The action-packed Prestone MSA British Rally Championship is heading overseas for the first time in the championship’s 59-year history. The finest BRC crews will go toe-to-toe with some of the best drivers in the world on the legendary Ypres Rally in northern Belgium (23-24 June). Two drama-filled days with more than 160 competitive miles on the fast and flowing Belgian Tarmac roads await the BRC stars.
Several championships will be run over the weekend with everyone chasing Hyundai World Rally Team driver and local hero Thierry Neuville. With Nicolas Gilsoul calling the notes aboard the Hyundai i20 R5, the Belgian pair will undoubtedly be fighting for overall honours and provide a world-class target for the British crews to benchmark across the event.
Previous knowledge of the iconic stages will come to the fore in the battle for supremacy. After three gravel rounds in the forests, crews will now compete on asphalt for the first time this season with 20 timed stages being played out in both day and atmospheric nighttime conditions.
New for the 2017 Ypres Rally is the Tony Pond Award which will be presented to the first British Rally Championship crew across the finish line. There will also be a Junior Tony Pond Award – adding another incentive for Britain’s emerging talent to go for glory in the Flanders region.
The British Rally Championship top guns prepare for continental competition
British Rally Championship top seed Fredrik Ahlin is a man in fine form heading to the Belgian mecca for rallying. The Swede dominated the opening two BRC rounds, claiming back-to-back wins on the Border Counties Rally and Pirelli International before retiring on the final stage of the Scottish Rally whilst fighting for the lead of the event. Despite that set-back, the Swede still leads the standings going into his less preferred surface. The CA1 Sport driver failed to finish any of the Tarmac rounds last season and will be out to make amends. With Norwegian co-driver Torstein Erikson gelling nicely in the new Skoda Fabia R5, Ahlin will be ‘a man on a mission’ to keep himself in pole position after the channel crossing.
CA1 Sport teammates David Bogie/Kevin Rae claimed a well-deserved and popular home win on the Scottish Rally – a victory that has put the Scot right back in the title hunt. The DMACK-supported driver adapts quickly to new challenges and last season took two podiums out of the three Tarmac rounds and will be one to watch in the attractive Fabia R5.
Mr Consistent – Osian Pryce – comes to Ypres with three podiums in the bag from the opening three events. The Welshman is one of Britain’s brightest rallying hopes and is dovetailing his BRC campaign with outings in the FIA World Championship this season. The Ford Fiesta R5 driver has taken a third and a second and would love to chalk up his first four-wheel-drive BRC win in northern Belgium and, more importantly, close the gap to Ahlin at the top of the points standings.
Marty McCormack has a handful of Ypres Rally appearances under his belt and the Kumho-backed driver will be eager to claim his first BRC win on his preferred Tarmac surface. Having impressed in his S2000 Skoda a few years ago, McCormack is now equipped with a turbocharged Fabia R5 will hope to become ‘king of cuts’ with David Moynihan expertly guiding.
Tom Cave is also a man with previous Ypres experience as the Welshman brings the rapid Hyundai i20 R5 to its first Tarmac BRC round. Cave and co-driver James Morgan have won every stage they have completed with the i20, and the young pairing will be out to harness their speed to challenge for a win which would put them back into title contention.
Multiple BRC Champion Keith Cronin has had a difficult start to his first season with M-Sport. The Fiesta R5 driver has been on the cusp of several podiums before retirements and punctures cost the Irishman the results he has deserved. The reigning Irish Tarmac Champion is at home on sealed-surfaces and Ypres provides the perfect opportunity to pocket a good haul of points and thus catapult him and co-driver Mikie Galvin up the series leaderboard.
Another man who will be rubbing his hands together with the championship’s move to Tarmac is Cronin’s M-Sport teammate Alex Laffey together with co-driver Patrick Walsh. Laffey scored his first gravel points on the Pirelli and impressed again on his home event – the Scottish Rally. Riding on a crest of wave, Laffey will be hoping to notch-up his best finish and score more points in his Pirelli-shod Fiesta R5.
Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick are in the fourth different R5 machine in the British Rally Championship. The Citroen DS3 R5 pairing have had a mixed season to date but a move to their preferred surface will give them confidence for the second part of the season. The duo scored two Tarmac podiums on their run to third in the 2016 standings and the Ulsterman can never be discounted from a podium on Tarmac.
Rhys Yates has shown flashes of brilliance in his second BRC season, claiming fifth and sixth place finishes in the opening two rounds before a uncharacteristic first stage retirement put him out of the Scottish Rally. With the experienced Carl Williamson sitting alongside in the Michelin-backed Fiesta R5, a good result in Ypres will help further his progression in Britain’s top flight rallying series.
Matt Edwards and Darren Garrod is another combo showing progression with every mile undertaken. Edwards is pushing the development of the Hankook-shod Fiesta R5 and will be eager to better his fifth place recorded on the Pirelli International, while fellow Fiesta R5 driver Jamie Anderson and his co-driver Ross Whittock will be trying to beat their best BRC result – a fifth secured on last season’s Circuit of Ireland.
Desi Henry and Liam Moyinhan (Fabia R5) put a stop to their BRC points drought on the Scottish Rally last month. The Irish crew have three BRC podiums in a four wheel-drive car and will be pushing for a rostrum on the Belgian roads.
Returning to the BRC after missing the previous round are Thomas Preston/Andrew Roughead (Fabia R5) and James Slaughter/Niall Burns (Fiesta R5). Preston is showing rapid progression in his Skoda and is looking forward to the Ypres challenge while James Slaughter in his Fiesta R5 is targeting his first outright BRC points on what he describes as his ‘home event’ – the Kent driver is based not far from the Channel Tunnel.
Junior BRC heats up ahead of summer showdown
The Prestone Motorsport News Junior BRC has provided three different winners from the opening three rounds of the 2017 championship. What’s more, three different tyre manufacturers have also shared the spoils in the closely fought front-wheel-drive category on the toughest gravel stages in Britain.
For drivers under the age of 26 in R2 machines, the Junior BRC is the perfect proving ground for young talent with the eventual champion awarded a cash prize of £30,000 at the end of the season to help him or her make the next step up in their rallying career.
Leading the Junior BRC charge as the exciting series arrives in Belgium is William Creighton and co-driver Liam Regan. The Peugeot 208 R2 crew admitted gravel was never going to be their strong point but a win plus a further podium in the Michelin-equipped machine will give them confidence as they head to the Tarmac in defense of their championship lead.
Last time out on the Scottish Rally, Cameron Davies and Caron Tomlinson overcame a list of problems to comfortably take their first Junior BRC win in their DMACK-shod 208 R2.
Two further Peugeot 208s will grace the Belgian roads with Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson eyeing their first win. After third and second place finishes, only one result eludes the Welsh crew. The Irish crew of Marty Gallagher/ Dean O’ Sullivan netted a fine podium after a drama filled Scottish Rally. Gallagher is also a man to watch on the Tarmac this season.
Round one winner Oscar Solberg and Patrik Barth will have their first taste of asphalt this weekend and will lead the charge for MH Motorsport in their turbocharged, Pirelli-backed Ford Fiesta R2T and will be keen to move up the championship order. Gathering momentum on every event are James Williams and Dai Roberts in a similar Fiesta R2T. The all-Welsh crew is hunting its first podium and with a good run could spring a surprise in their first season competing in the BRC.
Callum Devine is switching to an Opel ADAM R2 after campaigning a Fiesta R2T on the first three rounds. Devine has plenty of experience in the Opel as well as on the Belgian Tarmac, raising some eyebrows on his previous visit in 2016. Devine came close to victory on the Pirelli International – just missing out on the top spot by under a second. He will be on a charge and will be hoping to take his first Junior BRC victory in the Kumho-supported ADAM.
Cadets embark on biggest challenge to date
Josh Cornwell and Richard Bliss are riding high after a dominant hat-trick on the opening three BRC rounds in 2017. The Fiesta R2 driver will be keen for another win but will want to keep his nose clean to maintain his championship lead.
Tom Williams recently entered the Monteberg Rallysprint and is becoming comfortable on the Tarmac in his Fiesta R2. Bryan Hull will be calling the notes and he will hope to guide Williams to his first Cadet Cup win and halt Cornwell’s run away train.
Nabila Tejpar (Fiesta R2) is seeking her first Cadet podium and, after chalking up a good haul of points from the first few rounds, she will be eager to up-the-ante in the quest for a podium with Steven McPhee reading her pacenotes this time.
Alex Waterman had a difficult start to his BRC debut with two retirements on the first two events. A fine fourth on the Scottish Rally, however, has kick-started the Englishman’s 2017 campaign and with good friend Harry Thomas joining him again in the co-driver’s seat, the pair will be eyeing their first Cadet rostrum in Belgium in their Fiesta R2.
James McDiarmid and Max Haines Messenger return to the BRC after missing the previous round. The duo leads the charge for the Harper Adams University Motorsport Team and, with end of year exams out of the way, it will be full steam ahead as the University team goes in search for their third Cadet Cup podium.
Ypres forms the perfect European adventure for BRC chargers
Spencer Wilkinson has a great deal of experience of the iconic Ypres Rally in his Subaru Impreza and will hope he and co-driver Glyn Thomas can claim another BRC Production Cup finish and thus put one hand on the championship trophy after the visit to the continent.
In BRC4, Tarmac aces David and Mathew White return to the series after a round absence. The Ford Fiesta driver recorded a strong finish on the Corsican WRC round and will be out to finish the event to draw level with Gee Atherton. Mountain Bike World Champion Atherton has had to withdraw from Ypres after sustaining an injury during his two-wheeled day job. We wish Gee a speedy recovery and hope to see the Red Bull star reignite his duel with rival White on the stages later this season.
In the National Rally Cup, series leader and Pirelli Rally winners John Morrison/Peter Carstairs hope to adapt to the Belgian Tarmac quickly in their new Mitsubishi Evo 9 and thus fend off a flying Donnie Macdonald who will be trying his hand in a Mitsubishi Evo X for the Belgian event. Max Utting may not be able to keep up with his more powerful rivals but the Ford Fiesta ST driver will be waiting to pounce on a mistake from the front two.
All seven rounds of the BRC are being beamed into homes around Europe with Channel 4, BT Sport and Motorsport TV all showcasing the best of the action with extensive highlights being transmitted after every weekend.
Keep tabs on all the latest BRC developments by visiting www.msabrc.com or following us on social media: Prestone MSA British Rally Championship on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #BRC