01/04/2024 Off By Dan M

Every year in mid March, the annual Land & Estate Maintenance Agbo Stages Rally comes to life within the expansive 1000 acres of Weston Park’s stunning grounds.

Situated just outside of Telford & Wolverhampton, this event utilizes the private roads around the estate, which were once a regular fixture on the RAC rally back in the 1980s. In recent years, the venue has served as a nostalgic base for the Historic Rally Festival, evoking memories of Valdegård, Vatanen, and Toivonen. Regrettably, the festival will be relocating to a new location later this year. 

With well-arranged viewing areas that are popular with spectators, The Agbo Stages ran by the Owen car club features five loops of ten fast and technical stages covering approximately 30 stage miles, including a notable water splash. In the past year, a decision had been made to welcome 4WD cars, albeit exclusively with H-pattern transmission, leading to some interesting entries such as David Bonning’s Group A Escort Cosworth.

David Bonning & Alex Young | Dan Morris (Apex Capture)

Since 2005, Oliver Davies and Huw James have been the ones to beat, with Davies taking 9 victories and James 5. In recent years they’ve been challenged by Lee Edwards, who has only been outside of the podium places twice since 2017, with a sole victory coming in 2020. Most of these podiums were with a 2-litre Vauxhall, but Lee’s Escort is now equipped with a 3-litre Jaguar derived V6, a modification that has proven successful as he recently secured victory in Builth Wells at the Showground stages.

Lee Edwards would start off at Weston Park as he finished his last event (Showground stages), with an opening stage win. Three seconds further back and tied for second were Oliver Davies & Aled Wyn Morgans in their 2.5 MK2 Escorts. Last year’s winner Huw James would be next, easing himself into the very slippery and muddy stages. Dai Dot Davies & Steve Pugh would round out the top 5 in Dai’s potent Darrian T90 GTR+ – a stark contrast to the Chevette HSR the pair had piloted on the same stages six months prior at the Historic Rally Festival.

Lee Edwards & Ben Crump | Dan Morris (Apex Capture)

In Stage 2, the top four drivers were incredibly close, separated by just one second, with Huw James leading the pack. Morgans managed to keep pace with the experienced trio, who had amassed the majority of trophies from this event over the past decade. Dai in the Darrian remained within striking distance, trailing by only four seconds in fifth place, although the gap to those ahead was gradually widening. 

Dai Dot Davies & Steve Pugh | Aled Wyn Morgans & James Martin | Dan Morris (Apex Capture)

Heading into stage 3 and once again, the top 4 drivers were separated by a mere 1 second, with Edwards and Morgans jointly leading, and James and Davies sharing second place. The short, intense stages creating an exciting battle for the lead, with the overall gap between them just 5 seconds!

Lee Edwards and Ben Crump managed to carve out a bit of breathing room in stage four, edging ahead by 2 seconds from Huw James and Ian Jones in second place. Aled Wyn Morgans followed closely, trailing by another second, while Dai Dot Davies and Steve Pugh broke the Escort dominance of the top 4, setting a time just one second further back. Remarkably, the next two positions were also separated by just one more second, these positions were occupied by Oliver Davies and Daniel Humphreys in his MK2.

Lee Edwards secured his third consecutive stage win as we reached the midway point of the rally, extending his lead by another 2 seconds over Huw James, and now holding a 9-second advantage overall. Oliver Davies was third on stage 5, meaning both James and Davies had finally caught the resilient Aled Wyn Morgans, who dropped down to third, now on an equal time to Oliver Davies. 

Oliver Davies & Jack Morton | Dan Morris (Apex Capture)

In Stage 6, Huw James ended Lee Edwards’ winning streak by reducing the gap by two seconds. However, with Stage 10 now cancelled due to various incidents, time was running out for James to catch up with the leader. Just behind and setting an identical time were Davies & Morgans, which would keep them tied overall for a second stage in a row. Just behind, Dai Dot Davies and Steve Pugh were keeping the Escorts ahead honest and maintaining a comfortable fifth overall in the Darrian. 

The day concluded with three consecutive runs over a single layout, as the event organisers attempted to save time with daylight rapidly fading. Huw James would once again be on a mission, but could only match Lee Edwards, as the pair set yet another equal stage time. Oliver Davies and Jack Bowen trailed by just one second, pulling ahead of Aled Wyn Morgan by setting a time six seconds quicker. The ‘big three’ were now on top of the leaderboard for the first time, a testament to Morgan’s pace across the morning stages. Behind the leading quartet, Daniel Humphreys was pushing on hard, shaving seven seconds off Dai Dot Davies’ relatively comfortable fifth place, closing the overall gap to just five seconds. 

Moving onto the penultimate stage, Huw James and Ian Jones secured their third consecutive fastest time, but despite their best efforts, the margins weren’t substantial enough. Over three stages, they had only managed to reduce the gap by three seconds, highlighting the remarkable closeness of this event. Speaking of small gaps, Oliver Davies and Lee Edwards were tied for second place, just one second behind James ahead. As for stage ties – is there a record anywhere of the most in a single rally?…  Meanwhile, Aled Wyn Morgans was now falling back, losing another four seconds to the leaders, but with a 25-second gap to fifth place, it was looking like he’d improve upon his previous best result. In the battle behind, Dan Humphreys was once again on the attack, but the Darrian crew managed to fight back, resulting in yet another tie! The battling pair would head into the final stage separated by five seconds.

Huw James & Ian Jones | Dan Morris (Apex Capture)

Despite the closeness of the rally, it felt as if Lee Edwards and Ben Crump had maintained control all the way through the event. Heading into the final stage with a decent lead they concluded as they began, securing yet another stage win, their sixth in nine stages finishing eleven seconds ahead of Huw James and Ian Jones and taking their second overall AGBO win. Oliver Davies and Jack Morton posted second fastest time on the final test, securing a comfortable third place after fending off the early challenge from Aled Wyn Morgans and James Martin who would finish fourth overall, twelve seconds behind Davies. In the battle for fifth, Humphreys would once again finish ahead of the Darrian, but it was too little, too late, as Dai held firm, losing only one second in stage nine to secure fifth place overall by just four seconds.

To finish off, a few words from the event winner:

“The day went really well for us, we managed to have the right tyres on for every stage which isn’t usually the case!
Delighted with the start we have had this season! No issues at all really other than the heater not working from the off so a little worried the screen may steam up but luckily it didn’t. 
Not quite sure what we will be doing next, may do a couple of Epynts mid year with the aim to get back out for three shires and rail Ceredigion later in the year”

Lee Edwards
Dan Humphreys & Jonny Tad Evans | By Dan Morris (Apex Capture)