This weekend sees the return of the British Rally Championship (BRC) after a year’s sabbatical, and it is one of the most eagerly awaited returns in years. In 2014 Daniel McKenna & Osian Pryce fought out a season long battle in their Citroen DS3 R3s that went right down to the wire in the Isle of Man. Between the two guys they had won every round of the championship up to the Isle of Man, and it was to be split into two rallies, so double points were on offer. It was nip and tuck throughout the first day when drama struck and Daniel rolled his Citroen. Osian duly took the win and looked to be in pole position to take the championship. However, Daniel’s crew worked miracles and had his car ready for day two. With Daniel needing a decent finish he let Osian set off and just watched what was happening. Sure enough, Pryce hit trouble and Daniel was heir apparent to the crown. As he finished the last stage the party started. We have all seen the scene of Daniel’s father on the roof of the DS3 dancing!
The Manx and other events throughout 2014 had struggled for entries and it was decided to pull the championship for 2015 and return in 2016 bigger and better. A lot of people wrote off the championship saying it was dead in the water and would never return, but a change of personnel has seen it bounce back in a major way. They have promoted the events and championship in a very exciting way. Every Wednesday morning over the last 2 months we have been sitting glued to our phones or screens awaiting the latest release of news. In conjunction with Motorsport News they have carefully and steadily built up the excitement.They have also secured mainstream television coverage of the championship with Channel 4 covering all the rounds. There are seven rounds this year and here in Ireland we are lucky to have two counting rounds; the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster. The decision this year was also to have the R5/S2000 cars as the pinnacle for the championship, running in the BRC1 Class, and this has triggered an enormously positive response from teams and crews.
DMACK Tyres have entered a pair of Fiesta R5s for Elfyn Evans and Max Vatanen, and Elfyn in particular must be seen as red hot favourite for the title. He has had two years experience at the top level in the World Rally Championship (WRC) and a further two years in the feeder classes in WRC. Max has been competing on the world stage for the last two years but in the smaller R2 Fiesta. How he will adapt to the more powerful four wheel drive car will be interesting, but no doubt the speed will come.
Citroen Racing is backing a two car team in conjunction with DGM, with Keith Cronin and Jonny Greer taking up driving responsibilities. Cronin already is a triple BRC Champion, and no doubt he would like to be a four time champion. While he has the pace and the experience to make it happen, in the past his seasons have been curtailed due to lack of funding, but hopefully this year everything is in place. Jonny is a very consistent driver and will collect points, but has he the outright pace of Cronin or Evans?
The Skoda brand is well represented with three R5 cars and an S2000, all run under different teams. David Bogie is another ex-BRC champion and five time Scottish champion, so his speed is not in doubt. David debuted his new Skoda Fabia R5 at the Red Kite stages and took a convincing victory in treacherous conditions, similar to what is expected at the weekend. Neil Simpson is running his R5 Fabia under the Skoda UK umbrella, and while he may not have the ultimate pace he had a few years ago, he can be expected to be there to collect points at the end of rallies. Desi Henry has had a couple of outings in his Skoda R5 and has impressed with his speed. He was at the sharp end of the times in Galway until an accident ended his rally early, but the car is repaired and ready for action. Marty McCormack returns to the BRC after a couple of seasons contesting various World and European events in R5 and S2000 cars, and he is also a former two wheel drive British Champion in the DS3 R3 and British Historic Champion in the MKII Escort BDA. Marty’s talent behind the wheel cannot be questioned, but will the S2000 have the legs to keep up with the R5 cars?
Euan Thorburn has chosen a different route from his competitors and purchased a Peugeot 208 T16 R5. Over the last 3 years Euan has concentrated on Scottish and BTRDA events, and won both Championships, so he knows how to win not only events but build championships too.
There are another 11 R5 cars entered in the Mid Wales Rally and the Fiesta is the car of choice. Tom Cave has been away competing in the DMACK Challenge as part of the WRC over the last two seasons, and has also had limited outings in an R5 Fiesta and has shown rally wining speed on all surfaces. Fredrik Ahlin is an unknown here, but has been forging a reputation at home in Sweden and further afield. How quickly he’ll adapt to the events here will test his talent but he has almost two years experience in the Fiesta. Sam and Josh Moffett have acquired two new MSport Fiestas this year, and they hope to compete both in the BRC and ITRC (Irish Tarmac Championship). The Monaghan brothers have shown rally winning speed in Ireland both on gravel and tarmac, and last year Josh had the upper hand on gravel, but Sam has two wins under his belt on forestry events in the R5.
Jamie Andrews, Rhys Yates, Alex Laffey, Hugh Hunter, Robert Woodside & James Slaughter make up the rest of the Fiesta R5 brigade. How close these guys get to the podium only time will tell. Damian Cole & Ollie Mellors have taken the S2000 route in a Fiesta & Proton respectively and, as with McCormack, how close they can get to the pace of the R5 cars will be interesting. Wet muddy gravel may suit the higher revving normally aspirated S2000 cars but when the crews get onto tarmac and fast flowing gravel stages, the more powerful R5 cars may well come into their own.
There is only a small amount of GpN cars (Class BRC 2) entered for Mid Wales, and it is unlikely they will trouble the leading crews. Class BRC 3 was the leading class in 2014 but for Mid Wales there are only 2 cars entered. Class BRC 4 and Junior BRC will be mainly made up of the same crews, (these are R2 cars) and to be registered for the junior championship they need to use a control tyre (DMACK). The prize at the end of the season is a heavily subsidised programme in the 2017 DMACK Fiesta Trophy, which takes in 5 rounds of the World Rally Championship (WRC).
In the Junior BRC we have interest from these shores with Rob Duggan & Adam Bustard amongst the 18 registered crews. This class will no doubt uncover future talent, and the promise of the drive in WRC events will be sure to produce some titanic battles.
The crews from the Island of Ireland have shown they are capable of winning individual rounds and the overall BRC, with Billy Coleman and Daniel McKenna both winning the title once apiece and Keith Cronin taking the title three times. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see another local name on the roll of honour by the time the cars roll over the finish ramp in the Isle of Man.? So let us get behind them and wish them well as they endeavour to do us all proud. No doubt we will be glued to our screens watching the times roll in.