A LARGE number of local crews are tackling the forthcoming Roger Albert Clark Rally this week, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, reports PAUL WILLETTS.
One hundred and sixty five cars will line up on the morning of Thursday, November 23, for the start at Carmarthen Showground.
The Bi Annual event is regarded as the best historic event in world rallying, with crews coming from all over Europe and Kenya.
Such is the popularity, it’s attracted former Citroën and Mini works driver Kris Meeke and current WRC2 front runner Oliver Solberg, son of Petter, to take on the cream of historic rallying.
Ahead lie 33 timed special stages covering some 350 stage miles in a total route of 1,220 miles over this epic five-day event that follows the halcyon days of the RAC rallies of the seventies and eighties, long days and nights and the worst that the British weather can throw at you, usually with rain, fog, ice and snow to contend with.
The opening two legs concentrate on the classic Welsh stages before a long Friday night road section to Carlisle, the rally’s base for the final three days.
Saturday sees a long day in the forests of the Scottish Borders before the final two days based in and around the notorious Kielder Forest and the Monday evening finish in Carlisle.
The real sting in the tail is the final stage of the rally, a mammoth 38.92 miles, the longest stage in British rallying for over 40 years, which will run in the Pundershaw area of Kielder, with the quickest cars taking in excess of 40 minutes to complete it.
Newly crowned Fuchs British Historic Rally champions Roger Chilman and Patrick Walsh alongside will certainly want to erase the memories of two years ago, when he left the road on an icy bend on the opening test in Kielder and retired on the spot.
But the Herefordshire farmer will certainly have a game plan in the Securcom, Danford, Connop & Sons, Haywood Crushing Demolition,Evans Cleaning, Pirelli-backed Escort RS1800, and will be targetting he podium come Monday evening in Carlisle.
Chilman is one of six Escort RS1800s run by Meirion Evans’ superb Wales Motorsport team.
And he said: “I’m really looking forward to it; the biggest event now in this country, it’s going to be tricky to find a good pace. It’s so easy to push too hard too soon, as I found to my cost two years ago. Also you have to limit issues and problems.
“I have had both good and bad experiences in recent years, but huge thanks to all my sponsors for making it possible for me to be here, and hopefully I can repay them.”
Another Wales Motorsport car will be in the hands of Chepstow’s Sacha Kakad, together with regular co-driver James Aldridge. Kakad finished a superb 10th two years ago on his first ever drive in an Escort. He learnt fast as the event progressed and has gained valuable experience going into this year’s event.
Gareth James is another who’s impressed many. The West Walian slid under the radar at the beginning of the year but since teaming up with local boy Dan Petrie, results have come.
The Gareth James Motorsport- Bluesky Engineering Escort RS1800 could very well be the dark horses if they have a good run.
James has an incredible turn of speed if he can balance that with consistency and some much needed luck.
BTRDA Two-Wheel Drive champions Ben Friend and Cliffy Simmons have a new Allglass Anglia-backed Escort RS1800, and after a superb fourth overall in 2021 these two will be looking to emulate that result.
“It’s an incredibly difficult event – you have to try and keep your nose clean, have a bit of luck, plus the weather can play a huge part, like two years ago, we had it all,” said Monmouth’s Cliffy.
Former Lombard RAC rally veterans Theo Bengry and Les Forsbrook line up in the Leominster Car Auctions, Quick Motorsport-run Opel Ascona 400. These two retired late on the final day with axle issues two years ago.
Another Quick Motorsport-run Escort is in the hands of David Tomlin with Hereford’s Keith Ashley calling the notes, while a touch of the East African Safari comes in the shape of Frank Tundo in the mighty TR7 V8.
The Kenyan legend was here twoyears ago with daughter Tash, but this time Alan Jones is in the hot seat, who will come straight from this weekend’s Wyedean, and whose rallying career dates back to the mid 70s.
Scotsman Stuart McClaren will have another Herefordshire co-driver on board in the shape of the highly experienced Mark Ammonds to guide him in the beautiful Opel Kadett GTE.
Back for another crack is Raglan’s Dave Hopkins co-driven by Rich Wise in the Sunbeam Ti, while Paul Spooner completes the local line up, with the Abergavenny man guiding Andrew Siddall in his immaculate Fiat 131.
Thousands of spectators will line the route to watch the crews, evoking memories of those long-gone wonderful days of the old RAC rallies, affectionally known as “The Bobble Hat Brigade” by competitors.
So who will win?
This is the million dollar question, and you can’t look beyond the professional drivers such as Meeke and Solberg. But there are at least a dozen more crews capable of taking laurels come Monday evening in Carlisle as the battle-weary crews arrive after the epic adventure and everyone with a tale to tell.