Preview of Round 2: Nicky Grist Stages – 14th July                                                           Photo is of George Lepley/Tom Woodburn (Fiesta) – Joint championship leaders after Round 1.

Contenders for the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship are really only just getting into their stride. The unfortunate cancellation of the Malcolm Wilson Rally put the start of this year’s ERC back to the Carlisle Stages at the beginning of June, with the Quinton Motor Club-organised Nicky Grist Stages as the second round, and then there are still another three to complete after this weekend.

The MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship is a class-based series and not surprisingly a look at the points tables reveals multiple leaders after just one event.  It’s only now, as contenders have a second chance to exert their supremacy that the number of names with maximum points begins to decrease. Those drivers dining out on their success prior to the Nicky Grist include Ernie Graham (Escort Mk2), George Lepley (Fiesta R2), Paul Bird (Focus WRC), Tommi Meadows (Ka) and Ian Joel (Escort Cosworth). It goes without saying that all these good folk are preparing for a trip to Builth Wells on 14th July!

Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson won last year’s Nicky Grist Stages, on their way to claiming the BTRDA Gold Star® Championship crown and the MAXXIS MSA English Rally Championship – and have made no secret of their wish to repeat the exercise in 2018. However, their efforts have so far been somewhat upstaged by Matt Edwards/ Darren Garrod (Fiesta WRC) and current BTRDA Rally Series leaders Paul Bird/Jack Morton (Focus WRC).  Luke Francis/John H Roberts have changed their allegiance to a Fiesta WRC this season whilst Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson start behind them in their hastily-repaired Fiesta following its inversion last time out in Kielder. Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge continue to acquaint themselves with their new R5 Fiesta and Martyn & Dawn England (Fiesta R5+), who were 4th overall on last year’s Nicky Grist Stages return in an attempt to improve on that excellent result.  Meanwhile Ian Joel / Graeme Wood in their venerable Escort Cosworth will be hoping for a repeat of the their excellent 6th place finish on the Carlisle Stages which gave them maximum Class 7 points and the joint lead in the championship.

Away from the four wheel drive crews, George Lepley’s stranglehold on the BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup has carried over into the English Rally Championship where on the Carlisle Stages he and Tom Woodburn came a remarkable 14th overall which earned them maximum points in Class 3 and a share in the championship leadership after the first event.  Class 4 includes  Rob Dennis/Andy Boswell, Owen McMackin/Lee Taylor and the the Sunbeam VXR of Andy Davison/Tom Murphy.  However they are joined by a gaggle of Fiesta ST’s including 17-year old Ewan Tindall who, on the grounds of his age, has only been able to contest two senior events. 

Contenders in English Championship Classes 1 and 2 will, along with crews in Historic Category 1 & 2 cars (+ Category 3 with single cam engines), start at the front of the field, following the MSA’s relaxation of the rules regarding the running order on events, but in reverse order.  Perhaps the people who need to be most aware of the situation are Emma Morrison, who has switched roles to take over the driving seat for this event, and Jon Quintrell who will be first away from the start of the Nicky Grist Stages in a Rally First Volkswagen Lupo GTI. The two Rally First 2.0 litre Toyota Corollas of Championship leader Matthew Baddeley and Guy Butler resume their friendly rivalry – on the Carlisle Stages, one didn’t start and the other didn’t finish!… Having also been absent last time, leaders after the opening round, Sam & Liam Johnson, will be hoping that their Seat Arosa will be in a position to give them a second maximum in mid Wales.

The ‘Historic’ Hillman Avenger of BTRDA Rally Series sponsor Barry Jordan and co-driver Paul Wakely, who also missed out on the finish celebrations in Carlisle, starts a minute in front of Tommi Meadows’ Ford Ka, who was class 2 winner in Carlisle. Then Steve Black’s Suzuki Swift is followed by Stuart Spyer (Corsa), Perry Gardener (Nova), Richard Cole (Escort Mk2), Kieran Darrington (Corsa), Chris Powell (Sunbeam) and Dave Brick (Nova). Fireworks in July?  You’d better believe it!…

The first car (Emma Morrison/Jon Quintrell) leaves the start of the Nicky Grist Stages at 8.31am on Saturday morning and on the menu are 45 miles of special stages in some of the classic mid-Wales forests. Cars then begin arriving at the finish from 3.30pm that afternoon. For further information on the Nicky Grist Stages, visit: www.nickygriststages.co.uk

AH (Photographs courtesy of Kevin Money & Malc Almond)