Everything to play for, as Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship title contenders return to Epynt for the Mewla Rally

The intense battle for the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship title continues on the sixth and penultimate round, the Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally on Sunday 25 August, when the eight time King of Epynt and series leader Damian Cole goes head-to-head with last year’s event winner and defending champion Jason Pritchard.

For Cole, victory on the Mewla would mark an outstanding record of achievement – as it would tie him on six event wins and 23 rally wins on Epynt with John Price. It’s a record that has stood for almost 20 years, and whilst it once seemed almost impossible to break, it’s now a matter of when, not if, Cole will become the undisputed all-time King of Epynt.

Co-driven by Paul Spooner (who partnered him to his first Mewla Rally victory in 2008), Cole will also be keen to extend his current 32 point Asphalt Championship lead and edge ever closer towards a seventh title. With two scores to drop, anything less than a win could see the title advantage swing in his rival’s favour – and whilst a lesser competitor might let points and records hamper their speed, we know Cole will be going all-out for glory in his Get Connected/Energizer-backed Ford Fiesta WRC.

The same can be said for Pritchard, whose title challenge is also on a knife-edge, having won the opening three rounds but dropped two scores since. He could finish second to Cole on both the Mewla and September’s Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally finale and still win the title (on a tiebreak, if he set the fastest time on SS1 of the final round) so cruising to a safe finish on Epynt isn’t a realistic option – and it’s certainly not what Pritchard goes rallying for anyway! However, retirement on either remaining round would signal the end of his title defence.

Co-driven by Phil Clarke, Pritchard won last year’s Mewla and won the opening Rallynuts National Tour of Epynt Rally earlier this year in his North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05 – so will fancy his chances on what is the Builth Wells driver’s home event; not that he has much of a home advantage over his experienced rivals.

But the battle for the Asphalt title is far from a two-horse race, as there are plenty of other drivers waiting to pounce should the top two slip up.

Alan Kirkaldy arrives in Mid-Wales second in the overall drivers’ standings after an outstanding season so far in his Cairnsmill Caravan Park Fiesta R5. The St Andrews man could still steal the title away from the World Rally Car drivers, but the R5 trophy and a top three overall finish would be a remarkable achievement nonetheless. He’ll be co-driven on Epynt by the returning Cameron Fair.

Darren Atkinson arrives third overall in the series is his Atkinsons Sandblasting/Dennison Trailers/S&W Fabrication-backed Ford Escort Mk2. Co-driven by Phil Sandham, the Lancaster driver is enjoying a magnificent year and whilst there is the hotly-contested class B13 title to play for, and the honour of being the top two-wheel drive contender, the dropped scores rule means that he’s unable to lift the overall title.

One man still very much in contention for the overall drivers’ title is John Stone. The Blackburn pilot scored maximum points last time out on the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally and is sixth in the standings – although if you take the dropped scores into account, he is actually just one point behind Cole, and can (like Pritchard) count both his final scores. Stone is no Epynt expert, yet he overcame an early misfire and a no-heroics run to score third place points in his ex-Mikko Hirvonen Legend Fires-backed Ford Fiesta WRC there earlier in the season. Partnered this time by Michael Gilbey, he’ll be doing everything he can to keep his title fight alive.

There are two registered ex-Petter Solberg Subaru Imprezas entered – a WRC S9 driven by Nigel Jones and the familiar Comline Auto Parts/NGK-backed WRC S11 piloted by Bob Fowden – while Gary Le Coadou/Bill Paynter appear in their stunning ex-Dani Sordo Hyundai i20 WRC.

Adrian Spencer/Matt Daniels return in their smart RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRC S11. They always push hard and their commitment was illustrated on their last Championship appearance, when they had a huge 360° spin after a jump on the Down Rally, which put an end to last season’s campaign.

Chris Ford/Neil Coleman used an ex-Chris Atkinson Subaru Impreza WRC S11 on the Tour of Epynt earlier in the season, but have since swapped to a Fiesta R5 with great success. After some very good outings of late, including a faultless drive on the Down Rally, they should go well in the Century Autosport-ran Ford.

Richard Clews has only contested one event in over a year, and that ended in clutch failure on the Tour of Epynt. Together with co-driver Hamish Campbell, he’ll be aiming for a long awaited change of fortune in his smart ITG Air Filters Subaru Impreza.

There was no change at the top of the leaderboard in class B10, as neither Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (JJ Aggregates-backed Citroën C1 Max) nor Adrian Drury/Cat Lund (Drury Deliveries Peugeot 106 GTi) reached the finish of the Down Rally. This leaves the Welsh duo, who know Epynt pretty well, still in a nine point lead – with both crews able to count their last two scores. Both Daniels and Drury will have a fight on their hands to take maximum points this time, as Down Rally class winners Dai Roberts/Pete Phennah return in their rapid Peugeot 205 GTi.

The battle for class B11 is really hotting up too, and maximum points would allow Geoff Glover/Keith Barker to retake the category lead in their rear-wheel drive Astra. Triple Welsh Tarmacadam champion Richard Merriman led the class after the opening round, and he returns with co-driver Kath Curzon in their rapid The Roof Hub/Touchline-backed Darrian T90. It’s also great to see Paul and Julian Doroszczuk back, on what is their first event since engine problems in their Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2 brought their title defence to a halt on the Masterpixel Media Manx National Rally. Phil Turner was hoping for a better season in his Toovey Race Engines/ST Motorsport-backed Escort Mk2, but together with Terry Martin will be super quick over the Epynt ranges. Graham Hollis also returns to the series, having finished second in class on the Tour of Epynt. He’ll be co-driven by class leading co-driver Ashley Trimble.

Defending B12 champions Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy have established and unassailable class lead in their 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000, and are out to celebrate back-to-back titles. Will Mains/Claire Williams have the 1400S title in the bag and will be looking for another giant-killing performance in their Ray Thomas & Sons/WCS Environmental-backed Vauxhall Nova.

Commentators Howard Davies and Gemma Watson will front a roaming two camera crew that will be located at various vantage points on Epynt, bringing LIVE action coverage on the Special Stage Facebook page throughout the day.

Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to the Mewla Rally, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders.

Organised by Epynt Motor Club, the Mewla Rally was first ran over the Epynt military range roads in 1978 in the dark, and even in daylight it remains one of the biggest asphalt rally challenges and an event everyone wants to win. Rally headquarters is based at the International Pavilion at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd, and the event will start on the Epynt military ranges at 08.45. Competition takes place over 13 stages, totalling around 75 stage miles, before the finish back at the Royal Welsh Showground at 16.45.

Spectators coming to the event are asked to approach Epynt via the duel carriageway at Llywel, on the A40 between Trecastle/Brecon and Llandovery. The nearest postcode is LD3 8RG. The cost of a full day’s rallying entertainment is just £10.

Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally – top 10 seeds
1. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke….Ford Focus WRC05
2. Damian Cole/Paul Spooner….Ford Fiesta WRC
3. Bob Fowden/Den Golding….Subaru Impreza S11 WRC05
4. John Stone/Michael Gilbey….Ford Fiesta WRC
5. Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair….Ford Fiesta R5
6. Darren Atkinson/Phil Sandham….Ford Escort Mk2
7. Gareth Richards/Deian Rees….Darrian T90
8. Rob Tout/Peredur Wyn Davies….Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX
9. Paul Kirtley/David Jones….Subaru Impreza S6 WRC
10. Richard Clews/Hamish Campbell….Subaru Impreza

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