Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke have won the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship for a third time in a row after an incredibly tense and exciting finale on the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally (Sunday 24 October).
They arrived in Otterburn lying third in the standings and with the one score to drop rule coming into play needed to finish in the top four to secure the title.
But with early morning rain and low temperatures the famous Northumberland military range roads were incredibly slippery.
After a great start, a rare mistake inside the North Road Garage Ford Focus WRC05 saw the car skid off the road at a T-junction on SS3. The car came perilously close to rolling over as it dug into the wet earth sideways, but instead continued with mud clogging the wheels and almost 20 seconds lost.
Despite brake issues towards the end of the longer stages Jason and Phil were inch perfect after that and in the drying conditions maintained a fast yet risk-free pace.
They eventually finished third overall, but more importantly they scored maximum Protyre MSUK Asphalt Rally Championship points to win the title for the third year in a row.
“Winning the Protyre Asphalt Championship took priority on the Cheviot, but we had to finish the rally and it was a case of judging how hard to push in the ever-changing conditions up on Otterburn,” said Jason.
“It certainly wasn’t easy. We had a slight off early on and we almost went over, so we knew that we couldn’t relax until we’d checked in to the final control.
“We’re very pleased to have achieved what we have. It probably won’t really sink in for a day or two, but to win three British Historic and three Protyre Asphalt rally titles is an awesome feeling. The question is what do we do next?”
Mark Kelly led the drivers’ standings coming into the final round, albeit with a high score to drop. He started extremely well, setting the second fastest time overall (and quickest Protyre Asphalt driver) on SS3, despite not being able to recce that stage having been delayed the day before with a puncture in his road car.
He’d even had to ease off towards the end of the stage as his Flext-backed Ford Fiesta R5+ had developed an ominous vibration. Unfortunately, the bottom main crack pully had sheared leaving Mark and co-driver Neil Colman to sit out the rest of the day. They could still be champions if Jason failed to finish, but they sportingly admitted that they didn’t want it to happen that way. It had nevertheless been a magnificent first Protyre Asphalt season and runners-up in the overall drivers’ and co-drivers’ standings show both their rapid development and title-winning potential.
Neil Roskell was also in contention for the title, and after he was held up by the car ahead on the opening stage (which had got stuck at a chicane) he flew over the remaining 11 stages. He set the fastest Protyre Asphalt time on SS7 and came within two seconds of an overall fastest time on SS10 as Neil set Otterburn alight in his ND Civils/Collins Construction-backed Ford Fiesta R5+.
He and co-driver John Cope eventually finished fourth overall and second in the Protyre Asphalt category to seal third in the title, which is what they were aiming for.
John Stone enjoyed an excellent trouble-free run to fifth overall and third of the Protyre Asphalt runners, securing him fourth in the overall drivers’ standings and the R5 title. He got the tyre choice wrong for both opening loops, taking slicks when the conditions were wettest and intermediates when the road surface was drying, but after that it was slicks all the way as he and co-driver Tom Woodburn set some impressive times in the smart Legend Fires Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Stephen Simpson admitted to lacking commitment on the first tricky loop in his CA1 Sport-run Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta R5+. He and co-driver Patrick Walsh were soon up to full speed and showing why they have won the Cheviot twice and were two seconds per mile faster over some of the repeat stages. A great run saw them score their best Protyre Asphalt result of the season with fourth.
Mark Jasper was on inspired form, finishing an incredible 11th overall and fifth in the Protyre Asphalt category. His strategy of ignoring a brake issue paid off as he flew over the ranges in his Ford Escort Mk2 to secure himself and Don Whyatt the class B13 drivers’ and co-drivers’ titles.
Adrian Spencer battled on with a down on power engine in his RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX and, with Rick Sutcliffe on the pace notes, secured the class B14 title.
Richard Slinger finished just two points behind in his smart Mitsubishi Evo 6 after he and co-driver Stuart Walker enjoyed a great final round. The engine needs a rebuild, so they were pleased to get to the finish despite a few complaints from the power unit.
Anthony Eaton had to replace a section of the rear propshaft after a centre bearing broke on his Autotest Ford Fiesta R4 mid-way through the event, but he reached the finish to secure third place in the B14 drivers’ standings and give Ian Jackson the co-drivers’ class title.
Chris Marshall/Graham Wild enjoyed their best result in their Kwiktrak Mitsubishi Evo 5 this year, with a third in class finish just reward for all the work Chris had put in to repair the car after his PokerStars shunt.
Lee Edwards clinched both the class B11 and Ford Escort Challenge titles after an impressive drive in a borrowed blue Escort Mk2, after damaging his familiar orange CR M-Tech Motorsport / Auto Tech Ford Escort G3 on the PokerStars. The windscreen wipers stopped working when he was caught in a heavy shower of rain on SS3, ironically the only time they were needed, but he and co-driver Will Atkins masterfully drove fast enough to secure both titles and carefully enough to give the car back without damage. It had been a magnificent Protyre Asphalt debut season and their trophies were richly deserved. Lee also finished a fantastic fifth in the overall drivers’ standings and top two-wheel drive competitor.
Ben Crump pushed Lee all the way, although admitted that staying on wet tyres for the second loop of stages was a “mad decision”. It was still a top-class performance in the rapid yellow Coltech Rally Services Escort Mk2, with co-driver Ian Beamond back on the notes having recovered from tonsilitis.
Geoff Glover finished third in class B11 after another good run in his self-built rear-wheel drive Vauxhall Astra. The driver’s side window popped out on SS4, which was a bit of a windy distraction, and he was running down the order after a wheel nut thread stripped in service, but that didn’t stop him from getting to the finish. His navigator Keith Barker finished runner-up in the B11 co-drivers’ standings.
It was great to see Paul and Julian Doroszczuk back out, although with no title to aim for the 2018 class B11 champions were questioning how hard they should risk pushing their powerful normally-aspirated Cosworth-engined Ford Escort Mk2 in the tricky morning conditions. Despite a problem with the starter motor, they were back into the swing of things in the afternoon as the Drockspeed Motorsport brothers put in another hard charging performance.
It was also a great day for Olly Hunter, who completed an excellent debut rally season in his Vauxhall-engined Ford Escort Mk2. The car might have been sporting two new front wings because of a brush with a hedge or two on the PokerStars, but he and co-driver Jonathon Kennedy were on top form as they scored their first ever top 10 overall Protyre Asphalt finish.
This year’s Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship will be one Damian Cole will be keen to forget. He had hoped that a newly acquired Ford Fiesta R5+ Mk1 Evo 2 will bring a change of fortune, but he lost the brakes on the opening stage. With almost a minute lost and two stages before service, he and Andrew Roughead brought the Get Connected/TCL-backed car straight back to the Airstrip and retirement.
Mark Holmes had been 11th fastest overall on the opening stage, which was a magnificent achievement on his first ever stage on Otterburn. Unfortunately, the Ford Fiesta S2000 picked up a rear puncture on the next road section which wasn’t detected until Mark turned into the first corner on SS2 and the car skidded sideways. After hitting the wet grass it came to rest with a thump nose first in a deep ditch, causing front damage and breaking the throttle senor. While the retirement dropped Mark to second in the R5 class, his navigator Mark Perryman is the R5 co-drivers’ champion.
Brilliantly organised by Whickham & District Motor Club and Hadrian Motor Sports Club, the 2021 Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally provided yet another fitting end to a fantastic Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship season.
The challenging event had not only crowned the very worthy 2021 Protyre Asphalt Rally overall and class champions, but it also bid farewell to the Championship Co-ordinator Jane Evans. After four years at the helm and taking the sealed-surface series from a sabbatical back to Britain’s premier asphalt series with more than 100 registered competitors, she is off to pastures new and the competitors, event organisers and her team behind the scenes will miss her dearly. Having been presented with the overall Championship winner’s trophy, Jason Pritchard presented Jane with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champagne to end a memorable season in style.
Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally
Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship – top 10 overall finishers
1. Frank Bird/Jack Morton (Ford Fiesta Rally2)….52mins 38secs
2. Gordon Morrison/Hannah McKillop (Ford Fiesta R5)….53mins 09secs
3. Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC)….53mins 11secs
4. Neil Roskell/John Cope (Ford Fiesta R)….53mins 22secs
5. John Stone/Tom Woodburn (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)….53mins 52secs
6. Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta R5)….54mins 54secs
7. Kevin Procter/Peter Gibson (Ford Fiesta)….55mins 15secs
8. Joe Cunningham/Josh Beer (Ford Fiesta)….55mins 18secs
9. Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Ford Escort Mk2)….55mins 19secs
10. Richard Clews/Carl Williamson (Subaru Impreza STi)….55mins 36secs
2021 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship
Provisional overall driver points after Round 5:
1. Jason Pritchard….118pts
2. Mark Kelly….109pts
3. Neil Roskell….105pts
4. John Stone….102pts
5. Lee Edwards….88pts
6. Adrian Spencer….75pts
Provisional overall co-driver points after Round 5:
1. Phil Clarke….118pts
2. Neil Colman….110pts
3. Matt Daniels….100pts
4. Will Atkins….93pts
5. Ian Taylor….90pts
6. Ian Jackson….88pts
Provisional class points after Round 5:
Driver: William Mains….60pts
Co-driver: Sion Jones….60pts
Driver: Bradley Howlett….60pts
Driver: Lee Edwards….60pts
Co-driver: Will Atkins….45pts
Driver: Mike Pugsley….42pts
Co-driver: Marc Clatworthy….42pts
Driver: Mark Jasper….40pts
Co-driver: Don Whyatt….36pts
Driver: Adrian Spencer….43pts
Co-driver: Ian Jackson….55pts
Driver: Jason Pritchard….57pts
Co-driver: Phil Clarke….57pts
Driver: Sara Williams….15pts
Driver: John Stone….45pts
Co-driver: Mark Perryman….45pts
Driver: Stuart Anderson….54pts
Co-driver: Kenny Owens….60pts