Elfyn Evans and co-driver Craig Parry win John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally at the 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. Ulsterman Jonathan Greer, in a Citroen DS3 R5, equalled his season best with a smooth and controlled drive to second, whilst Scottish driver David Bogie took the final step on the podium in his Skoda Fabia R5 – making it three manufacturers in the top three.
The legendary Ulster Rally got underway at lunchtime on Friday 19 August in front of a large crowd in the heart of Derry 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 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 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.
Ulsterman 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. 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.
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.
Behind Duggan there was an initial fight between Norwegian Sindre Furuseth and local driver Adam Bustard. The pair traded times until an inspired Furuseth, in his Renault Twingo R2, found his form to edge clear of the Ulsterman by the end of the first day. Bustard has had a troubled week as he sustained heavy damage on a local gravel rally the previous weekend. Burning the midnight oil, an inspired drive by Bustard saw the Ford Fiesta R2T driver claim his third podium position in 2016 – making it three marques of cars in the top three and highlighting the competiveness of the series.
MH Motorsport stablemates Will Graham and Nabila Tejpar both banked solid points to move them up the order in the Junior BRC standings with a fine fourth and fifth respectively.
Although not registered for BRC3, Belfast-based Will Corry made his debut in the striking Toyota GT86 CS-R3 on the Ulster Rally, entertaining the thousands of spectators lining the stages with its sideways antics. A respectable run by Corry in the Japanese machine allowed co-driver Brynmor Pierce to take co-driver points and for Toyota to pick up manufacturers’ points.
With BRC4 championship leader Tony Simpson absent in Northern Ireland, round six of the BRC was to see incredible pace from two Irish young-guns. Callum Devine in an Opel ADAM R2 led from start to finish in the category in his Kumho-backed machine. Devine’s pace put him an outstanding 17th overall while Marty Gallagher also impressed in his Peugeot 208 R2, claiming a respectable 25th overall to move them closer to the summit of the BRC4 table. Devine’s win in the class makes him the fourth different winner in the BRC4 category.
National Rally Cup winner Robert Blomberg made it at hat-trick of victories, stamping his authority on the NRC standings. Initial event leader Donnie Macdonald retired on Saturday morning with turbo woes while second placed runner Lee Hastings retired with gearbox problems on the same stage. Blomberg, after a string of good results, has put himself into the pound seats ahead of the title decider on the Manx in September. The Swede was also the recipient of the SORT Oil Spirit of the Rally Award for running his Mitsubishi Mirage single handed throughout the event