18/03/2024 Off By admin

Following several years of two-wheel/front-wheel drive “hot hatches” being the focus of our top-flight National Rally Championship, competitors were voting with their feet. Numbers had declined to the point where the series, which should possibly be considered as “The Pinnacle” of the sport in our country had lost credibility amongst rallying folk and had also effectively become a turn-off for the fans.

“THE BRC IS BACK!” was the tagline for the British Rally Championship in 2016 when the series was somewhat rebooted. Four-wheel drives were back as the top class, Elfyn Evans was demoted to WRC2 and was signed up to a full BRC campaign in an M-Sport run DMACK Tyres backed Fiesta by team boss Malcolm Wilson, in an attempt for the young Welshman to get some of his mojo back.

The Newtown and District Motor Clubs, Mid Wales Stages would raise the curtain on the new season and attracted a bumper list of names all joining Evans for a shot at the revived Championship with a pretty decent variety of marques being represented.

Photo: 2016 British Rally Champions – Elfyn Evans & Craig Perry (Mid Wales Stages 2016) | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

Names such as Desi Henry, Keith Cronin, Jonny Greer, Marty McCormack and the Moffetts from Ireland, David Bogie and Euan Thorburn from Scotland, Matt Edwards and Tom Cave from Wales and Rhys Yates from England all represented homegrown talent. Whilst a couple of overseas entrants such as Sweden’s Fredrik Ahlin and Finland’s Max Vatanan were also attracted, there was once again a bit of a buzz about the place. Elfyn won that opening round and went on to win the Championship title that year, before returning to the top flight of the World Rally Championship a somewhat changed man.

Since then, and I think it is fair to say this, that the BRC slowly fizzled out with numbers signing up for the series tailing off over the subsequent years that followed; it was therefore slipping back down the slope of negative times. Whizz forward to 2023 and M-Sport was back dominating the series again, this time with Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux at the wheel of its Ford Fiesta Rally2. However, that domination soon put off some of the local British crews, namely that of Keith Cronin who exited the Championship fairly early on given that the title was pretty much unobtainable. The initial signs are that the 2024 edition perhaps “might just” have reignited some of that spark that was seen back in 2016.

Photo: 2023 British Rally Champion – Adrien Fourmaux | By Andy Cook (Xlerate.Media)

For the 2024 edition, six rounds across both loose and sealed surfaces appear on the Probite sponsored Britsh Rally Championship calendar, although it is sad to see that some great events were left out this year, the ones that did make the cut are all quality events. Perhaps the well-played card here is that the three asphalt events tie in with the Asphalt Rally Championship, a series which is always well-supported. This has most likely been a contributing factor which has encouraged some front-runners to sign up for both series, given that the season opener for both Championships will begin on the asphalt at the ever-popular closed roads Legend Fires North West Stages (March 23), a newcomer to the BRC this year.

A few weeks later the series will change up and onto the World-Class gravel stages of Mid Wales, with tests such as Myherin, Sweet Lamb and Hafren all on offer at the Rallynuts Severn Valley Stages (April 13). The second newcomer will offer up a meaty 60 stage miles in celebration of its 50th running and the event, also a round of three other major Championships is already oversubscribed with 180+ crews.

The competitors will have to revert back their setups the following month (at the end of May) for the second closed roads asphalt event of the season on the Scottish borders. The Jim Clark Rally (May 24) will see them reunite alongside the Asphalt Rally Championship for this mainstay in the BRC Calendar.

A pause in the proceedings for a little over two months will come before a second trip up north to Scotland for the second gravel event of the season at the Grampian Forest Rally (August 9), an event that has received good feedback from the crews in recent years for its fast and flowing gravel tests. 

Round 5, could possibly be seen as the highlight of the year, when the BRC will not only once again join up with the Asphalt Championship crews but will also be joined by the ERC (European Rally Championship). On the challenging closed roads of Wales, the BRC crews will pitch themselves up against some top European talent for a two-day spectacle at the Rali Ceredigion (Aug 31 – Sept 1) in what has fast become a leading stage rally event on these shores.

The season will reach its climax once again on the Gravel at the final round in North Wales, the Cambrian Rally (October 26), where our new Champions will be crowned.

So what about the runners and riders for the class of 2024?

Leading the field away at the opening round will be 2019 European Rally Champion, Chris Ingram. A young man who has an impressive rallying C.V. having become the first British Rally driver in some 50+ years to secure the European Rally title. In addition to his international outings in the WRC2, Ingram will be joining the proven Melvyn Evans Motorsport team this season in one of the UK’s first Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 specification cars for the team’s BRC assault. Ingram will be joining Meirion Evans, however, because only one Yaris has reached Wales in time, Ingram will be driving the VW Polo GTi at the season opener (Click Here for details of the MEM Team Launch).

Photos: Chris Ingram @ Castrol MEM team Launch – By Nigel Pratt (Black Mountains Media) | Kieth Cronin – West Cork Rally Winners 2024 – By Martin Walsh (Keith Cronin Rallying PR)

Behind Ingram will be a four-time British Rally Champion, Keith Cronin. The Irishman is still searching for that illusive fifth title having been prevented from achieving that goal in recent years by the likes of Matt Edwards, Osian Pryce and more recently last year; when Adrien Fourmaux ran away with the title in the M-Sport backed Fiesta. Cronin has traded the VW Polo in for the latest specification Rally2 Ford Fiesta from M-Sport in the hope of unlocking some of that performance like Formaux did, as he drives for five this year. In preparation for the opening round, Cronin won the West Cork Rally (Round 2 of the Irish Tarmac Championship) the week before the off, which gave him some important seat time and a nice confidence boost ahead of the start of his BRC campaign.

2022 BRC Champ Osian Pryce will make his return to the Championship after having a somewhat quieter year of rallying last year. It’s no secret that budget has always been the biggest challenge for the Welshman, despite having what it takes and proving his worth by winning the title. Trying to get the funding to not only continue to compete but to progress things to the next level is like banging one’s head against a brick wall. Pryce is sure to be one of the favourites, lining up at the North West Stages in a Ford Fiesta Rally2 behind his old arch-rival, Cronin.

Photos: 2022 British Rally Champion – Osian Pryce – By Nigel Pratt (Black Mountains Media | Meirion Evans / Jonathan Jackson / Chris Ingram @ Castrol MEM Team Launch – By Nigel Pratt (Black Mountains Media)

As mentioned, Meirion Evans will team up with Ingram for the Melvyn Evans Motorsport team assault; although he has plenty of Irish Tarmac experience under his belt there’s not so much gravel in recent times. Meirion won the coin toss to drive the GR Yaris at the opening round, so it will be all eyes on him to see how the Rally2 GR Yaris performs on the closed roads against the more familiar Fiestas and Polos.

Rounding out the Top 5 on the seeded entry list is a bright young talent who honed his skills in the Junior British Rally Championship before stepping up to the World stage. With backing from Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, William Creighton won the Junior British Rally title in 2021 and raised the bar in 2023 by securing the Junior World Rally Championship title in a Ford Fiesta Rally3. Creighton returns to the top-level BRC1 category for Round 1 in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 car, and in his own words is using the series “to get solid experience of the Fiesta in a competition environment”.

Photos: William Creighton – M-Sport | James Williams – By Andy Cook (Xlerate.Media)

Last year’s BRC runner-up also returning and hoping to go one better is James Williams. The Welshman had a solid season of progression last year securing his first BRC Rally win at his home event, the Rali Ceredigion; Williams will once again campaign a Hyundai i20 Rally2 car.

2023 Asphalt Rally Champion Callum Black is another returning to contest the BRC alongside his Asphalt Championship title defence this year. Black is a quick lad and can win on both gravel and asphalt, so we expect him to be mixing it up in his Fiesta Rally2.

Photos: Callum Black – By Andy Cook (Xlerate.Media) | Garry Pearson – By Andrew Scott

Scotlands Garry Pearson has an impressive national rallying CV, with Scottish, English and BTRDA titles under his belt, for sure the ultimate dream is to add that BRC title. Employing the very experienced services of Ex-World Rally Championship Co-Driver Daniel Barritt, the pair made steady progress last season in the BRC. Pearson will, however, swap the VW Polo and will join M-Sport for their team assault in the latest Rally2 spec Ford Fiesta and he will be joined by Max McRae.

Having had a handful of BRC outings in recent years both in the JBRC and the BRC-1 class in a Skoda Fabia R5 at the Cambrian Rally last year, where he finished third behind Garry Pearson, McRae will be looking to once again pitch himself up against some of the top British talent in the top tier of the BRC this year. We are not 100% sure that it will be the full season, but McRae has supposedly put the budget together for most if not all rounds, pending other commitments.

Photos: Max McRae – By Andy Cook (Xlerate.Media) | Elliot Payne – By Andrew Scott

Two-time BTRDA Rally Champ Elliot Payne is back for another shot at the BRC, a quick young lad on gravel who will be looking to improve on last year’s BRC result. Other BRC regulars who are back are, reigning BRC National Champion Alan Carmichael and 2023 Junior British Rally Champion Kyle White, they will both be campaigning Hyundai i20 cars (Rally2 Spec for Carmichael & R5 Spec for White).

Photos: Alan Carmichael – By Nigel Pratt (Black Mountains Media) | Kyle White – By Andrew Scott

The top lineup doesn’t stop there and keeps on going, three times Scottish Rally Champion Euan Thorburn will put in an appearance in the BRC for the first time since 2017, and Olly Mellors will once again add the Proton Iriz R5 into the mix along with a string of Asphalt Championship competitors which include Asphalt Rally Championship front runners Neil Roskill and James Ford.

Meanwhile, outside of the top BRC1 class, three times BRC National Cup champ, John Morrison will be returning to the series after a couple of years away in search of BRC Open Cup honors in his Ford Fiesta R5, he will be joined by Mr Legends Fires himself, Jone Stone amongst others. William Mains in the Vauxhall Nova returns to the series once again; plus there will be a touch of nostalgia out on the stages in the National Cup field, with the Nissan Sunny GTI F2 piloted by Chris Butcher. Wearing the 1997 British Championship-winning colours of Mark Higgins, for sure this machine will be a favourite amongst the fans.

Photos: William Mains / Ioan Lloyd | By Andy Cook (Xlerate.Media)

The Rally3 class will be represented by William Hill in a Ford Fiesta and the Rally4 field by a pack of Peugeot 208s; Casey Jay Coleman, Ioan Lloyd, Kyle McBride and Robert Proudlock are several crews who will battle it out in the Junior British Rally Championship and The Stellantis Motorsport Rally Cup which joins the BRC this year from Round 2.

With quality events on the calendar and a well-supported entry list signed up for the season opener, the Championship will also be boosted by a significantly improved media package this year. Returning to free-to-air terrestrial television having signed a multi-year deal, ITV4/ITVX will broadcast the six-round series across the UK and the Republic of Ireland which all makes for a rather promising and positive start to the year. For now, there is once again a bit of a buzz surrounding the BRC and will once again be covering every round of the Championship on its platform throughout the year.