BTRDA / RD6 / WOODPECKER STAGES21/09/2023
The MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series arrived in Ludlow for the sixth round of the 2023 season. As the Championship heats up, so did the temperature out on the stages at the Phil Price Memorial Woodpecker Stages Rally, where the series began it’s descent into the final three events of the year.
The Sixty & Worcestershire Motor Club organised event laid on some 43 miles of gravel, spread over 8 stages (two loops of four) for its 40th running. As in previous years, the Ludlow Race Course played host as the rally HQ but there was a bit of a reshuffle in stages this year. Off the menu was Radnor but in its place was the Coed Sarnua Forest complex at Abbey-Cym-Hir and the return of a classic which hasn’t seen stage rallying for many years. That was Ceri Forest just outside Newtown to represent Wales, whilst representing England was the return of Hopton and the good old faithful Haye Park to close the event with.
Photos By Xlerate.Media
Last time out on the Nicky Grist Stages, Elliot Payne peddled his Ford Fiesta Rally2 home for his third victory of the season and his title hopes continued to edge closer. Robert Gough would also secure his third victory of the season in the SilverStar, whilst Nigel Jenkins continued his dominance of the BronzeStar with his fourth win of the season.
This time around on the Woody, there would sadly be retirement for one of our Championship hopefuls before a wheel had even been turned in anger. Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear would not make the start of the rally, soon after passing through scrutineering on the Friday, their Ford Fiesta R5’s engine gave up the ghost. This devastating blow for Hirst would ease the pressure off the likes of Elliot Payne and Arron Newby on the event, as the race for the 2023 GoldStar title heats up.
The first test of the rally was Cwmysgawen in the Coed Sarnau Forest, a 5 miler to wake the crews up with here, and although a new stage to the Woody, it featured on the Rally Nuts Stages back in April, so it was familiar ground for the BTRDA crews to begin their day with. Arron Newby alongside Jamie Edwards in the Skoda Fabia R5 would be the ones to set the early benchmark, stopping the clocks 4 seconds quicker than the Ford Fiesta R5 of Perry Gardener and Jack Bowen. Championship leader Elliott Payne appeared a little slower off the mark and rounded out the top three being three seconds off the pace of Newby through that opener.
Photo: Arron Newby & Jamie Edwards | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
The crews headed for the second test of the event, the new but old stage in Ceri Forest, which offered up a level playing field for the BTRDA crews. A popular rallying venue throughout the years, it makes a welcomed comeback but the stage hasn’t seen much action in recent years and it showed. The organisers made clever use of the closed public road legislation to link parts of the forest complex together making up a 6-mile test. Gardener and Bowen picked up their first stage win here, beating Newby by around 5 seconds, with Payne just another second behind in third.
Photo: Perry Gardener & Jack Bowen | By Andrew Scott
Nipping across the Anglo-Welsh border and Perry Gardener was getting a little closer to his home turf, technically The Woody is his home event and SS3 Hopton clearly demonstrated his local knowledge. He was some 8 seconds faster than anyone, picking up his second outright stage win of the morning, however, Gardner’s highs soon turned to a rather big low. The Fiesta had picked up some damage in Hopton, a bent track control arm was identified on the road section to Haye Park and he and Co-Driver Jack Bowen were forced to call it a day and head for an early bath.
Photo: Arron Newby & Jamie Edwards | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
With Gardener now unfortunately out of the picture, Arron Newby set about taking charge of the rally in the longest test of the rally in Haye Park. Although he and Russ Thompson stopped the clock dead on the same time, Newby and Co-Driver Jamie Edwards were heading into the mid-day service halt with a lead of 12 seconds to Elliot Payne and Tom Woodburn, with Russ Thompson in the Mitsubishi EVO 9 rounding out the top three.
The afternoon loop was supposed to resume the battle with a second pass in Cwmysgawen, however, an accident forced the cancellation and crews were sent onwards for another crack at the now fairly rough Ceri Forest.
Payne finally began to make a move and picked up his first stage win here taking 6 seconds out of Newby and with it halving the gap to the leader of the rally. Payne kept that pressure on in the penultimate stage of the rally in Hopton but Newby had also reacted to Payne’s previous stage win and the pair stopped the clocks on identical times.
Photo: Elliot Payne & Tom Woodburn | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
Newby and Edwards would enter the final test in Haye Park with 6 seconds to defend and it was a case of now or never for Payne to pull something out of the bag. Both gave it the beans but only one could emerge from that final stage the victor, both Newby and Payne had only gone and stopped the clocks on the same time once again.
Photo: Arron Newby & Jamie Edwards | By Andrew Scott
For Newby, that didn’t matter, his lead remained in tack and he alongside Co-Driver Edwards had done it, they had taken their second win of the season. The morning had delivered a battle with Perry Gardener but the afternoon had done also, with Championship leader Elliot Payne. This win for Newby really makes a difference to his title bid.
With Hirst a non-starter, Newby was able to seize the day and score maximum points which brings him closer to the Championship leader, Elliot Payne. In fact just four points separate them as the series heads into the penultimate round of the season.
A strong lineup of SilverStar crews descended on Ludlow and there were a number of crews all in the mix for the win on The Woody, which featured drama from the very first stage right down to the very last.
Kiwi Boyd Kershaw narrowly missed out on the win last time out on the Grist and would be looking to bring the fight to Robert Gough this time around. However, after the first test of the morning, Kershaw was handed a big gift as Gough and Co-Driver Paul Morris would not emerge from that opening stage in Coed Sarnau. An unfortunate double puncture in stage 1 for the pair would take them out of the game from the very first throw of the dice.
Photo: Boyd Kershaw & Keegan Rees | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
Yet Kershaw could not rest on his laurels as there was still plenty of other competition ready to pick up the fight in place of Gough, namely the likes of Ben Friend & Cliffy Simmons, Robert Proudlock & Steven Brown and Andy Davison & Tom Murphy to name but a few. Kershaw and Co-Driver Keegan Rees were able to set the benchmark taking the opening stage win, by posting a time that was 4 seconds quicker than Friend, with Proudlock a further second back in third.
Photo: Robert Proudlock & Steven Brown | By Andrew Scott
Proudlock was in the R2 Opel Adam and was pushing the little hot hatch hard through those early stages. He was able to match the time of the MK2 Escort of Kershaw through the second test in Ceri Forest. Proudlock was then able to go one better in the very next stage, Hopton, taking his first SilverStar stage win of the event by beating Kershaw by just a single second.
Kershaw’s rally was, however, about to take a turn for the worst; having been in the thick of it and locked in that battle with Proudlock and Friend over those opening three tests, the pressure from those guys added up and the Kiwi retired from the event after hitting a bank in SS4 Haye Park.
Photo: Ben Friend & Cliff Simmons | By Andrew Scott
Ben Friend and Cliff Simmons picked up their first stage win but it would be Robert Proudlock & Steven Bowen who would be the leading SilverStar crews at halftime. Heading back to service with a 4-second buffer over Friend and Simmoms, Proudlock and Brown had put in a great performance over the morning loop of stages; Andy Davison & Tom Murphy rounded out the top three in their Sunbeam VXR.
Back out for the second loop and Friend set about chasing down Proudlock, the stage stoppage in SS5 resulted in a nominal time for Friend which gave him exactly those four seconds that he needed to level with Proudlock who was able to complete the stage and record a time.
Photo: Robert Proudlock & Steven Brown | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
Proudlock didn’t let that phase him and put the hammer down in the very next stage, the second pass of Ceri, clawing 5 seconds from Friend which he then followed up in the penultimate stage through Hopton to send a clear message to Friend with just one stage remaining.
Ben Friend and Cliff Simmons clearly either did not receive that warning message from Proudlock or chose to ignore it, because the pair threw everything at it in the final stage of the rally through Haye Park. Proudlock and Brown had entered the stage with a lead of 7 seconds over Friend and Simmons but by the time they had hit the road back for Ludlow Race Course, that lead and their SilverStar win had been taken away from them in the dying seconds of the rally.
Photo: Ben Friend & Cliff Simmons | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
Ben Friend and Co-Driver Cliff Simmons had pulled it out of the bag on that final test, beating Proudlocks time by 10 seconds which was more than enough to secure the top step on the SilverStar podium. Having also won the season-opening at the Malcolm Wilson way back in March, Friend had rolled his sleeves up and got the job done for the second time this season.
Photo: Andy Davison & Tom Murphy | By Andrew Scott
There was further drama in that final stage, this time for Andy Davison and Co-Driver Tom Murphy who were looking at a podium finish. The pair would run into issues in their Sunbeam VXR, dropping a bucket load of time they would complete that final stage with a maximum time. Their SilverStar podium place had gone on the final test of the event which gifted it to Tony Simpson & Stefan Arndt in the R2 Ford Fiesta.
Nigel and Karen Jenkins would arrive in Ludlow with a healthy Championship lead and would be looking to wrap up the BronzeStar title here. They began their day in the Vauxhall Nova by setting off on the right foot in the opening stage Cwmysgawen. The pair posted a time that was 5 seconds quicker than the Nisan Micra of Dylan Fowler-Bishop & Dan Evans, with Ashley Francis-Adams & Tudor Jenkins (also in a Micra) rounding out the top three BronzeStar crews on that opening test.
Photo: Nigel & Karen Jenkins | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
Fowler-Bishop was able to up his game in the second test through Ceri Forest, taking back those 5 seconds back, but for Nigel and Karen Jenkins their rally would come to an end after the engine of the Nova let go into the last mile of the stage. After a strong string of events, the Jenkins pair were gutted to end The Woody early with their first DNF in a long time.
Photo: Dylan Fowler-Bishop & Dan Evans | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
With Jenkins now out of the picture, Dylan Fowler-Bishop could focus on obtaining his first BronzeStar win of the season. Over the remaining morning stages, he and Co-Driver Dan Evans pushed on, picking up another stage win in SS3 Hopton and a second-fastest time in SS5 Haye Park. The pair would check in to the mid-day service stop with a lead of 24 seconds over Chris Bush & Rob Bryn Jones in the Vauxhall Corsa.
Photo: Chris Bush & Rob Bryn Jones | By Andrew Scott
The afternoon would see a battle emerge in the form of a challenge for the BronzeStar lead from Bush in that Corsa, Bush netted the repeated run through Coed Sarnau but Fowler-Bishop reacted straightaway in the very next stage in Ceri Forest. Bush again came at him in Hopton to take another fastest stage time but whatever he did, it just didn’t seem to be enough to dent Fowler-Bishop’s lead.
Photo: Dylan Fowler-Bishop & Dan Evans | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
Dylan Fowler-Bishop and Co-Driver Dan Evans would enter the final test in Haye Park with a buffer of 10 seconds. Although Chris Bush and Rob Bryn Jones would sign off the rally with the final stage win, the eight seconds that Bush had clawed back here would, however, fall short of what was needed for the win. Dylan Fowler-Bishop alongside Dan Evans calling the notes would take to the top step of the BronzeStar podium for their first time this season.
Ashley Francis-Adams & Tudor Jenkins would round out the BronzeStar podium after finishing 54 seconds down on second-placed Bush and Jones. Fowler-Bishops’ result on the Woodpecker sees him within reach of both second and third place in the standings as just three points separate 2nd to 4th. Nigel Jenkins despite the DNF this time out, remains in the lead of the BronzeStar and will have to continue on in the quest for the title.
Photo: Ashley Francis-Adams & Tudor Jenkins | By Andrew Scott
Elsewhere in the Historics, Ben Friend and Cliff Simmons picked up the H3/4 Class honors in their MK2 Ford Escort, Ernie & Karen Graham picked up the H1/2 Class in their MK1 Ford Escort and together, Friend and Graham scored the top points in the Historic Cup. Jeremy Wells & Martin Saunders rounded out the Historic podium in his H1/2 Class MK1 Escort.
Photo: Ernie & Karen Graham | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media
NEXT TIME …
The MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series heads to North Yorkshire for the TrackRod Forest Stages Rally (September 23) where the crews will tackle the classic gravel stages in and around the infamous Dalby Forest and Pickering areas.