When Mark Higgins crashed out of Wales Rally GB on Friday afternoon he effectively handed the crown back to Guy Wilks but to be fair the 2007 British Rally Champion looked to be in control right from the word go.
And the dramas did not begin there. Mid Wales was besieged by arctic like conditions in the week leading up to the grand finale of the 2008 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship and a number of competitors came unstuck during the recce… including multiple champion Mark Higgins. Then the organisers took the decision to cancel two stages and shorten four others on Friday. And judging by the fact that most of the two wheel drive contingent struggled through the now non-competitive Hafren Stage, the organiser's decision was the correct one.
Welshman Gwyndaf Evans was flying and took an early lead, going almost three seconds faster than Mark Higgins. Wilks was third quickest, 0.3 seconds further back whilst the third championship contender, David Higgins, was a further six seconds slower, down in fifth. This was to be the last time we'd see Mark on day one as he was caught out on black ice and rolled into retirement. To further run salt in the wound Wilks was fastest from Patrik Flodin. Wilks then went fastest on the rest of the stages on the opening day to end the leg with maximum points. Flodin was second and David Higgins third.
Whilst this meant that Wilks now held the upper hand in the championship it was still a three way fight. Mark super rallied and rejoined on Saturday morning… only to slide off again in spectacular fashion. Flodin was fastest from Evans, with Wilks and David Higgins third and fourth respectively. But then David threw away his title aspirations on the very next stage, Halfway, when he slid off the road and ended up in a ravine. Flodin was again fastest from Evans but Wilks was having headaches of his own with a loose turbo pipe.
With the car restored to full health Wilks then topped the time sheets again on the final stage of a very icy morning. With both Higgins brothers out Guy set about consolidating his position but it was certainly not all plain sailing as the transmission began playing up during the afternoon, necessitating an overnight gearbox change. The day ended with Flodin holding a comfortable margin over Wilks with Gwyndaf Evans perfectly positioned to help Mitsubishi retain the Manufacturers title.
Sunday was all about Flodin, who was searching for his first PWRC win and the two Mitsubishis were in no hurry to chase him, settling for the final two podium positions as they cruised to the finish.
Further back the depleted field of British Championship contenders was struggling along. Day one had seen the sole class R3 Clio of Brian O'Mahony disappear when he broke his engine in a water crossing. The same stream destroyed Matt Cotton's hopes of Citroen C2R2 victory. At the bottom of the field Gordon Nichol, in the lone Suzuki had to be towed through the cancelled Hafren stage due to the excessive ice and was actually classified as too late before the rally had even begun! He rejoined and enjoyed a strong run to class honours, despite running on the tightest budget having been retrenched from work in the week leading up to the rally!
Class R2 was fought out between two Welshmen. Jason Pritchard held the advantage all weekend and ended the season top of the points table. Not only did the 20 year old win the C2R2cup but he took class and overall 2 wheel drive honours as well. Fellow C2R2 pilot Andrew Hockridge was just happy to see the finish of his first ever world rally, and taking second in the class to boot.
The Pirelli shootout next week now has a full contingent of protagonists, with Jason Pritchard confirmed as the top Citroen junior driver, whilst Patrik Flodin was nominated for the final position.
So the 2008 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship ends with Mitsubishi and Guy Wilks taking both titles once again but it has to be said that they certainly did not have it all their own way this year. But it remains to be seen whether the sole 'works' represented team remains in the championship in 2009. With the current credit crunch one also has to hope that the championship is able to provide enough incentives to encourage competitors to come and play.
I guess we'll find out when the new season kicks off on the Bulldog Rally next March.
by Geoff Mayes