Melvyn Evans charged to victory on the opening round of the 2021 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship by taking his Škoda Fabia R5 to a stunning victory on The Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally.
An early morning tyre choice of medium Michelin Pilot Sport rubber gave him an immediate advantage over rivals Jason Pritchard and Damian Cole, who had both gone for softer compound Pirelli tyres. The early morning start, chilly breeze and an opening loop of three relatively short stages might have suggested a softer compound was best, but the temperature of the asphalt roads proved otherwise – and while Jason and Damian’s tyres went off, Melvyn charged into an early 19 second lead.
That was of course by no means the end of it, and with six stages remaining Melvyn and co-driver Mark Glennerster had to push their Melvyn Evans Motorsport Fabia R5 to the limit, and not make a mistake, with a chasing pack in hot pursuit.
Melvyn extended his lead to 20 seconds after setting a fourth consecutive stage win, before Jason pulled the gap back to 17 seconds by taking one second off the leader on each of the next three stages. But a stunning performance on the final two stages, which at 11.96 miles were the longest of the rally, saw Melvyn win the Mewla Rally for the second time in his career by 26 seconds.
Jason had enjoyed the battle in his trusty North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05, which never missed a beat after a major lockdown rebuild. Even the hardest compound tyres he’d ever used were going off as the afternoon heat intensified and controlling a powerful WRCar that was handling like an Escort Mk2 – together with lightning reactions to avoid meandering sheep on several occasions – was rewarded when he and Phil Clarke came home second.
Damian was looking for a record-breaking seventh Mewla Rally win, and a new record of 24 rally wins on Epynt, but knew that it wasn’t going to be his day after the opening loop of stages. The soft tyres were an issue, but worse was a lack of confidence in his Get Connected / TCL-backed Škoda Fabia R5 which was attempting to pitch the six-time Asphalt champion off the road at seemingly every opportunity. It’s no joke when the rev limiter comes in at 120mph and you’re unsure if the next compression or bump is going to send the car onto the grass, but he and Dale Bowen bravely pressed on to finish third and score very good Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship points.
Bob Fowden had launch control issues with his Comline Auto Parts/NGK-backed Subaru Impreza S11 WRC. Worse still was a problem that affected the gear change, and on the second loop of three stages the ex-Petter Solberg car registered 38 missed gear shifts. By the end of the event, the Subaru was jumping two gears at once, a favourite being going from fourth straight into sixth – but despite his he and co-driver Aled Davies finished fourth.
Mark Kelly/Neil Colman had a great and trouble-free run to fifth in their smart Flext-backed Ford Fiesta R5. Having done single venue events in the car this was their first on pace notes, making the result even more impressive.
Darren Atkinson/Philip Sandham were the top placed two-wheel drive crew home after a stunning drive to seventh overall (sixth Asphalt Rally Championship) in their Atkinsons Sandblasting/S&W Fabrication-backed Escort Mk2. They punctured a tyre on SS3 after running over an army shell and had a very near miss on the final stage when they flew over a crest and had to take to the grass to avoid hitting the stranded Darrian T90 GT-R5 of Mark Straker/Ian Meakin – but survived to pick up maximum class B13 points.
There were several other great Escort Mk2 performances. Dave Willett/John Davies found the suspension on their Escort Mk2 too soft on the opening loop and were much happier after it was replaced – and it carried them on to a magnificent top 10 finish.
Mark Jasper/Don Whyatt hadn’t been to Epynt for several years, so losing the brakes on SS2 wasn’t a great start. Using Hoosier tyres, they pushed on hard to finish 19th overall. Ben Crump was enjoying only his second event on Epynt (the first of which was in the rain) and co-driven by Clive Jones he finished 34th overall and 5th in class B11 in his stylishly driven Coltech Rally Services Escort Mk2.
It was Lee Edwards/Will Atkins who scored maximum points in the Ford Escort Challenge, and won class B11, after a fantastic performance in their orange Ford Escort G3, especially on the longer stages which suited the car better.
John Stone/Tom Woodburn got their Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship challenge off to a very enjoyable start with a seventh placed points finish in their Legend Fires-backed Ford Fiesta WRC, while Craig Jones/Shaun Layland were one place behind in their RHL Mitsubishi Evo 9.
Roger Moran/Den Golding enjoyed a good first outing in their Škoda Fabia R5, the pair quickly getting used to the double Bulgarian Rally Championship winning car to finish just outside the top 10.
Neil Roskell enjoyed his first appearance on Epynt, despite his ND Civils Fiesta R5 losing fifth gear on SS6. Priority after that was to get himself and co-driver Sion Cunniff to the finish, which they did in a very impressive 14th position overall.
Adrian Spencer/Ashley Trimble were making good use of a new gearbox in their RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX. Seeded at number 63, they were catching cars on most stages – and then on the penultimate stage the car immediately in front of them lost a wheel after a heavy landing, requiring some quick thinking as to where the three-wheeled Escort was now heading. They finished a very impressive 15th overall.
Philip Hopkins won the battle of the Hopkins brothers after a very good run with Aled Edwards on the pace notes to 16th overall in his completely rebuilt and re-shelled Mitsubishi Evo 6. Oliver Hopkins/Ian Taylor could feel the extra performance from their upgraded Hopkins Race Transporters-backed Mitsubishi Mirage. They put on new Michelin rubber for SS7 and still enjoyed the stage, despite cutting a corner and collecting a puncture. After two very good closing stages they finished 20th overall.
Former Dixies Challenge champion Philip Turner was also getting to grips well with his self-built Mitsubishi engined Škoda Fabia. He and co-driver Simon Anthony had to survive intercom problems in their TCS-backed machine but made it to the finish. Meanwhile Jack Thorne/Andrew Richards had a good run to 18th overall in their Riverside Garage Hyundai i20 R5.
Geoff Glover felt a little queasy at mid-distance, fuel vapour inside the cockpit making for an uncomfortable run through SS6. It wasn’t going to spoil his 106th Asphalt Rally Championship start in his self-built rear-wheel drive Vauxhall Astra, as he and co-driver Keith Barker enjoyed a good start to their 22nd season in the car.
The Mewla Rally was cause for celebration for Richard Eggar, as he has now started at least one rally every year since 1969. This time partnered by his son Andrew, he drove the little blue Vauxhall Nova with great gusto to reach the finish and score valuable class B11 points.
Antony Allery/Abigail Haycock had a good run, despite hitting a post on SS3 and intercom problems in their Salter Demolition Fiesta R5. Richard Slinger/Stuart Walker speeded up after a steady start in their S+W Fabrications Mitsubishi Evo 6, while Anth Eaton/Ian Jackson battled on with no neutral or reserve gears in their Autotest Ford Fiesta.
It might have only been his fourth ever rally, but Olly Hunter was catching as many as two cars per stage. Seeded at number 98, he was flying in his Escort Mk2 and with Jonathon Kennedy alongside will be one to watch this season.
As too will motorbike racer turned rally driver Chris Berry. In only his third rally, he made a very good account of himself behind the wheel of his Escort Mk2, with Lewis Griffiths on the pace notes.
William Mains was on great form again, winning the 1400cc class and scoring maximum class B9 points in his Roy Thomas & Son-sponsored Vauxhall Nova, with Sion Jones on the pace notes.
Bradley Howlett/Nick Vandevenne were very quick in their Peugeot 208 and picked up maximum points in class B10.
In the class B11 battle of the Evans brothers, Josh came out on top (co-driven by Ryan Griffiths) in his Renault Clio RS 172, beating the Clio Cup car of Nathan Evans/Rhys Edwards.
Mike Simpson will go to his local Hills Ford Three Shires Stages leading the Historic class after a wonderful drive in his gorgeous Ford Escort Mk1. Co-driven by Alan Jones, they enjoyed a faultless run over Epynt to secure class victory. Stuart Anderson/Kenny Owen had to manage a clutch actuation problem and catching cars ahead of them in their ex-works Vauxhall Chevette HSR, but still scored an excellent second in class H3 result.
Tim Phelps/Elwyn Manuel survived late clutch problems to reach the finish in their maiden drive in their Talbot Sunbeam to score good class B11 points.
Chris Daykin/Michael Weeks had misfire and anti-lag issues in their beautifully RAF-decaled Subaru Impreza and were forced to retire, while Chris Simmons/Andrew Moss were precise and fast in their immaculate Darrian T9 GTR but also failed to reach the finish. Chris Rice/Craig Cameron only had soft compound tyres for their Subaru Impreza when the hardest compound seemed the best option and failed to make it to the end.
Other who didn’t reach the finish included Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh with brake master cylinder issues in their Tudor Glass Fiesta R5, Paul and Julian Doroszczuk with clutch problems in their Drockspeed Motorsport Ford Escort Mk2, Chris Butcher/Jaime-Lee Fox who broke a front arm on their Nissan Sunny F2, Sara Williams/Dai Roberts with fuel surge problems with their Renault Clio (although they did superally in the afternoon), Andy Brinkley/Mark Mason with an incurable misfire with their BMW M3, Chris Ford/Matt Daniels in their Century Autosport Fiesta R5, Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman in their Fiesta S2000, Jonathan Stepney/Aled Davies in their new-look Griffiths-backed Peugeot 205 GTi and Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy who retired their 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000 for the first time in over a decade when a brake caliper piston failed.
Melvyn Evans (1st) said: “It’s been a good day. I’ve given it everything – there is nothing left in me or the car! We shouldn’t really be able to compete with World Rally Cars over fast dry asphalt stages likes these, but these R5 cars are fabulous. This Škoda Fabia R5 is a fabulous car. I thought we were pretty close to Jason [Pritchard] going into the last couple of stages. I’d backed off a little too much on the stages before, so we had to give it one last big push on the final stage. I’m very pleased everything worked out well and the car hasn’t missed a beat all day.”
Jason Pritchard (2nd) said: “I’ve never had tyres go off on the Focus WRC before and we’ve struggled all day because of it. It just goes to show how hot the temperature in the ground is. But it’s been a good fun race and that’s what it’s all about. The result doesn’t matter too much so long as I leave a rally with a smile! It’s certainly been an interesting battle. These R5 plus cars are fifteen years newer and they’ve got more performance, better braking and a better chassis. I knew it was going to be hard. I’d have taken second place if you’d offer it to me this morning, so I’m pleased with the result.”
Damian Cole (3rd) said: “It’s not really been the best of days. The car is just hard work to drive and it’s not giving me any confidence. It feels very nervous on the fast stuff. I’ve had more moments today than I’ve had in the last ten years of rallying on Epynt. It’s getting to the point where we might need to fix the Focus and bring that out again!”
There is now a very quick turnaround, as Round 2 of the 2021 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship, the Cheltenham Motor Club-organised Hills Ford Three Shires Stages Rally, takes place next weekend – on Sunday 5 September.
The Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally – provisional top 10 finishers
1. Melvyn Evans/Mark Glennerster (Škoda Fabia R5)….55mins 23secs
2. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC05)….55mins 49secs
3. Damian Cole/Dale Bowen (Škoda Fabia R5)….57mins 10secs
4. Bob Fowden/Aled Davies (Subaru Impreza S11 WRC)….58mins 11secs
5. Mark Kelly/Neil Colman (Ford Fiesta R5)….58mins 25secs
= Richard Clews/Carl Williamson (Subaru Impreza)….58mins 25secs
7. Darren Atkinson/Philip Sandham (Ford Escort Mk2)….58mins 53secs
8. John Stone/Tom Woodburn (Ford Fiesta WRC)….58mins 54secs
9. Craig Jones/Shaun Layland (Mitsubishi Evo 9)….59mins 31secs
10. Dave Willett/John Davies (Ford Escort Mk2)….59mins 34secs
2021 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship
Provisional overall driver points after Round 1:
1. Melvyn Evans….30pts
2. Jason Pritchard….28pts
3. Damian Cole….27pts
4. Bob Fowden….26pts
5. Mark Kelly….25pts
6. Darren Atkinson….24pts