Having finished runners-up last year on the Trinity Hyundai Rally of the Midlands, Mark Welch and co-driver Andy Wynn went one better this time to take outright victory on the third round of the Richard Egger Insurance BTRDA Asphalt Rally Series.
However, it was a close-fought battle and the pair will be delighted with the outcome.
With nineteen special stages spread over two days, the Rally of the Midlands presented a very stern challenge for all those taking part and Welch's Ford Escort Cosworth did not have things all its own way.
Erstwhile Series leader Chris Jones topped the timesheets overnight and into Saturday morning until his Ford Focus STI cried enough on the third visit to Mallory Park, not only pushing the Welshman off the top of the points table, but also bringing to an end the car's 100 per cent finishing record in recent times.
Gary le Coadou and Paul Hollingham were also in the wars – lying second overall after the first couple of stages on Friday evening, their Toyota Celica GT4's carbon-fibre propshaft broke on the start line of the first run through Mallory Park, and that was that.
Following the unfortunate loss of Millbrook, contenders for the BTRDA Asphalt Rally Series had not met since the Tour of Caerwent at the end of March and, amongst others, Paul Boxall and Teresa Butler, who failed to finish that event, were eagerly awaiting the restart. Their patience was rewarded with fifth overall in their Peugeot 205, a result which puts them back into the lead of their class at the expense of Graham Watkins and Mark Powell, whose Ford Escort MkII was on its way home before the conclusion of the event after its back axle failed.
One person who has particular reason to feel pleased with himself at the weekend is Paul Price. 12th overall, and a class win, in his 1600cc Peugeot 106 puts him in the overall lead of the BTRDA Series at the halfway stage. Maintaining a 100 per cent finishing record, the Wolverhampton driver has also built up a healthy buffer in his class, although there is still plenty of time for the others to come back at him.
Series sponsors Richard and Pat Egger have had a torrid time of late with engine problems afflicting their Vauxhall Nova. However on this occasion, while son Andrew was left steaming (literally!) at the side of the road on Friday evening, dad and mum continued through to take a top 20 finish. After 95 miles of competition, Weston-Super-Mare's Stuart Bliss and Richard Marsh were just five seconds adrift in their Honda Civic which keeps them in touch with Paul Price in the Series class.
Tim Daltry and Paul Ohren-Bird made it two finishes from two starts in their Peugeot 205, while Chris Gravestock and Mark Harmer will have been glad to have got round in their 106. The first outing of the season, at Caerwent, ended very abruptly – and violently – with a barrel-roll and, consequently, this was a much calmer way of opening their account in the series points.
The Vauxhall Astra GSI of Paul Harewood/Bob Jones took some good points in the up-to-2 litre class, while Chris Daykin/Stephen Lloyd HRIS (Vauxhall Nova) and Alison Lock (Mini) finished first and second respectively in the up to 1400cc section.
One other non-finisher to report was the Audi Quattro of Ray Read/Stuart Anderson-Peters who were on their way home almost before they had started. Not that it makes it any easier to swallow, but the car was one of two that failed to make the end of the opening stage.
The next round of the Richard Egger Insurance BTRDA Asphalt Rally Series is the Eventsigns Mewla National Rally on Sunday August 30. This ever-popular event takes contenders back to the Epynt Military Ranges, in the Brecon Beacons, for their second visit of the season and, rain or shine, another tough test is in prospect.