Jason Pritchard has an incredible record on the Isle of Man, winning the Manx National a record-equalling five times and the IOM Historic Rally twice. He’s never contested the PokerStars before, but as it features the same classic Manx stages there is only one pre-event question – can anyone deny the double Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally champion another victory on the Isle of Man?
With second place on the Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally and a non-finish on the Hills Ford Three Shires Stages Rally, Jason is 11th in the overall drivers’ standings. But with a score to drop and the PokerStars a double-header round of Britain’s premier sealed-surface series, that could dramatically change in Jason’s favour.
He and co-driver Phil Clarke certainly love the Manx stages and they’re taking their all-conquering North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05 to the event.
Heading the chasing pack on the Manx Auto Sport organised event will be the leaders of the 2021 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship, Melvyn Evans/Mark Glennerster.
They have recorded two out of two maximum points scores this year. Their outright victory on the Mewla Rally proves that their Škoda Fabia R5+ is well matched to take on and beat WRC competition. Melvyn hasn’t competed on the Isle of Man since 2015, but he’s a multiple rally winner on the island and with so much experience and speed he is always a formidable opponent.
Could this be the year that Damian Cole breaks his Manx jinx? Despite some very near misses, the six-time Asphalt champion has yet to win a rally on the Isle of Man. It will only be his sixth event in his ex-works Škoda Fabia R5+, so Damian is still getting used to the Get Connected/TCL-backed car – yet he arrives in a very strong second place in the Protyre Asphalt drivers’ standings. Co-driven by Andrew Roughead, Damian is certainly due a good clean run and if he can fine tune the handling to his liking, he’ll be lightning quick on the PokerStars.
Mark Kelly has been one of the stars of the series so far this year, with a fifth and a second place points scoring finish on the Mewla and Three Shires respectively. He and co-driver Neil Colman finished second on the 2019 PokerStars in an Escort Mk2, so they’ll be looking for a top result when they return in their Flext-backed Ford Fiesta R5+.
John Stone has swapped his ex-Mikko Hirvonen Ford Fiesta WRC for a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. With possibly no time to test the car, the Legend Fires driver will make his stage debut in the car in the dark. Partnered by Tom Woodburn, it’s a very exciting crew and car combination and if John’s aim of getting to the finish is fulfilled, he is bound to score a very good result.
Craig Jones has been sensational so far this year in his RHL Motors Mitsubishi Evo 9 and after two great results he leads class B14 and lies fourth in the overall drivers’ table. He finished eighth on the PokerStars in 2019 and co-driven by Shaun Layland will be looking for an even better finish this time.
Having only started rallying in 2019, Neil Roskell will make his Isle of Man debut in his ATM Engineering-tuned Ford Fiesta R5+. He’s enjoyed a fantastic start to his first Protyre Asphalt season and is an impressive fifth in the overall drivers’ standings. Co-driven this time by Matt Daniels, the ND Civils/Collins Construction backed driver will be looking to maintain his top five position in the overall driver standings – and despite his lack of Manx experience, you wouldn’t bet against him doing precisely that.
Roger Moran has considerably more rally experience and has rapidly acclimatised to his new Škoda Fabia R5+. Guided this time by Paul Morris, the Ludlow driver is just three points behind Neil in the points table.
Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman arrive at the PokerStars tied for the lead in the R5 class in their Ford Fiesta S2000 – a massive spin and clutch problems unable to stop them taking home eighth place points last time out. David Campling/James Ducker will also be looking for another top 10 Protyre Asphalt finish in their DCC Logistics Škoda Fabia R5.
Others to look out for include Adrian Spencer/Rick Sutcliffe in their RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX, Chris Simmons/Andrew Moss in their 2.5-litre Millington engined Darrian T9 GTR, Chris Rice/Craig Cameron in their Subaru Impreza, Anthony Eaton/Ian Jackson in their Autotest Ford Fiesta R4, while Steven Ormond-Smith/Adam Yates, Richard Slinger/Stuart Walker, Rob Fisher/Kari Bates, Chris Marshall/Graham Wild all appear in a various evolutions of the Mitsubishi Lancer.
Lee Edwards arrives leading both the Ford Escort Challenge and class B11 after scoring two maximums in his self-built Ford Escort G3. With Will Atkins back on the pace notes, he’ll also be looking to improve on his ninth position in the overall drivers’ table.
Ben Crump is Lee’s nearest rival in both categories and together with co-driver Ian Beamond will be looking to close the gap in his Coltech Rally Services Escort Mk2. Oliver Hunter/Jonathon Kennedy also appear in their Escort, as do Chris Berry/Lewis Griffiths and John and Rachael McCullough.
It felt very odd being at a round of the Protyre MSUK Asphalt Rally Championship without Geoff Glover/Keith Barker. They were very much missed on the Three Shires, but have returned in their self-built rear-wheel drive Vauxhall Astra in what will be Geoff’s 107th Championship start in the car.
Also in class B11 is Marcus Pagett who, with Ian Taylor on the pace notes, returns in his Nissan Micra Kit Car.
Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy will be aiming to extend their class B12 lead in their 1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000, while William Mains/Sion Jones could make big strides towards the class B9 title in their Roy Thomas & Son-sponsored Vauxhall Nova. The very rapid Bradley Howlett/Nick Vandevenne look almost unstoppable in class B10 in their Peugeot 208, while Stuart Anderson/Kenny Owen have a great chance to close the gap on the leaders of the Historic class in their ex-works Vauxhall Chevette HSR.
Tim Phelps/Elwyn Manuel will be looking for a good run in their smart Talbot Sunbeam, Graham Roberts/Stephen Spear start in their MG ZR and the spectacular Dai Roberts/Daniel Petrie will be flat-out in their Peugeot 205 GTi.
Protyre Motorsport will take a large range of tyres to the Isle of Man, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders.
Special Stage TV will live stream action footage on its Facebook page, with Howard Davies spearheading the commentary team. It will also interview crews during the day, all of which can be seen on its edited highlights programmes.
Based at the famous TT Grandstand, the PokerStars Rally starts at 18.01 on Friday 1 October. Leg 1 contains six stages – a 23.56 mile loop of three stages, repeated after service – the first of which will be tackled at sunset and the rest in full darkness. After all 47.12 stage miles have been completed, full Protyre MSUK Asphalt Rally Championship points will be awarded at the end of the first day.
Leg 2 starts the next morning at 09.10 and contains a further seven stages totalling 68.62 stage miles. Saturday starts with the first run of St Mark’s which, at 16.10 miles, is the longest stage of the event. Four stages are tackled before midday service, before the final three stages. The finish is back at the TT Grandstand from 14.50.
2021 PokerStars Rally – top 10 seeded starters
1. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke….Ford Focus WRC05
2. Melvyn Evans/Mark Glennerster….Škoda Fabia R5+
3. Mark Kelly/Neil Colman….Ford Fiesta R5+
4. Damian Cole/Andrew Roughead….Škoda Fabia R5+
5. Aaron McLaughlin/Darren Curran….Ford Fiesta WRC
6. Steve Colley/Kirsty Duke….Mitsubishi Evo 9
7. John Stone/Tom Woodburn….Volkswagen Polo GTI R5
8. David Hardie/John McCulloch….Ford Escort Mk2
9. Andy Davies/Michael Gilbey…. Škoda Fabia R5+
10. Damian Toner/Denver Rafferty….Ford Escort Mk2