Jason Pritchard secured back-to-back Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship titles by the smallest of margins, beating arch rival Damian Cole to the trophy by just one point after a thrilling final round on the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally on Otterburn.
Co-driven by Phil Clarke, Pritchard finished third on the event in his North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05, but with Cole missing out on victory by just three seconds and finishing second, it was enough to give the Builth Wells driver the title for a second year in a row.
In a thrilling finish to an exciting final round, Alan Kirkaldy and co-driver Cameron Fair took their first Asphalt Rally Championship victory, beating their world rally car adversaries in their Cairnsmill Caravan Park-backed Ford Fiesta R5. The R5 class champions were on the pace from the start, and ended the first loop of stages equal on time with six time champion Cole. The second loop proved decisive as they opened up an eight second lead, which they extend to 11 seconds after the long stage nine.
With the last two loops consisting of two stages run in the opposite direction to the earlier ones, the St Andrews driver traded fastest times on the first two tests with Cole, and held on to the rally win with a sensible run over the final loop to take the win by a mere three seconds.
Cole held the Championship lead coming into the final round, but with dropped scores to take into account, there was the possibility of Cole and Pritchard being level on points at the end of the day. If this was the case, whoever was faster of the two on the first stage would win the Championship. Cole, who had local Andrew Roughead in the co-drivers’ seat of his Get Connected/Energizer-backed Ford Fiesta WRC, had worked hard on his pace notes and was two seconds quicker than rival Pritchard on SS1, and was level with Kirkaldy after four stages.
Despite dropping some time on the next loop, Cole was never far behind, but disaster struck when his Fiesta’s gearbox developed problems, which meant that second gear couldn’t be used. Ten seconds behind entering the last loop of stages, Cole gave it his all, and despite his transmission problems, closed to within three seconds of the lead at the finish. Unfortunately, those three seconds denied him a seventh National Asphalt Rally Championship title.
After suffering with a down on power engine on the previous round, the Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally, Pritchard had traced the fault to water injection issues, and he was hopeful that this would return the car to its usual high level of performance. Whilst things had improved, Pritchard didn’t feel that his car was back at its peak, and the Focus WRC was suffering with an intermittent misfire, with the car reluctant to restart at one of the petrol halts.
Despite these issues, Pritchard kept going and moved back up to third position, which he maintained to the finish, where they discovered they had retained their Protyre Motorsport UK Championship by just one point from Cole.
It was a good day, on what has been a good year, for John Stone, who was pleased with the pace notes that he and co-driver Michael Gilbey had made for the event, with the pair amongst the fastest crews throughout the day. With their ex-Mikko Hirvonen Legend Fires-backed Ford Fiesta WRC running faultlessly, the pair finished the day in a fine fourth place, moving Stone up from sixth place to a finishing third position in the Championship.
Jack Morton, who has previously co-driven for Stone, returned to the series with young driver Frank Bird, who was making his Otterburn debut and using pace notes for only the second time. With a sensible approach being adopted, the pair finished in an encouraging fifth overall in their Ford Focus WRC, as Morton finished seventh in the Co-drivers’ Championship.
There was a nasty scare for Chris Ford/Neil Colman when they suffered a loss of braking on their Century Autosport-tuned Ford Fiesta R5 following a 900 yard straight on stage two, with the resulting time loss dropping them out of the top ten. With repairs completed, the pair set about making up for lost time, and by the end of the day had moved back to 10th overall and fifth Championship driver.
On their return to the Championship, things started promisingly for Mark Jasper/Don Whyatt, who moved into the early class lead in their Ford Escort Mk2, despite losing time after catching a slower car on SS1. Over the remaining three stages of the first loop the pair maintained their class lead and were holding seventh place overall, but failed to make it out of service due to engine issues.
Not making the start were fellow Escort crew Darren Atkinson/Phil Sandham, who withdrew their entry. As a result, Atkinson dropped from third to fifth in the Championship, whilst Sandham, who had been leading the co-drivers’ section, fell to third place, though the pair took Championship class B13 honours.
Co-driver Ashley Trimble joined forces with Subaru Impreza driver Adrian Spencer, and the pair had a pre-event fright when the car’s fuel pump failed and their service crew had to fit a new one. The rest of the event went better for them, allowing Trimble to move up to fourth overall in the Co-drivers’ Championship in addition to the class B11 title.
After winning their class on this event last year, Geoff Glover/Keith Barker were looking for a repeat result this year, and over the early stages they held second place in their rear-wheel drive Astra. Unfortunately, they would drop a few more places on the final loop, but were able to secure the runners-up spot in class B11 in the Championship for the second year in a row.
The battle for the B10 class was resolved when Rhidian Daniels/Tomas Whittle took their fifth class win of the year in their JJ Aggregates-backed Citroën C1 Max, taking maximum Championship points for the year. Their aim was to secure the Championship class win, and once this had been confirmed they got into a good battle with two local Peugeot 106 drivers for the class win on the event. A problem free run enabled them to move up the order and win the category by 19 seconds.
Adrian Drury/Cat Lund had hoped to challenge Daniels for the B10 Championship honours, but unfortunately they suffered a repeat of the driveshaft issues that they suffered on the Carryduff Folklift Down Rally. This time their duck yellow Drury Deliveries Peugeot 106 GTi pocket-rocket was stranded on the start line of SS1, which was a cruel and disappointing end an otherwise splendid Championship campaign.
Also destined for a non-finish were David Longfellow/Mark Broadbent whose Subaru Impreza snapped a gearbox mount on SS8 causing an oil seal to fall out. With smoke getting into the car, the pair decided to retire rather than cause damage to the transmission.
Protyre Motorsport took 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.
Alan Kilkaldy (1st) said: “I’m delighted to take the win, I had been wanting a podium finish here on Otterburn, but didn’t expect to get first place. Damian Cole was on some pace on those last two stages, so I’m really pleased to have held on to victory. I’ve really enjoyed my first year doing the Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship. Geographically it’s been difficult, and this is my local event, which is about three hours travelling time for me.”
Damian Cole (2nd) said: “Our gearbox issues haven’t helped, and I pressed on with it for the last two stages which hasn’t done it any good. I went for it on the first stage, but overall I’ve been three seconds too slow. It’s been difficult using different co-drivers this year, but the car has got better this year. I’ll be back to try for the Asphalt Championship win number seven next year.”
Jason Pritchard (3rd) said: “Winning the Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship title again hasn’t sunk in yet – it probably will somewhere on the motorway on the way home. It’s been a stressful day, I can tell you! I’m just glad to see the finish with all the issues we’ve had, the car’s not been running properly all day with a misfire. To win five championships in consecutive years [three British Historic Rally and two Protyre Asphalt Rally titles] by winning the National Asphalt Championship for the last two years is just a brilliant feeling. I can’t thank Phil [Clarke, co-driver] enough; he’s done an excellent job, as have the rest of the team. They’ve encouraged me at the low moments of the event, it’s a family team.”
Action from the Cheviot Stages was broadcast live during the event, with expert commentary and analysis from Howard Davies and Gemma Watson. This footage can still be viewed on the Special Stage Facebook page.
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. Registered Asphalt Rally Championship contenders can benefit from a reduced room rate, and the all-important secret code available from the Championship Co-ordinator, Jane Evans.
Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally
Top Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship overall finishers
1. Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Fiesta R5)….50mins 55secs
2. Damian Cole/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta WRC)….50mins 58secs
3. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC05)….51mins 31secs
4. John Stone/Michael Gilbey (Ford Fiesta WRC)….52mins 18secs
5. Frank Bird/Jack Morton (Ford Focus WRC07)….52mins 54secs
6. Chris Ford/Neil Colman (Ford Fiesta R5)….57mins 11secs
7. Rhidian Daniels/Tomos Whittle (Citroën C1 Max)….58mins 05secs
8. Adrian Spencer/Ashley Trimble (Subaru Impreza)….59mins 06secs
9. Geoff Glover/Keith Barker (Vauxhall Astra)….1hr 00mins 57secs
2019 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship
Provisional overall driver points after Round 7:
1. Jason Pritchard….145pts*
2. Damian Cole….144pts*
3. John Stone….136pts*
4. Alan Kirkaldy….136pts*
5. Darren Atkinson….121pts
6. Chris Ford….105pts*
7. Rhiadian Daniels….102pts*
8. Wayne Sisson….95pts
9. John Devlin….91pts
10. Mike Pugsley….83pts*
* best five scores count