With four different winners from the first four events, the battle for the 2022 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship title is set to intensify when the two-day Get Connected Rali Ceredigion (3/4 September) gets underway.
It’s the first time that Wales’ only closed road stage rally has hosted a round of the UK’s premier sealed-surface series – and with three rounds remaining, it comes at a crucial time in the battle for the overall and class honours.
With series leader John Stone absent (electing to make Rali Ceredigion one of his two mandatory dropped scores), title challengers Neil Roskell, Steve Wood, Brad Cole and Mark Kelly have a great opportunity to close the gap. However, skipping Round 5 could prove to be a canny move by Stone, for the event is also a round of the British Rally Championship and Ruairi Bell, James Williams and Jason Pritchard (who are registered but who are not contesting the full Protyre series) could steal valuable points off the Protyre Asphalt regulars.
Neil Roskell arrives at Rali Ceredigion second in the drivers’ standings after four strong finishes and is on great form having scored a podium points-scoring finish on both the Dunoon presents Argyll Rally and the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally. It’s those most recent performances in his ND Civils/Burdens Ford Fiesta R5+ which has put him right back into contention for the Protyre Asphalt drivers’ title, while his navigator Andrew Roughead currently tops the overall co-drivers’ standings.
Steve Wood scored maximum points last time out in Northern Ireland and the City East Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver is also on top form coming into his home Protyre Asphalt round. Co-driven by Dale Bowen, Wood might not know the event well, but his experience of closed road stage rallying and local support may prove a decisive combination.
With two scores already dropped, Mark Kelly remains a strong contender for the Protyre Asphalt title – providing he has a high points-scoring run on the remaining three rounds. Co-driven by Neil Colman, Rali Ceredigion is a make-or-break event for the Roccia Tiles & Bathrooms/Tilemaster Global driver, who makes his second appearance in a Škoda Fabia R5+. Kelly excels when confronted with a tough challenge, and if luck (which has deserted him of late) matches his speed and skill then a maximum points score could well be on the cards.
Early series leader Ruairi Bell returns in his ex-Kalle Rovanperä Inspira-backed Škoda Fabia R5. Having led the opening Tour of Epynt from start to finish, he and co-driver Max Freeman will be ones to watch in their Pirelli-shod car.
Also returning is Jim Clark Rally maximum points scorer James Williams in his Hyundai Power Products-backed Hyundai i20 R5. His co-driver Dai Roberts is in a big fight for the overall Protyre Asphalt co-drivers’ title and is currently third (having also scored maximum points last time out on the Down Rally), 11 points behind Dafydd Evans and 23 points behind leader Andrew Roughead.
Triple Protyre Asphalt champion Jason Pritchard finished third on the Rali Ceredigion in 2019 driving a Scott Williams Motorsport-built modified Escort Mk2. Together with co-driver Phil Clarke, he’s certainly one of the favourites for maximum points as he returns this time in his North Road Garage/Get Jerky/J&S Handling-backed Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Roger Moran/Den Golding are hoping to continue their good season in their Škoda Fabia R5+, David Henderson/Chris Lees, who scored maximum Protyre Asphalt points in Argyll, return in their Michelin-shod Keco/PAR Petroleum-backed Ford Fiesta Rally2, Damian and Charlotte Cole appear in their Get Connected Škoda Fabia R5+ and Chris Ford/Matt Daniels wheel out a Citroën C3 Rally2.
Brad Cole is a very impressive fourth in the overall drivers’ standings and leads both class B13 and the Ford Escort Challenge. If it remains dry, his Hydroline Solutions Escort Mk2 will be nicely suited to the twisty rural west Wales roads, and he and co-driver Jamie Vaughan could spring yet another surprise.
Huw James/Dafydd Evans will also be aiming for the top two-wheel drive spot in their Escort Mk2, as will Jay Stanley/Elgan Davies in their Tina Pedro Boxers Escort Mk2.
Olly Hunter (partnered by Dan May) heads class B11 in his Vauxhall-engined HES Electrical Contractors-backed Ford Escort Mk2, as his speed and spectacular driving style belies the fact that he’s only been rallying for two years.
Geoff Glover returns in his Vauxhall Astra Mk3 and, together with class leading co-driver Keith Barker, will be aiming for class victory in his self-prepared rear-wheel drive car.
There is an equally close battle in B14. Defending class champion Adrian Spencer (co-driven by Ashley Trimble) leads in his RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX, while Richard Clews (co-driven by Carl Williamson) is just three points behind in second in his ITG Subaru Impreza STi, having taken the top spot on the Tour of Epynt and Down rallies.
Steven Ormond-Smith (navigated by Claire Williams) is third in class, having scored maximum class points in Argyll. The rapid Manx Rally Sport supported driver will make his first Protyre Asphalt appearance in a newly acquired Proton Satria S2000.
Mark Holmes (with Mark Perryman) is fourth, having come out on top on the Jim Clark in his rapid Ford Fiesta S2000, while Rob Tout/Terry Martin, who finished second in class on Epynt in their ABC Hire Services Mitsubishi Evo 10 and contested Rali Ceredigion in 2019, also aims for class honours.
Aiming to close in on class titles will be Lewis Gatt/Callum Young in their B10 leading Gatt Speed Ford Escort Mk2, while William Mains (co-driven by Emily Easton-Page) will be aiming to take the class B9 lead in his WCS/Roy Thomas & Son-sponsored Vauxhall Nova.
Jonathan Stepney/Aled Davies have won class B12 three times in a row and hope to continue that form in their 1.9-litre engined Griffiths/Gavin Griffiths Group-backed Peugeot 205 GTi.
Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to Rali Ceredigion, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders from the service area.
Special Stage TV will live stream the action, which will be broadcast on its Facebook page. Commentary comes from Mark James.
Organised jointly by Newtown and District Automobile Club, Aberystwyth and District Motor Club, Lampeter and District Motor Club and Teifi Valley Motor Club, this year’s Rali Ceredigion is divided into two legs, with a total of 12 stages and 86.88 stage miles.
The event gets underway at 18:50 on Saturday 3 September with two short 0.56 mile stages around Aberystwyth town centre before two longer stages on nearby closed public roads before the first car reaches the overnight halt at 22:30 after 15.78 stage miles.
Leg 2 on Sunday 4 September sees a further eight stages (two loops of four) held exclusively in the Cambrian Mountains region. Starting at 08:30, crews head straight to the Llanfihangel stage which, at 16.78 miles, is the longest stage of the event. Midday service separates the morning and afternoon loop of stages before the finish ceremony on the Aberystwyth promenade at 16:00.
There are some innovative VIP packages for spectators, with shuttle buses heading to Fan Zones from the Aberystwyth Show Ground on both days (https://www.raliceredigion.co.uk/spectators/), whilst spectators can also get to the Devil’s Bridge Fan Zone on the Vale of Rheidol Railway (https://www.rheidolrailway.co.uk/events/rali-ceredigion/)