Steve Wood, John Stone and Mark Kelly will head to the final round of the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship, the Chris Kelly Memorial Manx Stages (30 September/1 October), aiming to become the overall 2022 driver’s champion – and clinch the Protyre Trophy and prestigious BTRDA Gold Star award.
It will be an intriguing battle, as all three drivers have varying degrees of experience on the Isle of Man.
Despite a huge amount of experience on Irish closed road rallies, this will be Wood’s first visit to the Manx. Co-driven by Dale Bowen, the Aberystwyth driver will undoubtedly be quick and victory in his City East Ford Fiesta RS WRC is by no means out of the question.
Stone has more experience than either of his title rivals, although the Manx roads haven’t always been kind to him. The Blackburn driver arrives at the event second in the drivers’ standings, seven points behind Wood, and will have Laura Connell reading the notes in his Legend Fires Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Kelly has only rallied on the Isle of Man twice and finished second both times – the first in an Escort Mk2 in 2019 and then in a Fiesta R5+ in 2021. The Bolton driver returns this year in yet another different car, a Roccia Tiles & Bathrooms/Tilemaster Global Škoda Fabia R5+. Whilst he’s only seventh in the series, he’s already dropped the required number of two scores and can add all the points he collects this time. He and co-driver Neil Colman really need to win, although second could give Kelly the title on a tiebreak, depending on what happens to Wood and Stone.
The three-way battle for the title has come about following the cancellation of the Hills Ford 3 Shires Stages and the revision that now the best four scores from six rounds will count towards the end of season points tally.
This means that Dai Roberts is the overall Protyre Asphalt co-driver champion – and to celebrate he will contest the Chris Kelly Memorial Manx Stages driving his Peugeot 205 GTi, navigated by Pete Phennah.
It also sees Johnnie Mackay crowned as the Protyre Asphalt Junior and class N3 champion after a great season in his ISS/Kewtech Ford Fiesta ST, while Jonathan Stepney/Aled Davies are the class B12 champions after three mid-season wins in a row in their 1.9-litre engined Griffiths/Gavin Griffiths Group-backed Peugeot 205 GTi.
Unfortunately, it also means that Neil Roskell’s overall drivers’ title hopes have ended – although he and co-driver Andrew Roughead will be aiming to finish a great year on a high with a Manx rally win in their ND Civils/Burdens Ford Fiesta R5+.
Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh will also be aiming for the top step of the podium in their Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta Rally2, the super-quick Steven Ormond-Smith (navigated by Dafydd Evans) will have local advantage in his Manx Rally Sport-supported Mitsubishi Evo IX, Chris Ford/Matt Daniels will be hoping for a good run in their Citroën C3 Rally2 after suffering clutch problems last time out, and the rapid Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman will be eyeing a top finishing position in their Ford Fiesta S2000.
William Mains (co-driven by Aled Edwards) looks set to clinch the class B9 title in his WCS/Roy Thomas & Son-sponsored Vauxhall Nova, while Lewis Gatt/Callum Young only need to take the start in their Gatt Speed Ford Escort Mk2 to be assured of the class B10 trophy.
Olly Hunter (co-driven by Dan May) will be looking to secure the class B11 title in his ES Electrical Contractors-backed Ford Escort Mk2, while former class champions Paul and Julian Doroszczuk (normally aspirated Cosworth engined Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2) and Mike Pugsley/Marc Clatworthy (1974 Escort Mk1 RS2000) will both be aiming for their first class victory on the year.
Brad Cole leads class B13 and is also a magnificent fourth in the overall driver’s standings after a tremendous year in his Hydroline Solutions Escort Mk2. He and co-driver Jamie Vaughan have a fight on their hands, with Darren Atkinson/Philip Sandham breathing down their necks in their Atkinsons Sandblasting/S&W Fabrication-backed Escort Mk2. Antony Allery/Jack Corlett add an extra bit of spice into the proceedings in their Salter Demolition Escort RS.
Cole also leads the Ford Escort Challenge, but the title race remains wide open as he needs to drop two scores.
Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to the Isle of Man, 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.
The Chris Kelly Memorial Manx Stages is divided into three legs and run over one and a half days. Leg 1 begins at 12.31 on Friday 30 September, with the first car arriving back at the first halt at 14.42. Leg 2 takes place the same day, starting at 18.11 and with the first car back for the overnight halt at 22.48. Leg 3 starts at 09.31 on Saturday 1 October, with the first car scheduled to arrive at the final time control at 14.24. The service area will be located at the famous TT Grandstand.