This North Wales Car Club event has become established as the final round of the BTRDA Stage Rally Championship and one hundred and forty-four cars lined Llandudno Promenade for it’s traditional start in the shadow of the Great Orme.
This year’s route didn’t utilise the famous tarmac test instead it took crews straight into the forests for seven stages covering fifty-four miles. Whilst the Gold Star series had already been decided in favour of Andy Burton/Rob Morgan on the previous round both the Silver Star and Silkolene 1400 titles were still up for grabs.
Mark Perrott/Graham Hopewell were a class apart in the Escort WRC as they set fastest time on all of the first six stages. It then proved a case of unlucky seven as on the approach to the last test’s flying finish the engine let go. The crew were quickly out of the car and pushing it across the finishing line to record tenth fastest time and retain the rally lead. Unfortunately pushing it back to Llandudno wasn’t an option so retirement was the order of the day robbing them of a much deserved victory.
It hadn’t been a good day for many of their closest challengers either. Simon Hughes/Calvin Cooledge led the challenge through the opening pair of Penmachno stages but retirement was imminent as the Impreza developed mechanical problems.
Ian Joel/Graeme Wood then took up the charge moving the Escort Cosworth up to second through both the Legends Park tests and Clocaenog East. They slipped behind the Accent WRC of Paul Bird/Larry Carter in Clocaenog Main but worse was to follow with retirement in Alwen after breaking a wheel.
Other challengers to fall by the wayside included Mick Jones/Hannah Curry who had been third after Penmachno North but a broken centre differential brought about a premature finish for the Evo III. Dave Weston/Neil Shanks had also looked good for a top ten finish until a blown turbo saw the Escort WRC exit Clocaenog Main on the end of a tow-rope.
If anyone deserved a bit of luck it was Paul Bird. Some potentially good results had been ruined of late as his Accent WRC developed a trend of catching fire. The Cambrian was to prove a turning point as he and co-driver Larry Carter inherited the victory following the demise of Perrott/Hopewell.
There were podium places for the Imprezas of Nigel Griffiths/John Roberts and Dorrian Rees/Wyn Thomas whilst the rest of the top ten was separated by less than a minute.
Drivers Championship Standings:
Burton 180 points; Bell 171 points; Healer 159 points; Hill 156 points; Rogers 152 points
The Battle for Silver Star honours always promised to be a close fought tense affair with four drivers in with a shout and it certainly lived up to all expectations.
Philip and Michael Squires laid down the gauntlet through Penmachno North bringing the Mk II Escort RS1800 to the stage finish nineteen seconds up on the similar car of Jason Lepley/Simon Sparey. John Ballinger/Andy Salisbury were a further nine seconds adrift in the Manta with Robin Bradbury/Paul Wakely just another two seconds behind in their Mk II Escort.
It was all change after SS2 Penmachno South as Lepley/Sparey took up the pace followed closely by Ballinger/Salisbury who were just a second behind. The Squires brothers now dropped to third after picking up a puncture but were only a further four seconds adrift whilst Bradbury/Wakely were slipping back with their title hopes fast disappearing.
A stage later and it was game over for Bradbury/Wakely with a broken stub axle but the fight between the three remaining contenders was approaching boiling point. Lepley/Sparey had increased the gap over Ballinger/Salisbury to three seconds and the Squires twins were now within a couple of seconds of the Manta.
At 2.75 miles SS4 Legends Park 2 was far and away the shortest stage of the rally but for despite its lack of miles it proved decisive. Lepley/Sparey dropped the best part of a minute after an altercation with a bank bent the steering. This allowed Ballinger/Salisbury to take the lead for the first time heading the Squires twins by four seconds.
Following service crews then headed off to the Clocaenog complex for a trio of tests that would decide the championship. By this point the championship outcome was becoming even more complicated. The Proton Satria of Stuart Jones/Richard Edwards had split the Escort RS1800’s and their haul of points at the rally finish would have a significant bearing.
An excursion into a ditch that cost around five minutes was a disappointing outcome for the Squires brothers and when Ballinger/Salisbury passed Lepley/Sparey running on a rim in Clocaenog Main the Manta crew clearly had the upper hand.
It wasn’t that clear cut however as they needed the win and equally needed Lepley/Sparey to do no better than third. Jones/Edwards were still second but only thirteen seconds behind going into the final 7.4 miles of Alwen. If it stayed that way Ballinger/Salisbury would be champions but they couldn’t afford to back off for fear of losing first and what if Jones/Edwards pushed to hard and went off? Behind them all Lepley/Sparey could do was drive for a finish and hope.
In the end they all held station giving Ballinger/Salisbury the title but only just. Both crews had finished the season with 172 points and both crews had won three rallies. The deciding factor was down to runner-up spots and Ballinger/Salisbury having scored more clinched the title.
Now it doesn’t get much closer than that!
Drivers Championship Standings:
Ballinger 172 points; Lepley 172 points; Squires 171 points; Bradbury 165 points; Archer 160 points; Onions 148 points
All Gary Standen had to do to clinch the Silkolene 1400 Drivers Championship was finish. His only threat was that posed by Shaun Woffinden who needed to win and Standen not to finish to wrest the title from him.
Woffinden and co-driver Howard Pridmore set about their part of the job from the off bringing the Puma through the end of Penmachno North fourteen seconds ahead of the Nova of Standen/Shelley Rogerson.
They took a further two seconds off the Nova crew in SS2 who then dropped behind the Mk II Escort of Malcolm Hague/Dave Read in SS3 Legends Park 1. Hague/Read were thirty-eight seconds behind the leaders but it could have been different had their day started better. They had driven five miles of SS1 on a puncture losing over half a minute and finishing the stage in eighth place.
As in the Silver Star contest SS4 Legends Park 2 proved crucial in championship terms. Standen/Rogerson were pushing hard and went off into a ditch then hit a bank throwing the Nova into a mid-air spin and whilst the car landed on its wheels and on the track the damaged sustained meant their rally was over. Meanwhile Woffinden/Pridmore had increased their lead to forty-five seconds but there was now more than a rally victory at stake, there was the championship itself.
The 7.69 mile Clocaenog East came next and as the Hague/Read Escort left the start line there was a loud bang with a resultant loss of drive ending their rally. James Wozencroft/Shaun O’Gorman now took second in the Satria but the gap to Woffinden/Pridmore was forty-seven seconds.
At 13.84 miles SS6 Clocaenog Main was by far the longest stage of the rally and Woffinden/Pridmore used it to best effect increasing their lead to over a minute. Now only SS7 Alwen stood between them and the title and they eased back a little allowing Wozencroft/O’Gorman to claw back five seconds but it was irrelevant as not only was the win theirs, the title was as well.
Neil Weaver/Andrew Sankey took third in the Nova and Rupert and Susan Hopcroft brought the Micra home fourth.
Woffinden 172 points; Standen 170 points; Weaver 163 points; Wozencroft 160 points; Hague 158 points; James 157 points
Top Ten Cambrian Rally:
- Paul Bird/Larry Carter (Accent WRC) 0:58:15
- Nigel Griffiths/John Roberts (Impreza) 0:59:39
- Dorrian Rees/Wyn Thomas (Impreza WRX) 1:00:02
- Alan Barr/Bill Ballantyne (Impreza) 1:00:52
- Brian Bell/Paul Spooner (Focus WRC02) 1:01:00
- Peter Beards/Guy Weaver (Impreza) 1:01:03
- Peter Elkins/Andrew Joll (Escort Cosworth) 1:01:19
- Jon Ballinger/Andy Salisbury (Manta) 1:01:23
- Chris Bown/Roger Bown (Evo IV) 1:01:25
- Rob Smith/Mark Lewis (Impreza) 1:01:48
- N1 – Roger Mustoe/Robin Hernaman (Polo)
- N3 – Nigel Wakefield/Roger Allan (Astra)
- N4 – Nigel Griffiths/John Roberts (Impreza)
- A5 – Shaun Woffinden/Howard Pridmore (Puma)
- A6 – Stuart Jones/Richard Edwards (Satria)
- A7 – Jason Youde/Julian Broadhurst (Astra)
- B9 – James Wozencroft/Shaun O’Gorman (Satria)
- B10 – Ieuan Rowlands/Iolo Jones (Mk II Escort)
- B11 – Daniel Beckham/Leigh Gray (Fiesta RWD)
- B12 – Jon Ballinger/Andy Salisbury (Manta)
- B13 – Alan Barr/Bill Ballantyne (Impreza)