Ben Friend together with regular Monmouth co driver Cliffy Simmons opened their 2024 British Historic Rally Championship campaign with a superb 3rd overall on the KT Green Riponian Stages last Sunday, reports PAUL WILLETTS.

The Ripon Motor Club-organised event offered its usual short sharp format in the classic North Yorkshire forests of Cropton Gale Rigg and Wass offering two loops of the 3 stages interspersed with a midday service on Wombleton airfield.

A vast 108 car entry lined up for the 42 miles of competition, where snow and heavy rain had left the stages slippery, especially under the trees.

The 6 mile Wass Moor opened proceedings with Friend 5th fastest, and local boy Dan Mennell in his RS1800 opening up a 12 second lead.

Next up was 9 miles of Cropton with the opening loop of the stage not used for over 20 years. This section was extremely slippery with Friend setting 4th quickest, though Mennell’s fast start came unstuck when he lost 7 minutes down a firebreak

The final stage of the morning loop was the notoriously tricky Gale Rigg test with Friend getting the bit between his teeth setting 2nd fastest to arrive at service in 4th, embroiled in a terrific battle with Nick Elliott in the beautiful Fiat 131, with Friend holding a slender 5-second advantage .

The afternoon loop started with Elliott taking 5 back on the second run of Wass, to go level, but from then on the Allglass Anglia Escort RS1800 driver upped the pace and extended his advantage on the final two tests to 24 seconds over Elliott, closing within just 10 seconds of second placed Adrian Hetherington in another Escort RS1800, an impressive drive to start the season.

Another crew who had an excellent start to the year were reigning Category Two champions Jeremy Easson and Mike Reynolds in their Automotive Events Escort RS1600 finishing 15th overall, 2nd Category two and 1st in class but it wasn’t all plain sailing as they had no clutch for the first three stages and serious problems changing gear, which meant Category two rival and quick local boy Josh Carr opened a comfortable lead.

But with the car returned to fine fettle Easson begain to extend his class lead and reel in Carr. There wasn’t sufficient mileage to take the Category two win but the duo were well satisfied with a top 15 finish and class win.

“Having no clutch was a nightmare in such slippery conditions, especially on stages that are so fast causing one or two moments, but once we got it sorted we started to have a real go. We always enjoy coming up to Yorkshire and we’re delighted with the class win.

The Historic Rally was won yet again by Matthew Robinson and Sam Collis in their Escort RS1800.

Round two will take crews to the fast flowing Welsh forests of Dyfi and Dyfnant for Rally North Wales in mid March. In the coming weeks a host of local crews will tackle a series of different events such as East Ridings Stages, Malcolm Wilson Rally, Agbo Stages and North West Stages.