Neil Roskell is one of three drivers heading into the final round of the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship with a chance of becoming 2021 champion – which is incredible as he only started rallying two years ago.
Yet the Blackpool driving heads to the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally (Sunday 24 October) lying second in the series, after a magnificent season in his ND Civils/Collins Construction-backed Ford Fiesta R5+.
Series leader Mark Kelly has a bit more rallying experience and third placed Jason Pritchard has a considerably larger rallying CV, but Neil nevertheless travels to Otterburn with a real chance of winning the title in his rookie season.
Having watched the 2019 North West Stages, Neil took the plunge and purchased a Subaru Impreza to compete himself. After a number of single venue events he upped the ante and contested the Jim Clark Rally. He finished third in class and 17th overall, which convinced him more than ever that more challenging and close road stage asphalt events is what he wanted to focus on.
Neil did a few more clubman and MSN rounds to gain experience before signing up to the 2020 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship, which was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“So for this season, after doing the MSN in the Subaru, I came to realise that I couldn’t keep up with all these R5 cars and if I wanted good results then I’d need to get one,” says Neil.
“My first event in the Fiesta R5, and in a left-hand drive car, was the Argyll Rally. I was doing okay until I got hit with three lots of penalties for tapping the barriers. I think I hold the record for most penalties in one day!”
With the Covid-19 enforced suspension of motorsport lifted in 2021, Neil threw himself into a full assault on the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship – with some magnificent results.
After scoring 12th position overall driver points on the opening Old Forge Garage Mewla Rally, Neil went on to finish fourth on both the Hills Ford Three Shires and day one of the PokerStars Rally and fifth on day two of the double header Isle of Man event.
“I was very nervous about doing the Mewla as so many people kept telling me to watch out as Epynt bites, but I loved the fast flowing roads with blind crests,” says Neil.
“I was gutted to lose fifth gear part way through but I’m glad that we managed to carry on and get to the end of the event with a half decent result under the circumstances.
“I thought the Three Shires was fantastic. From the start in Ledbury town centre the atmosphere was great, the stages were mega fast and technical and I loved it. I hated being given three nominal stage times as I feel I would of got a better result otherwise, but that’s rallying. I thought the event was well organised and look forward to doing it again next year.
“The PokerStars is probably my favourite event up to now. I really enjoyed going over to rally on the Isle of Man for the first time. The atmosphere in the service area was buzzing, the event was well organised and I loved driving In the dark. I didn’t like the shiny tar and nearly writing the car off on St Mark’s but I managed to pull it back. It was only my fifth ever closed road event in the car and I feel that I learnt a lot about the car on this event and I am still.
“I’m looking forward to Cheviot Stages. I did enter the Tyneside Stages in my Subaru but only got to the first corner before the engine blew, so this is going to be another new event for me.”
Neil is on the hunt for a new co-driver for 2022.
“My son Daniel has sat with me on the circuit rounds for MSN but not closed roads, so it’s looking like John Cope has drawn the short straw and has offered to help on the Cheviot!
“I’ve had a few people sit in with me but I am on the look out for someone to sit in permanently with me and to work as a team moving forward. I need someone with lots of experience, especially for the closed road events, as I’m keen to progress further.
“I have met some great people in the rallying fraternity and had some great guidance and advise off the likes of Mark Kelly, Neil Colman and John Cope.
“My hope is to realistically finish third in this year’s Protyre Asphalt Championship as I’m up against some top experienced drivers. The Cheviot has a very good line up, but I will give it my best shot and see how it goes.”