Ruairi Bell made one of the most incredible rally debuts ever seen on Epynt by leading the Nigel Ferguson Fabricators Tour of Epynt from start to finish and recording an extraordinary 44 second victory to take the early lead in the 2022 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship.
Driving his ex-Kalle Rovanperä Inspira-backed Škoda Fabia R5 in competition for only the second time, and the first time on asphalt, the 22-year old from London gained the praise of his rivals as they could only admire the uncatchable stage times that he set over the event’s fast and challenging seven stages.
Bell contributed much of his success to his co-driver Max Freeman and the trust he had in the pace notes – something you need in abundance over the blind crests and deceptive turns of Epynt. But at a venue where experience is considered vitally important, first-timer Bell was exceptional in his Pirelli-shod Fabia.
“The car has given us so much confidence and we’ve just been concentrating on each stage as it comes and not over-thinking anything,” said Bell.
“The stages on Epynt are awesome and it all just came together very well. And there is more to come from me and this car!
“It was all about the pace notes. It might be a daunting road but if you can describe it well and have someone next to you who can read it back properly, whether you know the road or not shouldn’t affect it. And that’s always been my approach. People can know the roads, but all I want is a good set of pace notes. Trust the car, the team and the preparation and just drive.”
Mark Kelly took second place Protyre Asphalt points in his Roccia Tiles & Bathrooms/Tilemaster Global Ford Fiesta R5+. With each pace note event last year’s Protyre Asphalt Championship runner-up does he just gets more confident and faster, and this performance was his best yet. He had a slight fright when the car unexpectedly refused to change down gears near the German Village on SS3, but he and co-driver Neil Colman survived that to put in another textbook performance in the Michelin-shod car.
James Williams lost time on the opening stage with a massive high-speed spin into a chicane, which dented his Hyundai’s i20 R5’s door and sent a huge hay bale rolling down the hill. The time lost restarting the engine was bad enough, but he also got a 20 penalty for hitting a chicane (as did Kelly). From then on Williams and co-driver Dai Roberts flew over the stages and set the fastest time on the final stage to claim a spot on the Protyre Asphalt podium by just three seconds.
John Stone was the driver to just miss out on the podium, but he was also delighted with a trouble-free run in his Legend Fires Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. Co-driven by Rhys Stoneman, changes made to the car after a recent shakedown event had enabled Stone to drive faster than he’d ever done before on Epynt, and in a car that was very enjoyable to drive.
Steve Wood was hampered slightly by a handbrake issue on his City East Ford Fiesta RS WRC, which cost him time at Four Ways Bridge. He and co-driver Dale Bowen collected fifth place Protyre Asphalt points and were happy to be the first non-R5 car home.
Stephen Simpson survived a few trips across the grass in his smart CA1 Sport-run Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta Rally2 to claim sixth in the Protyre Asphalt Championship – the Manchester driver ably guided by Patrick Walsh.
They finished on the same time as Bob Fowden/Aled Davies but took the position thanks to a quicker time on the opening stage. Fowden’s Comline Auto Parts/NGK-backed Subaru Impreza S11 WRC was a wonderful sight over the Epynt ranges, but despite driving it on the limit (and overcoming intercom failure) the 16-year old ex-Petter Solberg car is beginning to show its age and is no match for the state-of-the-art R5 machines.
Neil Roskell was disappointed to only score eighth place Protyre Asphalt Championship points. He’d won the Tour of Epynt last year and had finished third in the Protyre driver standings, and whilst he felt that he was pushing hard the stage times weren’t there. Stalling twice on the start line of SS2 didn’t help either! An extended midday service enabled the team to make set-up changes to his ND Civils/Collins Construction Ford Fiesta R5+ and together with Andrew Roughead he was much quicker in the afternoon – although too much time had been lost in the morning to challenge for victory this time.
Huw James was the top two-wheel drive competitor home, despite not having a clutch on his Ford Escort Mk2 since the start of SS4. The problem didn’t slow him down, nor restrain his spectacular driving style, as he and co-driver Dafydd Evans roared on to a magnificent result – which also gives them the lead in class B13 and the Ford Escort Challenge.
Roger Moran/Den Golding rounded off the top 10 Protyre Asphalt finishers after a good and trouble-free run in their Škoda Fabia R5+.
Richard Clews/Carl Williamson had a great run to win class B14 in their ITG Subaru Impreza STi.
There was a fierce battle for second in class, which was decided on the very last stage in favour of Rob Tout/Terry Martin – despite their AJM Mitsubishi Evo 10 feeling a little sluggish and down on turbo boost. They beat Oliver Hopkins/Ian Taylor, the Hopkins Race Transporters-backed Mitsubishi Mirage crew enjoying a good run but were delayed slightly on SS2 when a car ahead of them had crashed.
Adrian Spencer got the defence of his class B14 title off to a good start when he and Mark Hewitt came home fourth in their RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX.
Chris Rice/Neil Bye were using their old Subaru but pulled off the road at Llandeilo’r Fan Triangle on the penultimate stage with smoke pouring from the exhaust of their Impreza.
Tom Llewellin had a wonderful Epynt debut, winning the Protyre Asphalt Historic and Junior classes and coming home second in the Ford Escort Challenge in his Weir Rallying Escort Mk2. Co-driven by Jack Bowen, a sticking throttle pedal of the final stage didn’t affect his concentration as Llewellin scored a magnificent top 20 overall result.
Dave Jenkins, who built Llewellin’s stunning Escort Mk2, picked up the Dynamic Fluids best-presented car award.
Darren Atkinson/Philip Sandham stopped to change a puncture at the Telephone Exchange four miles into SS3, which ruined any chance they had of a good result in their Atkinsons Sandblasting/S&W Fabrication-backed Escort Mk2.
Olly Hunter/Jonathon Kennedy clipped a bale on SS4 and were to later put their Ford Escort Mk2 off the road and out of the event.
It was a very short rally for Alan Marriage/Colin Jenkins after the differential on their Branbourne Escort Mk2 broke as they attempted to leave the start line of SS1.
On his first rally since 2017, Jay Stanley finished second in class B13 (behind Huw James). Co-driven by Elgan Davies, they had a very impressive run in their Tina Pedro Boxers Escort Mk2.
Brad Cole/Jamie Vaughan feared their rally was over after a heavy landing on SS4 damaged the differential on their Hydroline Solutions Escort Mk2. Having taken a stage maximum they were able to continue and pick up third place class points in their smart 2.5-litre Smith & Jones powered Ford.
Mike Pugsley started his challenge for a third class B12 title in fine style with victory in his 1974 Ford Escort Mk1 RS2000. Together with Marc Clatworthy they pushed hard and never put a foot wrong in their Hoosier-shod self-prepared car.
A leaking pinion seal caused concern for Geoff Glover, but he was able to top the rear differential on his Vauxhall Astra Mk3 up with oil and, with fingers crossed and Keith Barker reading the notes, his 110th Protyre Asphalt rally start ended in class B11 victory.
Intercom problems meant that Lewis Gatt couldn’t hear co-driver Callum Young all day, but with hand signals as guidance they won class B10 in their gorgeous Gatt Speed Ford Escort Mk2 – finishing an impressive 36th overall.
William Mains/Claire Williams suffered brake problems in their WCS/Roy Thomas & Son-sponsored Vauxhall Nova. New pads and new fluid at midday service cured the problem and they flew over the closing stages to clinch victory in class B9.
Johnnie Mackay won class N3 on his Epynt debut. The 20-year old from Aberdeen enjoyed a great run in his ISS/Kewtech Ford Fiesta ST and with Michael Cruickshank alongside never put a foot wrong.
Action from the Tour of Epynt is available to view on the Special Stage TV Facebook page, with commentary from Mark James and three-time Protyre Asphalt champion Jason Pritchard.
Regulations and details on how to enter the 2022 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship are available at: asphaltrallying.com.
Membership of the BTRDA can be done online at: btrdamembership.com.
Round 2 of the 2022 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship is the Beatson’s Building Supplies Jim Clark Rally on 27/28 May.
Nigel Ferguson Fabricators Tour of Epynt – top 10 registered 2022 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship finishers:
1. Ruairi Bell/Max Freeman (Škoda Fabia R5)….48mins 24secs
2. Mark Kelly/Neil Colman (Ford Fiesta R5+)….49mins 08secs
3. James Williams/Dai Roberts (Hyundai i20 R5)….49mins 29secs
4. John Stone/Rhys Stoneman (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)….49mins 32secs
5. Steve Wood/Dale Bowen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC)….49mins 48secs
6. Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta Rally2)….50mins 04secs
7. Bob Fowden/Aled Davies (Subaru Impreza S11 WRC)….50mins 04secs
8. Neil Roskell/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta R5+)….50mins 31secs
9. Huw James/Dafydd Evans (Ford Escort Mk2)….50mins 38secs
10. Roger Moran/Den Golding (Škoda Fabia R5+)….50mins 44secs
2022 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship – top 6 drivers’ overall after Round 1:
1. Ruairi Bell….30pts
2. Mark Kelly….28pts
3. James Williams….27pts
4. John Stone….26pts
5. Steve Wood….25pts
6. Stephen Simpson….24pts