The 2009 Dunlop/Gambia MSA British Historic Rally Championship got off to a fantastic start on the Bulldog Historic Rally as a fabulous field of cars made a fine spectacle in the Welsh forests.

The big winners of the day were category victors Jonathan Gale/Graham Gale (Sunbeam Tiger), David Higgins/Ieuan Thomas (Ford Escort Mk1) and Nick Elliott/Dave Price (Ford Escort Mk2).

The response to the historic event from the fans out in the forests was overwhelming and the Bulldog has set the scene for a great season of historic rallying. The event received widespread acclaim from the BHRC contenders, with the only negative comments relating to a section of re-graded stage in Dyfi.
Category 1:
It was tricky to predict how Jonathan Gale would get on during his first event in the ex-Patrick Watts Sunbeam Tiger, but that question was emphatically answered at the end of the opening eight-mile stage in Aberhirnant. The Messagelabs-backed Tiger was a massive 27s faster than the rest of category one and that set the seal on victory, adding to the celebrations for Graham Gale's 69th birthday.

However, this was never an easy victory for the Gales as Stuart Rolt/Richard Pomfret (Porsche 911) gave valiant chase. But an error on the opening stage cost Rolt a chance of victory on one of his rare forays into the BHRC.

"I knocked the ignition switch off on the first stage," admitted Rolt after dropping 25s. "After that we went very well."

However, even a stall on a hairpin in Dyfi didn't unsettle Gale on his way to a fine victory.

Graham Waite/Gill Cotton (Volvo Amazon) clinched class B4 victory as well as third in the category with a mighty performance, finishing half a minute up on Dessie Nutt/Geraldine McBride (Porsche 911). "A few hairy moments, but a really good day," said Waite.

Only father and son crew Phil and Stuart Smith made it to the finish from the class B2 field, with Phil driving his Mini Cooper for the first time in four years. A broken wishbone sidelined the MG Midget of James Stait/Fin Mackintosh.

One of the battles of the rally came in B1 as Gary and Jane Edgington scored a mighty last stage victory in their Singer Chamois. Over the first three stages Geoff Taylor and Steve Greenhill set a cracking pace in their Sunbeam Imp, and going into the final eight miles in Dyfnant they were 14s ahead. But Edgington drove an amazing stage to be 26s faster and take the class. Their stage time was third fastest in category one.

"I drove better than I ever have in my life," said Edgington. "He took his brain out," added Taylor as he congratulated his rival.
Category 2:
David Higgins nearly didn't make his BHRC debut after injuring his hand in the workshop on Thursday, but after spending Friday morning at hospital, he managed to make the start. However, gripping the wheel was still a problem as he led the field into the four long stages.

Getting used to route notes rather than their own pace notes was another adjustment for Higgins and Ieuan Thomas, and was a factor in them going off at high-speed in Dyfi. They dropped two minutes and damaged the back of the car, but got out of the stage with a slender lead over Rupert Lomax/David Alcock (Escort Mk1). Higgins then went quickest in Dyfnant to settle the result by 15s. "It wasn't a great rally for us, but it was great fun," said Higgins.

Lomax was very happy with his result, but it was a bad day for David Stokes/Guy Weaver who went off at the same place at Higgins and badly damaged their Escort Mk1.

Third in category two, and first in class C4, went to the wonderful Ford Capri RS3100 of Jeremy Easson/Alun Cook after a great BHRC debut. "It's been a proper rally and a real laugh," said Easson after a fine run.

However, Tim Mason/Graham Wild (Porsche 911) had been looking good for C4 spoils until forced to stop and change a puncture in Dyfi.

The tremendous C3 field made it one of the toughest classes on the event and it was a great performance from Tim Jones and Don James that netted victory, as well as fourth overall in category two. Driving out of Dyfi on a front puncture cost them around 20s, but they were still 1m27s up on Drew Wylie/Howard Pridmore as Andrew Siddall/Captain Thompson took second and third ahead of Ken Forster/John Stanger-Leathes, who took their freshly built Escort Mk1 to fourth.

Series newcomers Richard Williams/Richard Ekin made a great start to their BHRC campaign by winning C2 by over a minute from Neil Rudd/Brian Hodgson.
Category 3:
The line-up in category three was amazing, and the pace was fierce right from the start as Elliott/Price attacked Aberhirnant to take an immediate eight-second lead over Julian Reynolds/Ian Oakey. That set the tone for the rally, and Elliott continued to attack through the two long stages in Gartheiniog and Dyfi to build his lead to 26s before the final Dyfnant stage. "We put a marker down for ourselves on the first stage, but it was the long stages that really mattered," said Elliott after his second win in two BHRC outings.

Having had a late engine change immediately before the rally, Reynolds was running without a rev counter and rev limiter, which forced a degree of caution. "That unsettled us a bit, but Nick was flying," said Reynolds.

Gwyndaf Evans/Clive Jenkins were getting quicker and quicker over the early miles of the rally in the Escort Mk2 from Viking Motorsport, but a spin in Dyfi left the car beached and they were OTL by the time they found enough spectators to get the car running again.

Into a fine third came Seamus O'Connell and Dai Roberts in their Escort Mk2, with the Irishman loving the flowing Welsh stages. Also new to the area was Darren Moon who, with Chris Parsons alongside for the first time, was on a steep learning curve but bagged a good fourth.

Simon Tysoe/Cliff Simmons, Will Onions/Tim Hobbs and Stuart Clarke/Nigel Gardner packed out the next places in their Escorts as top quality ran well beyond the top 10. Best of the non-Escorts, despite a wing-crunching off was the Vauxhall Chevette of Roger Kilty/Lynette Banks.

Local crew David Lloyd-Robert/Dei Jones bagged a fine class D3 win on their BHRC debut, though the charging Adrian Young/Keith Fellowes were never far away in their Escort.

Finally, championship newcomers Jacob Scannell/Nina Thompson clinched D2 with a good performance in their Escort Mk2.

The BHRC action resumes with round two, the Pirelli Historic Rally, on 17/18 April.