Winner takes all, as Damian Cole and Jason Pritchard head to Otterburn for the Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship shootout

The destiny of the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship title will be decided on the final round of the series, as six time champion Damian Cole and reigning champion Jason Pritchard go head-to-head in a winner takes all shootout on the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally on Sunday 22 September.

If series leader Cole wins and Pritchard finishes second – as they did last time out on the Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally – then both drivers would have recorded three wins and two second place finishes. That would see the title decided on a tiebreak, with whoever sets the better time on the opening stage of the Cheviot becoming 2019 Asphalt champion.

Despite winning a record-equalling 23 rallies on Epynt, Cole admits that he prefers the more technical Otterburn ranges, with its challenging network of twisty and bumpy single-track roads. He certainly has a very good record of success over the Northumberland military range, having won the Cheviot Rally – plus the Tyneside Stages, which is also held on Otterburn – four times each. The Abergavenny driver holds the advantage going into the event in his Get Connected/Energizer-backed Ford Fiesta WRC, but winning the title for a seventh time is by no means a forgone conclusion, thanks to the formidable challenge posed by Pritchard.

If Cole was to become Asphalt champion this year, he’ll have done it with five different co-drivers. Having had Shelley Rogerson, Max Freeman, Dale Bowen and Paul Spooner guide him, Andrew Roughead (last year’s Cheviot Rally winning co-driver) will partner him on the final round.

Having won the opening three rounds of the series in his North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05, Pritchard looked the early odds-on favourite to retain his Asphalt title. But after retiring on Rally van Wervik, family commitments then prevented him from going to the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally, meaning that he had already registered his mandatory two dropped scores. Now needing to finish well on both the final rounds to keep his title hopes alive, new-dad Pritchard finished second on the Mewla Rally, after a day of time-consuming electrical issues with his car. Co-driven by Phil Clarke, the Builth Wells driver is currently fourth in the points’ table, but with others needing to drop points, he is Cole’s only rival for the overall title. If Pritchard wins the Cheviot he will be Asphalt champion and if he retires then Cole will be champion – and any other result will put the outcome of the title on a knife-edge.

Pritchard won the Asphalt title last year by taking maximum points (finishing second overall to local man Peter Taylor) on the Cheviot Rally. But atrocious weather and several key retirements played its part in that result, and it remains his only visit to Otterburn. With much less experience of the venue than Cole, and what appears to now be a power disadvantage over his rival as well, Pritchard is praying for a return of the rain, sleet and snow to shake things up again!

There is a very close battle for the runners-up spot in the series. R5 champion Alan Kirkaldy currently holds that position after an excellent season in his Cairnsmill Caravan Park-backed Ford Fiesta R5. Co-driven by Cameron Fair, he finished a magnificent fourth on only his second visit to Epynt last time out. But wherever the St Andrews driver finishes overall, it will be a truly magnificent achievement against such strong world rally car opposition.

John Stone might only be in sixth place, but he can also finish second in the series with a good result on Otterburn. The Blackburn driver scored maximum points on the Down Rally and starts every round as a potential winner in his ex-Mikko Hirvonen Legend Fires-backed Ford Fiesta WRC. He also has plenty of experience on Otterburn, and won the Cheviot in 2010. Stone will be co-driven by Michael Gilbey.

Whilst Darren Atkinson can’t improve on his current third place overall position, the new class B13 champion is the top placed two-wheel drive competitor in his Atkinsons Sandblasting/Dennison Trailers/S&W Fabrication-backed Ford Escort Mk2. Co-driven by Phil Sandham, Atkinson finished sixth overall last time out on the Mewla, and will be aiming to finish a fantastic season with another ridiculously high overall result!

Mark Jasper knows Otterburn well and will be one to watch in his Smith & Jones 2.5-litre engined GEO Preparations-tuned black Ford Escort Mk2. Co-driven by Don Whyatt, the master baker from Stafford finished second in the B13 class on day one of the Masterpixel Media Manx National Rally, and will be aiming for class victory this time out.

Trying to push Atkinson and Jasper down the results sheet will be some impressive four-wheel drive machinery, including the two-litre engined RED Industries-backed Subaru Impreza driven by Adrian Spencer. He’ll be partnered by class B11 co-driving champion Ashley Trimble, who will co-drive for his fourth different driver in this year’s Asphalt series. David Longfellow/Mark Broadbent appear in their Subaru Impreza, while Chris Ford/Neil Colman contest the event in their Century Autosport-run Ford Fiesta R5.

Geoff Glover/Keith Barker won their class on the Cheviot last year, and will be aiming for a similar result this time out in their rear-wheel drive Astra. They are also in line to finish runners-up in class B11 for a second year in a row.

The close battle for the B10 class is yet to be resolved. With four wins, Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle lead in their JJ Aggregates-backed Citroën C1 Max, but Adrian Drury/Cat Lund are just 12 points behind after recording three seconds and a third place finish in their Drury Deliveries Peugeot 106 GTi. Neither driver knows the ranges that well – last year Daniels won the class on his Otterburn debut, while Drury has only rallied there twice before.

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

Live action coverage from the stages will be broadcast on the Special Stage Facebook page, with Howard Davies and Gemma Watson commentating from the many fantastic vantage points throughout the day. Unlike Pritchard, they are hoping the weather will be dry and sunny!

Organised by Whickham & District Motor Club and Hadrian Motor Sports Club, and run in the memory of Keith Knox, this year’s Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally takes place over 60 stage miles on the Otterburn Military Ranges in Northumberland. The event is running three weeks earlier than usual, and should benefit from a later sunset time and better weather, while some of the single track asphalt roads have been recently resurfaced. All the stages are within close proximity to The Airstrips, where the start, service area and finish will be located.

Gala Prizegiving and Awards Night

The 2019 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship Gala Prizegiving and Awards Night will be held at the Hilton Puckrup Hall near Tewkesbury on Saturday 2 November.

The night will start with a champagne drinks reception, before guests go into the magnificent Old Hall for dinner and the awards ceremony. Howard Davies will MC proceedings. After the awards and photographs, a party to celebrate this year’s successes and near misses will follow. All classes and special awards will be given out on the night, while the overall winning driver will receive the Protyre Trophy, BTRDA Award and BTRDA Gold Star. As per the regulations, Championship award winners must be present at the end of season awards ceremony, or risk forfeiting their awards. No awards will be posted!

The Hilton Puckrup Hall is centrally located on the edge of the Cotswolds and is easily accessed from Junction 1 of the M50. With a spa, fitness centre, indoor swimming pool and an 18-hole par-70 championship golf course, it will make a great weekend get-away for partners too.

Registered Asphalt Rally Championship contenders can benefit from a reduced room rate, and the all-important secret code is available from the Championship Co-ordinator, Jane Evans.

Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally – top 10 seeds
1. Damian Cole/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta WRC)
2. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC05)
3. Gordon Morrison/Calum MacPherson (Subaru Impreza)
4. John Stone/Michael Gilbey (Ford Fiesta WRC)
5. Frank Bird/Jack Morton (Ford Focus WRC07)
6. Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Fiesta R5)
7. Chris Ford/Neil Colman (Ford Fiesta R5)
8. Mark Jasper/Don Whyatt (Ford Escort Mk2)
9. Lee Hastings/TBC (Subaru Impreza)
10. George Mackey/Tony Cope (Subaru Impreza N12)

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