PREVIEW | BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 202305/03/2023
The Motorsport UK British Rally Championship will return to the stages with a new season opener to the series on March 11th. The Malcolm Wilson Stages Rally will take up the role of hosting the first round of an exciting seven-rally calendar. It has been decades since the British Championship has competed on these stunning Lake District Forest Stages, so this event makes a very welcomed addition to the schedule this year.
Photo By Xlerate.Media
More than two months will pass until the next round of the Championship will take place; this will give the crews plenty of time to convert their machines from gravel to tarmac spec, ready for the challenge of the Beatson’s Building Supplies Jim Clark Rally at the end of May (26/27). This two-day British Rallying favourite will be the first of four back-to-back Asphalt rounds but the Scottish-based event will mix things up this year. The National event for the BRC crews runs on the same weekend as another event, The Jim Clark Reivers Rally. However, this year, the stage routes for both rallies will switch up and the events will swap their routes. The National event for the BRC crews will use totally different stages to last year making things a bit of a level playing field this time around.
At the end of June, the Championship will pop across the English Channel to Belgium where the formidable closed roads of Ypres will host the third round (June 23/24). An event which featured on the calendar back in 2019, the Ardeca Yyres Rally will offer up a whopping 130 miles of demanding tarmac roads and a chance for the British Crews to compare themselves against some of the European crews, just watch out for those ditches!
Another Asphalt event making a welcomed return to the BRC this year is the Modern Tyres Ulster Rally on August 18/19. The Ulster delivered an exciting season finale for the Championship back in 2021 and this rally knows how to put on a good event. The Northern Irish round is a fast one and those Irish crews from their National Tarmac Championship are specialists on their home stages, so it will be interesting to see how the BRC crews fair up against them.
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Next up is the Get Connected Rali Ceredigion in Wales, September 2/3. From the seaside town of Aberystwyth, this final tarmac event of the year will play out over the very best closed road stages that Wales has to offer, where an opening night of night stages will sort out the men from the boys. A firm favourite amongst competitors and fans, this two-day event which raised the bar last year, makes a very welcomed return to the Championship once again
A trip “Opp North” to North Yorkshire at the end of the same month will signal the penultimate round of the season, with the TrackRod Rally Yorkshire (September 22/23). An event which returns the series back onto the loose stuff will begin under the cover of the darkness in the legendary Dalby Forest on the opening Friday night of the rally. The season will then come to a close on the World Class gravel stages of North Wales at the end of October (27/28) at the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally, where our 2023 Champions will be crowned.
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The season opener is organised by the Morecombe, Kirkby Lonsdale and West Cumbria Clubs, this 46th edition of the Malcolm Wilson Rally is once again hosted by M-Sport World Rally Teams HQ at Dovenby Hall, Cockermouth.
M-Sport has thrown their own factory WRC2 driver, Andrian Fourmaux into the mix in a Fiesta Rally2 car and he will wear the number 1 on his doors. The press release suggests that the Frenchman, who won this very event back in 2020 will contest the entire BRC Championship (World Rally commitments depending, that is of course), but let’s just wait and see if he appears at future rounds.
Parking Fourmaux aside let’s take a look a the British crews.
Despite the reigning Champ, Osian Price not returning to defend his title, at least not as far as we know or expect, there is still a strong lineup of British crews contesting the Championship this year. Returning for another craic at that elusive fifth British title is none other than Keith Cronin. The Irishman pushed the 2022 British Rally Champion Pryce all the way last year in an intense battle at every round between the two VW Polo GTi R5’s…..so could 2023 be Cronin’s year?
Photo: Keith Cronin | By Xlerate.Media
Behind perhaps the favourite in Cronin will be a gaggle of very capable drivers which includes last season’s third-placed man, James Williams. Williams who secured three podium finishes last year will return aiming to improve but he won’t be in the Hyundai at the opening round, instead opting for a Ford Fiesta Rally 2 car.
Photo: James Wiliams | By Xlerate.Media
Sadly one of the great characters of last season, Ruairi Bell who finished fourth in the standings and with the final round victory at the Cambrian, won’t be competing in the BRC this year. Citing that “Rallying isn’t providing the value that we need to generate the funding to drive” Bell also commented that “As a team, we needed more support to be able to grow and to create the atmosphere that we want at rallies”. This is a great shame really, as Bell and Co-Driver Dai Roberts showed great progression over the course of last season. There are currently no plans in place to return to rallying this year but the Skoda Fabia is still in the stables and ready to go, well for the moment it is, should the situation change.
After competing in the BRC last year on selected events, 2022 BTRDA Rally Champ Elliot Payne, who finished 7th last year, will return in his Rally 2 spec Fiesta. At only 20 years old, Payne has seen some great success in recent years and thus we expect him to up his game and throw himself right into the fight.
Photo: Elliot Payne | By Xlerate.Media
Another returnee who is also a previous BTRDA Champion and Scottish Rally Champion to the matter is Gary Pearson. After campaigning a Fiesta Rally2 last year and finishing 5th in the Championship, the Scotsman will return to the Skoda brand, driving a Fabia this season, fingers are crossed that the switch proves to be the right one.
Photo: Gary Pearson | By GF Rally Images
Making his step up to the top BRC1 class this season is last year’s Junior Champ, Eamonn Kelly alongside his regular Co-Driver Conor Mohan. The pair had a season to remember last year; after securing the Junior title the pair then took a spin in a VW Polo GTI R5 car at the season finale, the Cambrian Rally where they finished third on the podium. 2023 represents a step up for the young Irish pair, who will also compete in the Junior World Rally Championship this year. This will ultimately mean missing at least two of the BRC rounds.
Photo: Eamonn Kelly | By Xlerate.Media
Another Irishman making a return and stepping up will be the British Rally Championships 2022 National title winner, Alan Carmichael. Carmichael alongside Arthur Kierans will remain in the Hyundai and is hoping that he can handle the step up in pace this year.
Photo: Alan Carmichael | By Xlerate.Media
Making his return to the British Rally Championship after some eight years is Callum Black. Black who is a national rally front-runner can often be found battling it out at the sharp end of national Championships such as the BTRDA or Welsh. This season sees him return to the top flight in a Rally2 spec Ford Fiesta with his Co-Driver Jack Morton. Black is more at home on the gravel and this is backed up by his rally win last year at the Woodpecker, but it will be a different story on the four-tarmac round this year… or will it?
Photo: Callum Black | By Xlerate.Media
There will be a number of newcomers to the BRC this year, none other than National Rally regular Stephen Petch who comes from a family where rallying is just the done thing. Having been a front runner in other National Stage Rallying Championships such as the BTRDA, Petch is simply looking for a fresh challenge and to sample some new events this season. Alongside his British Rally Championship campaign, he will also tackle the Scottish Rally Championship. Kicking things off in the BRC in his Fiesta Rally 2 car at the opening round The Malcolm Wilson, an event that he won last year; he has however, recently taken delivery of a Skoda Fabia.
Photo: Stephen Petch | By Xlerate.Media
Speaking of Skodas, Hugh Brunton & Drew Sturrock will set off in the latest spec Rally2 EVO Fabia at the opening round. The pair got their first drive in the new machinery towards the end of last year at the Malton Forest Rally, North Yorkshire. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan as they rolled out on the fourth stage. The pair contested the Wilson along with a number of other BRC events including the Jim Clark, Nicky Grist and TrackRod last year in an R5 Fiesta, so they have a decent amount of experience already under their belts at this level.
Another newcomer to the BRC, Gavin Edwards from North Wales will be making his debut in the BRC this year. Edwards who has been peddling a MK2 Ford Escort around the stages in recent years will trade the old girl in for a more modern R5 Fiesta car but is under no illusion that the BRC1 class will be his biggest challenge to date. Edwards, however, is no newcomer to national rallying, with experience on both gravel and asphalt surfaces, the 40-year-old does have a BTRDA SilverStar title under his belt from back in 2016.
On the subject off newcomers, did we mention that there will be an overseas competitor coming out to play? …. 23-year-old Allen Dobasu from the US of A got his first taste of the British Rally Championship last year at the season final, the Cambrian. I guess those infamous World-Class gravel stages of North Wales were enough to convince Debasu to sign up for the 2023 Championship. The American will take up the challenge in a Rally2 spec Fiesta in his quest to gain experience behind the wheel of a rally car. Perhaps there’s no better place to do that than on the British stages right?
Meanwhile, in the Juniors, last season’s runner-up is looking to go one better this season. Irish lad Jonnie Mulholland will return to the JBRC with Co-Driver Eion Tracy but will upgrade to the Rally3 spec Ford Fiesta straight from M-Sport Polands factory, which will be the marks debut in the British Rally Championships.
Photo: Jonnie Mulholland | By Xlerate.Media
Another Northern Irish lad to be making a return to the JBRC this year is Kyle White. White was right in the thick of it last season, finishing third in the Championship with three podium finishes including a maiden win on the Nicky Grist. The 26-year-old, like Mulholland, will be gunning for victory at every round in a bid to become the new Junior Champ. Contesting the Rally4 Spec Peugeot 208 alongside Co-Driver Sean Topping for the second season running now, will hopefully give him the advantage, what with being able to just jump back into it and hit the ground running.
Photo: Kyle White | By Xlerate.Media
Reigning Academy Trophy winner Kyle McBride will make his step into the JBRC this year. By securing that title last year, he was rewarded with free entry into every event on the 2023 calendar. The 19-year-old is hoping to challenge the likes of Mulholland and White in his Motorsport Ireland-backed Rally4 Fiesta, which is an upgrade from the Fiesta R2T of last year.
Photo: Kyle McBride | By Xlerate.Media
Another young gun from across the Irish sea aiming to make his mark is 19-year-old Casey Jay Coleman. Coleman who dipped his toes into the series in 2021 will return to the JBRC in a Rally4 Fiesta and is hoping to be up there, despite admitting that it will be a huge learning curve.
The Championship kicks off early on the morning of 11th March, where 10 Gravel stages covering just over 51 competitive miles await the crews. Classic Cumbrian tests including Comb, Wythop and Grizedale along with M-Sport home test stage in Greystokes will feature on the route and everyone is itching to get going.