stage six costing the pair some time and dropping them down the class order. A determined effort over the final loop showed what could have been as they were pleased with their pace as they set some impressive times on the final tests as they pulled back to second in class B10 behind Belgian driver Molle.

After waiting for some time at the start of special stage two following an earlier competitor’s accident, Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy were surprised to be told they could start the stage as other crews had been re-routed to the next stage. Their choice of wet tyres would have been ideal earlier, but following the delay, the roads were drying out and they were forced to drive through puddles to prevent them from overheating. Changing to slick tyres for the remaining stages made things a lot better, and by taking care on the muddy sections they were happy with their progress. Their only issue on the last loop was getting held up by a car that had crashed, as they took another class B12 win in their Ford Escort Mk1 RS2000.

Adrian Drury/Cat Lund discovered the early stages to be slippery, and having fitted new brakes to their Peugeot 106 Gti found that they were braking far too early. Unfortunately previous gearbox problems continued on the event, and then they suffered two incidents on the third loop that saw rear damage to their car. Nonetheless, they managed to get the car to the finish, taking third in class behind Molle and Daniels.

Damian Cole (1st) said: “This is the first time I’ve driven the Fiesta WRC since the Mewla Rally last year, and it’s much better now we’ve had the fifth injector removed. The first loop [of stages] was horrendous, I’ve never driven anything as slippery as stage three. It was much more enjoyable when we had grip, and I need more practice in taking cut on mud and grass.”

John Stone (2nd) said: “I’ve really enjoyed the event, this being my first time in Belgium. I can’t explain the cuts, but I seem to have been getting quicker and quicker all day, and the battle with Damian Cole has been good. I didn’t know how much I would enjoy it, but I really did.”

Darren Atkinson (3rd) said: “You wouldn’t have believed it this morning, the tyres that we were on. To get to the end when so many haven’t means we haven’t done so bad. We’ve done some good stage times, and the cancelling of stage two helped us, as we probably would have gone off as we were running on slicks. We nursed it through the last three stages, though I’ve enjoyed myself despite suffering from a cold this week.”

Two camera crews captured some stunning live action footage from the event, all of which is still available to view on the Special Stage Facebook page.

Round 5 of the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship is the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally on Saturday 20 July.

2019 WOODSTOXX – MOTUL Rally van Wervik
Top Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship overall finishers
1. Damian Cole/Dale Bowen (Ford Fiesta WRC)…..52mins 21.9secs
2. John Stone/Jack Morton (Ford Fiesta WRC)….+15.9secs
3. Darren Atkinson/Phil Sandham (Ford Escort Mk 2)….+2mins 51.2secs
4. Amaury Molle/Renaud Herman (Peugeot 208 R2)….+4mins 9.5secs
5. Spencer Chard/Dave Tortoishell (Subaru Impreza)….+4mins 30.9secs
6. Chris Ford/Matt Daniels (Ford Fiesta R5)….+4mins 41.9secs
7. Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (Citroen C1 Max)….+5mins 12.0secs
8. Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy (Ford Escort Mk 1 RS 2000)….+ 9mins 21.8secs
9. Adrian Drury/Cat Lund (Peugeot 106 GTI)….+16mins 6.8secs

2019 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship
Provisional overall driver points after Round 4:
1. Damian Cole….108pts
2. Jason Pritchard….91pts
3. Alan Kirkaldy….80pts
4. Darren Atkinson….74pts
5. Wayne Sisson….70pts
6. Mike Pugsley….63pts
7. Rhidian Daniels….61pts
8. Chris Ford….59pts
9. Oli Hopkins….58pts
10. John Stone….57pts

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