Pritchard wins big on the PokerStars to put him back in contention for the 2021 Protyre MSUK Asphalt Rally title

Jason Pritchard won big on the PokerStars Rally, taking maximum Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship points on both Legs 1 and 2, setting fastest time on every stage and winning the double-header round of the series by 5mins 20.9secs.

Having won the Manx National a record-equalling five times and the IOM Historic Rally twice, his invincible record on the Isle of Man continues as he and Phil Clarke dominated the event from start to finish in their North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05.

The Isle of Man weather threw everything at competitors, but Jason sailed off into the distance on Friday night to open up a 2mins 51.7secs gap after Leg 1. He wasn’t even that happy with his driving, with ‘untidy’ being the self-assessment of what appeared from outside the car at least to be something of a Manx masterclass – whilst carnage raged in his wake.

Heavy rain on Saturday morning for the opening loop of Leg 2’s daylight stages helped to keep his mind focused on the job, whilst the ever-changing surface conditions caused even more drivers behind to go off. 

A late alternator cable problem, which Jason initially feared was a repeat of the ECU failure that had robbed him of a Manx National Rally victory a few years ago, saw him stop the car, wait, and then reboot the system. But it only required a few cable ties to save the day, and having scored 60 points on the PokerStars Jason now heads to the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally aiming for his third straight Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship title.

The results move Jason from 11th to third in the overall drivers’ standings, but with the two drivers ahead of him needing to drop a score, the double Protyre Asphalt champion has a slight advantage heading into the final round.

Mark Kelly finished a brilliant runner-up after an excellent drive in his Flext-backed Ford Fiesta R5+, scoring second place points on both Friday and Saturday to move him into the overall lead of the series at his first attempt.

Co-driven by Neil Colman, the brake pedal started going to the floor on SS2 and he completely lost the brakes towards the end of SS3, resulting in a spectacular overshoot. A thorough flush of the brake system and new pads cured the problem, allowing him to push harder on Saturday – although like others, he found that turning the anti-lag system off on the greasiest sections helped with traction. When conditions dried towards the end he was able to push even harder to secure another great result.

John Stone drove his new Legend Fires Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 for the very first time on the PokerStars shakedown stage and then went into a treacherously slippery night time leg. The plan was to get through and finish the rally without drama, but it takes enormous skill and experience to pull it off in the harshest of conditions and with Tom Woodburn he achieved just that. He wasn’t hanging around, as the car hit almost 129mph down lanes on Saturday afternoon, as John guided it to a well deserved Protyre Asphalt finish. 

Local driver Steven Ormond-Smith only collected his new Mitsubishi Evo 9 three days before the start and was forced to do all of Friday’s night stages with broken rear suspension. Once that had been replaced, he and co-driver Adam Yates were flying over Saturday’s morning stages. By the afternoon, however, they feared that a clutch problem would force them out and they only continued to see how far they could get – which was all the way to the finish and a magnificent result.

It was the first time that Neil Roskell had rallied on the Isle of Man and driven his ND Civils/Collins Construction-backed Ford Fiesta R5+ in the dark and in the wet – and whilst some weren’t enjoying the conditions he was loving it. He and co-driver Matt Daniels bagged third place Protyre Asphalt points on Friday and fifth on Saturday to move him up to second in the overall drivers’ standings.

Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman finished second (behind Stone) in the R5 class. They stalled their Ford Fiesta S2000 at a hairpin on SS1 and lost almost 40 seconds and then did exceptionally well to survive the torrential rain on Saturday morning – which was the first time that Mark had driven the car in the wet. They now have the outright lead of the R5 class, having shared it coming into the PokerStars.

Adrian Spencer/Rick Sutcliffe won class B14 after a fine performance in their RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX. They were precise in the dark, clean and tidy in the wet and fast in the dry, enabling Adrian to score his first finish on the Isle of Man in three attempts. He also now leads class B14

Chris Rice survived a big spin in his Subaru Impreza on SS12, which was his only drama in another good run. Co-driven by Gareth Price, the double Group N Asphalt champion is building a new Subaru for next year, meaning that this might well have been the last Protyre Asphalt event that Chris, who has rallied the Subaru very successfully since 2006, will do in his faithful chariot.

Anthony Eaton/Ian Jackson spun their Autotest Ford Fiesta R4 on Saturday’s opening loop and momentarily wedged it between two banks before freeing themselves with a rapid 15-point turn. They enjoyed a good run and move up to second in class B14.

Rob Fisher/Kari Bates lost out when others around them were given a notional time on SS3 and had to stop on SS8 when a car ahead of them crashed and blocked the road. Their performance through the St Mark’s stage demonstrated what could have been, as they finished the event in their Mitsubishi Evo 6.

Richard Slinger/Stuart Walker were held up by crashed cars blocking stages and had other stages cancelled before they’d even started them, so they endured a bit of a frustrating run in their Mitsubishi Evo 6. Meanwhile Chris Marshall/Graham Wild hit a bank and retired their Mitsubishi Evo 5 on Friday night.

When Ian Beamond was admitted to hospital on the Isle of Man with tonsilitis, Ben Crump had to draft Nathan Summers in for what was to be a baptism of fire in the co-driver’s seat. The event could hardly have been more demanding for a first time navigator, but he did exceptionally well to guide Ben to a great result – beginning with a maximum points score on Leg 1 in both class B11 and in the Ford Escort Challenge. Even when the windscreen wipers stopped working during a monsoon on Saturday morning, their Coltech Rally Services Escort Mk2 rocketed on to another maximum score in the Escort Challenge – which puts them in the lead of that and class B11. 

Chris Berry experienced his first tank-slapper in his Ford Escort Mk2, oil on the road adding to the thrill of the high-speed heart-stopper. Co-driven by Lewis Griffiths, his Manx debut was a successful one as he scored good points in both the Escort Challenge and B11.

Lee Edwards arrived on the Isle of Man leading both the Ford Escort Challenge and class B11, but their title hopes took a dent when he and co-driver Will Atkins crashed their CR M-Tech Motorsport / Auto Tech Ford Escort G3 near the end of Saturday’s opening stage.

There was no such drama for Geoff Glover/Keith Barker who were back to their class B11 class winning best on Saturday in their rear-wheel drive Vauxhall Astra, having had a good run the night before as well. 

Marcus Pagett’s Nissan Micra Kit Car normally handles very well in all conditions, so he was convinced something mechanical was wrong as it struggled for grip. That became more evident on the penultimate stage, when the car rode up a bank, slid down the road on its side and rolled back onto its wheels. He and co-driver Ian Taylor lost around 20 seconds and continued to finish the event. “I wouldn’t let a little thing like that stop me,” said Marcus!

After an interrupted and shortened Friday night leg, Tim Phelps/Elwyn Manuel survived a number of spins on Saturday’s very wet and slippery opening stage – one of which damaged the front of their Talbot Sunbeam and convinced them to back off a little bit. They still had a great run to score good class B11 points on both days.

It wasn’t the same story for Graham Roberts/Andrew Richards, who unfortunately put their MG ZR off the road on Saturday.

Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy survived Friday night without an issue and throughout the event were happy with their Hoosier tyre choice – something that’s not easy to get right in changeable island conditions. Seeded at car number 117 meant that they were the first to find the drier road conditions, although not before a massive sideways moment on SS10 almost spelt disaster. In the end it was another great performance, which gives the 1974 Escort RS2000 Mk1 crew another class B12 title.

William Mains has once again proved that he is the undisputed king of the Protyre Asphalt 1400 class by becoming champion yet again in his Roy Thomas & Son-sponsored Vauxhall Nova. Co-driven by Sion Jones the runaway class B9 champion also won his class on the event, overturning what had been after a cautious start, a 30 second deficit in one stage!

Bradley Howlett/Nick Vandevenne have won the class B10 title after another tremendous performance in their Syndicate7-backed Peugeot 208. Their first day of rallying on the Isle of Man was shortened by stage cancellations on Leg 1, but they flew on Leg 2 and even caught four cars on SS6. They were the seventh overall highest placed Protyre Asphalt finisher as well.

Dai Roberts/Daniel Petrie would have given them a run for their money, but a broken driveshaft forced them out on Friday. Worse was to follow when they hit a bank on the opening stage on Saturday, badly damaging their Peugeot 205 GTi.

Stuart Anderson/Kenny Owen ran over some debris on SS1 and picked up a puncture, which they drove on to the end of the stage. Their ex-works Vauxhall Chevette HSR steamed up in the rain, but they charged on to secure the Historic class title.

There were many crews who failed to make it to the finish, and surprisingly the first to hit problems were Melvyn Evans/Mark Glennerster. Leading the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship coming into Round 3, they locked up approaching a tight corner three quarters of the way through the opening stage and hit a bridge, breaking a wheel on their Škoda Fabia R5+. They sportingly parked the car in a safe place and waited until all the faster cars had gone past before limping out of the stage and into retirement.

Damian Cole/Andrew Roughead locked up in their Get Connected/TCL Škoda Fabia R5+ on the very next stage and hit a bank head-on. The heavy impact threw the back of the car across the narrow road and wedged it solidly between the two banks, leaving a quick-reacting Damian to sprint back up the road to warn the oncoming cars of the blockage. With damage to the front and rear of the car, their rally was over too.

The drama continued on SS3 when after a magnificent start Craig Jones/Shaun Layland went off the road in their RHL/Jay Jays backed Mitsubishi Evo 9. Unfortunately, this very rare mistake has cost them the lead of class B14 and dropped them down the overall points table.

Whilst some come to the Isle of Man to gain experience, some drivers have all the experience they require! Roger Moran falls into the latter category, and he knows when it’s best to fight another day. Bizarrely the car that started SS7 ahead of him finished behind him, even though Roger and co-driver Paul Morris hadn’t seen the Honda Civic in the stage. They had seen several cars buried in banks, and with the road conditions worsening they decided to call it a day in their new Škoda Fabia R5+.

Chris Simmons/Andrew Moss were going well in their 2.5-litre Millington engined Darrian T9 GTR and survived the worst that the Manx weather could throw at them, even when the windscreen wipers stopped working during the heaviest of downpours, only to retire on the final loop with a broken engine mount.

Having crashed out on Friday night, Oliver Hunter/Jonathon Kennedy felt something snap just before their Vauxhall-engined Ford Escort Mk2 span into a bank on Saturday morning. They finished that stage (SS8), but with bent steering and a fair bit of front end panel damaged they retired the car in service after SS10.

David Campling/James Ducker didn’t even make the start after a frightening accident on shakedown which saw their DCC Logistics Škoda Fabia R5 somersault into a field after locking up and sliding sideways into a bank at high speed.

Jason Pritchard (1st) said: “I’m very pleased to win the PokerStars – and to have won every stage as well. We didn’t take any silly risks and it was good fun. The conditions were tricky, it certainly added to the challenge, but it’s proper Manx isn’t it? We had a little drama near the end when the alternator light came on. The car started cutting in and out, the dash, powershift and everything went and we were stuck in gear – so I pulled over, switched the ECU off, waited for thirty seconds for it to reboot and turn everything back on. As it happened it wasn’t the same problem as what happened on the Manx National a few years ago and we found that it was a lead to the alternator and a cable tie fixed it!”

Mark Kelly (2nd) said: “This event has been an emotional rollercoaster because it’s thrown everything at us. On Friday night we had a drama with the brakes and on Saturday we knew we had to push on in what were very tricky conditions. As it dried out on the last loop it allowed us to be a little bit more aggressive, so we made the most of that and pushed on where we could. Jason’s favourite to win the title, but we’ve recorded four good scores so I’m very pleased with the position we’re in.”

John Stone (3rd) said: “It all just got better and better during the event as I got more comfortable with the Polo R5 and in another few stages I think we’d have been there or there abouts. I’m really pleased – I cannot believe how good the car is. We’re staying with the smaller restrictor and sticking to R5 because we think it’s fast enough. We saw 207kph today, which is just shy of 129mph! I’m happy to have finished third in the Protyre Asphalt Championship on the PokerStars because I genuinely just wanted to get around. I can’t wait to get back out in the car again and I’m looking forward to the Cheviot because I know that pretty well.”

The fifth and final round of the 2021 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship is the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally, held over the Otterburn military range in Northumberland, on Sunday 24 October.

PokerStars Rally
Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship – top 10 overall finishers
1. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC05)….1hr 28mins 55.2sec
2. Mark Kelly/Neil Colman (Ford Fiesta R5+)….1hr 34mins 16.1secs
3. John Stone/Tom Woodburn (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)…. 1hr 36mins 30.4secs
4. Steven Ormond-Smith/Adam Yates (Mitsubishi Evo 9)….1hr 37mins 13.2secs
5. Neil Roskell/John Cope (Ford Fiesta R5+)….1hr 37mins 51.2secs
6. Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman (Ford Fiesta S2000)….1hr 41mins 46.3secs
7. Bradley Howlett/Nick Vandevenne (Peugeot 208)….1hr 45mins 06.5secs
8. Adrian Spencer/Rick Sutcliffe (Subaru Impreza WRX)….1hr 45mins 43.8secs
9. Richard Slinger/Stuart Walker (Mitsubishi Evo 6)….1hr 46mins 59.3secs
10. Marcus Pagett/Ian Taylor (Nissan Micra Kit Car)….1hr 47mins 23.9secs

2021 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship
Provisional overall driver points after Round 4:
1. Mark Kelly….109pts
2. Neil Roskell….96pts
3. Jason Pritchard….89pts
4. John Stone….77pts
5. Bradley Howlett….73pts
6. Mark Holmes….71pts

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