Elfyn Evans and co-driver Craig Parry won the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally this weekend and with it claimed the 2016 MSA British Rally Championship title.
The DMACK British Rally Team crew continued their impressive success rate, making it four wins from six in Britain's premier rallying series in their Ford Fiesta R5.
The legendary Ulster Rally got underway at lunchtime on Friday in front of a large crowd in the heart of Derry/Londonderry city centre. From there, crews took on 48.62 competitive miles on the first day before a mammoth 85.24 miles on the second, totalling 133.86 miles through the challenging lanes of Northern Ireland.
Heavy rain on both days made for greasy and demanding conditions, which created difficult tyre choices, as teams attempted to predict the conditions for every stage of the event – hoping for the smallest of advantages over their rivals.
Evans enjoyed an opening day battle with series returnee Keith Cronin and non-registered Alistair Fisher. The World Championship star struggled with tyre choice on the first day but still got the best out of his DMACK-shod Fiesta to chalk up a 4.5 second lead over a hard charging Cronin overnight.
On the final day the Dolgellau-based driver showed his class as he eked out a 1:07.6 second lead over Fisher at the finish, to take the 2016 Ulster Rally spoils and with it the 2016 MSA British Rally Championship title.
“The event was really tough, in fact it was probably the toughest of the season with the weather changing all the time, stage conditions changing constantly – it was difficult to keep up with everything and do the job in hand,” Evans said.
“After making a few wrong tyre choices yesterday we played it safe and erred on the side of caution on the second day to make sure we held our advantage and took the win.
“It feels pretty good to win the BRC title. We had hoped it was possible to wrap-up the title on the Ulster but in rallying anything can happen so we still needed to finish in a certain position and be in front of Tom [Cave] and Fredrik [Ahlin]. To combine it with a win is very special and it's nice to be going home with the championship.”
The Ulster Rally also marked a special anniversary in the Evans household as Elfyn's success comes twenty years on since father Gwyndaf won the same title on the Ulster Rally back in 1996.
Elfyn now becomes the 38th different name on the BRC trophy after a dominant season, picking up four wins along with a third place on the Pirelli Carlisle – the Circuit of Ireland providing the only blot on his copy book as a mechanical retirement forced him out of the event lead.
Meanwhile, Ulsterman Jonathan Greer piloted his Pirelli-backed Citroen DS3 R5 to a fine second this weekend, equalling his season best, which he achieved on the Circuit of Ireland back in April. Greer had a trouble free run to capitalise on his 'Joker' nomination, doubling his points to put him in hunt for the runners up spot going into the season finale.
“We were very happy with the first stage as our pace was very good and we were pleased to be where we were in this competitive field. From stage one we tried to stay at that level of pace and go for a good result. It was difficult finding the right tyre choice but we did our best and the car ran perfectly all weekend. It is great to be back on the BRC podium and its great to have done it against the calibre of drivers that were here. It makes it that extra bit special,” Greer noted.
Scottish driver David Bogie took the final step on the podium in his Skoda Fabia R5, making it three manufacturer in the top three. Bogie started quietly in sixth overall but some inspired tyre choice on Friday evening put him on the cusp of the rostrum heading into the overnight halt. With Cronin's demise Saturday lunchtime, the Scottish driver pounced in his striking Skoda Fabia R5, to take his first podium since the Circuit of Ireland.
“This has to be one of the toughest rallies I have ever done, from the recce, through to two long days of rallying. The conditions were very difficult with mud, water, gravel, shiny Tarmac – there were so many factors to make it difficult. We had a wheel bearing collapse on the last stage with a mile to go. We made a repair to get the car to the finish and that was very stressful as I thought it was the Scottish Rally all over again! We are very happy to get back to the finish in third place,” Bogie commented.
Multiple BRC Champion Cronin made a welcome return to the series after missing the previous few rounds. The Irishman came back with a bang as he fought tooth and nail with Evans until the lunchtime service on Saturday. Gearbox and differential gremlins had worked their way into the Citroen DS3 R5, however, and disaster struck when the three-time champion could not select a gear when leaving the service area. After swift and frantic work by the DGM Motorsport crew, the team managed to get back on the road again, but lost two much time with penalties after leaving service late. Eventually the Citroen driver hung on and finished a respectable fourth overall in the BRC section.
The Ulster Rally saw Irish drivers come to the fore with their local Tarmac knowledge paying dividends on the bumpy and challenging asphalt. Sam Moffett and Desi Henry were both hoping to be in the podium hunt but retirements on the second day put paid to their weekends. Marty McCormack, in his Kumho-shod Skoda Fabia S2000, was the first naturally aspirated machine home in fifth, while Circuit of Ireland winner Josh Moffett had a troublesome event but still managed to secure a top six finish.
Rhys Yates has been improving as the season has unfolded and the Michelin-supported Fiesta R5 driver took a fine seventh place at the Derry/Londonderry finish. Tom Cave had a disappointing event by his usually high standards. Transmission failure on the first day saw his Fiesta R5 running in two-wheel-drive configuration for most of the stages. A spirited drive on the final day brought the young Welshman back into the points come the end of the event with eighth.
BRC2 Champion Matt Edwards wrapped up the title on the previous event and decided to step up to the BRC1 category for the final two rallies. Edwards set some promising times for his first run on Tarmac in the Fiesta R5 and took home two championship points with a promising ninth place in the BRC. Tarmac-ace Alex Laffey took his first outright points on the Ulster, improving on every stage to round out the top ten BRC runners.
In the DMACK Junior British Rally Championship, Vauxhall ADAM R2 driver Robert Duggan has been the man to beat all season long and the Ulster Rally was to be no exception. Duggan had waited all season to play his 'Joker' to double his points and he timed his decision to perfection. With Gerard Conway sat alongside, the Irish pair didn't put a foot wrong as they led from start to finish, taking their fourth victory this season and with it the Junior BRC laurels. The pair, like Evans and Parry, have an unassailable lead in the series heading into the final round on the Isle of Man.
Top 10 positions
1. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Craig Parry (GBR)
Ford Fiesta R5 2:11:15.4
2. Jonathan Greer (GBR)/Kirsty Riddick (GBR)
Citroen DS3 R5 +1:25.4
(30 points (Joker))
3. David Bogie (GBR)/ James O'Reilly (IRL)
Skoda Fabia R5 +seconds +2:00.4
4. Keith Cronin (IRL)/ Mikie Galvin (IRL)
Citroen DS3 R5 +2:07.4
5. Marty McCormack (GBR)/David Moynihan (IRL)
Skoda Fabia S2000 +4:31.9
(12 points (Joker))
6. Josh Moffett (IRL)/ John Rowan (IRL)
Ford Fiesta R5 +5:53.7
(10 points (Joker))
7. Rhys Yates (GBR)/ Tom Woodburn (GBR)
Ford Fiesta R5 +5:55.4
8. Tom Cave (GBR)/ James Morgan (GBR)
Ford Fiesta R5 +6:54.3
9. Matt Edwards (GBR)/ Will Rogers (GBR)
Ford Fiesta R5 +7:09.7
10. Alex Laffey (GBR)/ Andrew Roughead (GBR)
Ford Fiesta R5 +10:24.7 (1 point (Joker))
MSA DMACK Junior British Rally Championship:
Robert Duggan (IRL)/ Ger Conway (IRL) (Vauxhall ADAM R2)