Roger Albert Clark Rally Preview
The 2019 event features more days, more stage miles and more competitors and has drawn its most competitive field ever, with at least six serious victory contenders and more than another dozen major contenders.
This s a rally about long days and nights, stages in legendary forests, an un-rivalled atmosphere and a proper adventure for crews, service teams, marshals, spectators and officials. There simply is no other rally like it on the UK rally calendar.
The rally starts in Leominster on Thursday afternoon and crews head straight into the forests with two runs over a nine-mile stage in Radnor in the darkness of Thursday evening. Friday covers classic Welsh stages with another 40 competitive miles on the gravel stages of the Epynt region. In the late afternoon, the entire rally moves north to Carlisle for three days in Kielder and the Scottish borders.
Saturday kicks off with 17 miles in Kershope, which is the start of the rally’s toughest day. Saturday is a challenging 13-hour day with 103 miles in eight stages and 230 road miles. Six of those stages are well over 10 miles long as the route heads east across the southern side of Kielder to Harwood and then back again.
However, Sunday is still a tough day as the rally moves over the border into Scotland. Forty stage miles across double runs of Greskine and Ae come before classic stages like Twiglees and Castle O’Er make up a day of 70 stage miles.
Monday is a proper sting in the tail with another 67 stage miles in the central block of Kielder forest, including two runs through the 17-mile Bewshaugh stage. The final stage of the rally is also the longest to ensure that the result remains in doubt until the end of the last special stage.
The pre-event favourites are within the top six seeds of the main element of the rally, topped by former winners Marty McCormack/Barney Mitchell and Matthew Robinson/Sam Collis. Jason Pritchard returns to his Escort Mk2 for another serious crack at winning one the rally that his co-driver Phil Clarke won in 2012 with McCormack.
The crew that could set the pace on Thursday evening is Roger Chilman and Patrick Walsh. Chilman had a great run to the podium two years ago and has built his 2019 season around this rally. The 2018 and 2019 BHRC champions are next up in Paul Barrett/Gordon Noble and Simon Webster/Jez Rogers. Barrett is new to the event and has done little rallying this season, while Webster was fifth a year ago. Rounding out a quality-packed top 10 are Adrian Hetherington/Andrew Grennan and Alan Walker/John Connor who took a fabulous fourth overall in 2017.
Christophe Jacob and Isabelle Regnier are among the European contenders, along with Swedish ace Arne Backstrom in his potent Volvo 240. From Belgium is Ghislain de Mevius in his fabulous Nissan 240RS and adding more variety are Phil Collins (Opel Ascona), Andrew Siddall (Fiat 131) and Wayne Sisson who brings his freshly-prepared Mitsubishi Galant to class F2.
The leading Pinto-powered Escort Mk2s from class D3 include Stuart Egglestone, Guy Woodcock and Josh Browne. Meanwhile, in Category 2 (for the pre ’75 cars) former winners Stefaan Stouf/Joris Erard head the field. In the other classes in Category 2, Jeremy Easson/Mike Reynolds (Datsun 240Z) top class C4 and Josh Carr/Richard Wardle head the C3 contest of Pinto-powered Escort Mk1s.
The 1600cc historics run in the first pack of cars and in class D2 it is the Escort Mk2s of John Mennell and David Goose to the fore, while in C2 for the earlier 1600s, the Mk1s of David Bennett and Stuart Cariss should set the pace.
The oldest historics, the pre ’68 cars in Category 1, also run at the head of the field and the entry is topped by Bob Bean and Captain Thompson in their Lotus Cortina. Other contenders in Category 1 include Paul Mankin (Porsche 911), Drexel Gillespie (Volvo Amazon) and Malcolm Rich (Ford Anglia).
A key part of the event is the Open Rally, for any two-wheel drive cars of any age. Topping the entry is former WRC driver Gregoire de Mevius in his stunning Toyota Celica and, if he has a clear run, it is hard to see anyone rivalling the Belgian ace.
Former Open winners Dave Hemingway and Simon Ashton are back to maintain their 100% starting record in their Ford Escort Mk2. Ranged against them are 2017 Open winners David Hutchinson and Jeff Garnett who have swopped their Escort Mk2 for a Toyota GT86 this time around.
Finally, running on Sunday only is the Clubmans Rally, with up to 20 cars spread across the main field. Top seeds are the Escort Mk2s of Alistair Brearley and Mark McCulloch.
More details about the event can be found at the website: www.racrmc.org