• Amateur crews join the World Championship success story
• Over-subscribed entry included Graeme Swann, Jimmy McRae and Top Gear team
• Mike Faulkner triumphs by a 30-second margin in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9
One of the many major attractions of last weekend’s hugely successful Wales Rally GB (13-16 November) was the star-studded National Rally, which ran alongside the FIA World Rally Championship main event.
Using the same legendary stages in the Welsh forests, it attracted an over-subscribed entry with no fewer than 95 amateur crews lining up alongside their WRC counterparts for three days of world class competition. The entry not only included current top guns from the UK rallying scene but also five-time British Rally Champion Jimmy McRae plus a couple of notable rookies.
Ashes-winning cricketer Graeme Swann experienced a different sport for the very first time while a team from BBC Top Gear Magazine also jumped in at the deep end.
It was Mike Faulkner and co-driver Peter Foy, however, who won the 2014 Wales Rally GB National in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. They led the rally from the second stage on Friday morning and finished 30 seconds ahead of Andrew Gallacher and Jane Nicol. It was a Lancer Evo 9 top three with Barry Groundwater and Neil Shanks finishing third.
The National section of Wales Rally GB followed the main World Rally Championship crews. While the WRC entrants tackled each stage twice across the three days, the National rally drivers attempted each stage once. That gave a total of 13 stages and 98 competitive miles.
Fastest on the first stage was Ieuan Rowlands. Usually seen in a Ford Escort Mk2, he switched to a Subaru Impreza for this rally and it was the first time he’d driven a four-wheel-drive car for seven years. But he was instantly on the pace.
Faulkner and Foy, though, took the lead on the second stage and number one seed Roger Duckworth moved into second, but on the Sweet Lamb stage he took the big jump slightly too fast and stalled at the following hairpin. Unfortunately co-driver Mark Broomfield had been turning a page in his pacenotes as they hit the jump, and suffered whiplash as he was unable to brace himself.
“The marshals wanted to be very careful with the injury,” said Duckworth, “so they airlifted Mark to hospital but discharged him later in the evening. There’s no lasting damage but he’ll be a bit sore for a while.”
Fuel worries for Faulkner slowed him slightly on Saturday, but he went on to build up a healthy 30-second advantage by the end of the day, and then consolidated it on Sunday.
“I’m really pleased with this result,” the winner said. “It was hard work and this is a tough rally to complete. We thoroughly enjoyed the event from start to finish. The stages were fantastic and a huge challenge, with so much grip variation. They were smooth, fast and flowing, tight and technical and rough and muddy – but what was consistent was the huge amount of spectators cheering us on.
“The atmosphere has been unbelievable – the rally had a pre-event buzz, the Service Park at Deeside was electric and it was great to follow the WRC crews over the podium in Wales. This is as good as it gets.”
Rowlands suffered a puncture on the Clocaenog Main stage on Saturday morning and that dropped him from second to fifth. It left Gallacher in second place from then on. He reported a clean rally and was comfortably ahead of Groundwater at the finish. “The whole three days weren’t too bad for us,” said Gallacher. “The only problem was on the penultimate stage when we overshot a right-hander. We’ve really enjoyed the rally and thanks to everyone who has volunteered and helped to put this event together.”
The secret to finishing well on the National Rally was all about having a straightforward run through the stages. “We didn’t encounter any problems,” said third-placed Groundwater. “The last stage was difficult because some fog had set in but it didn’t slow us down. It’s been a great event and we’ve loved driving on these stages, they flow so well.”
Jimmy McRae was behind the wheel of a mighty Vauxhall Firenza Can Am V8 in the historic section with Pauline Gullick in the co-driver’s seat. He survived a problem on Friday’s final stage and eventually finished in 31st position.
“I was completely amazed by our popularity,” admitted the 71-year-old Scot, father of Colin McRae, Britain’s first World Rally Champion. “Having competed in my first RAC Rally 37 years ago in a Vauxhall, it was great to return again in a similar car. I think the fans appreciated the glorious noise of the V8 and the age of the driver!”
Adding to the sense of history, BTRDA Rally Series Champion Steve Perez competed in his iconic Lancia Stratos. Despite problems with a ceased wheel bearing on Friday, he and co-driver Paul Spooner continued to entertain the big crowds with the sight and sound of the Italian machine. They finished 46th of the 70 classified cars.
Cricketer Graeme Swann rolled his Ford Fiesta R2 on the very first stage on Friday morning, but continued for the rest of the day. He and co-driver Stuart Loudon had to kick the windscreen out after two further stages because their vision was impaired by the broken ’screen. They achieved their aim of reaching the finish and came home in Llandudno in a highly creditable 45th place and third in class.
Assisted by Hyundai UK, Top Gear Magazine built their own car specifically to compete on Wales Rally GB and to provide readers with a great insight into the sport. Chief road tester Ollie Marriage was given the task of driving the Hyundai i20 and, despite his very limited experience, won his category.
“We were a bit lucky when the leader retired on the final day but it has been a truly fantastic experience,” reported a delighted Marriage.
Retiring from the event on day one was Luke Francis. A favourite to win, he and co-driver John H Roberts rolled their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 on the second stage and later retired with the resulting radiator damage.
Alex Allingham, the Pirelli MSA Welsh Rally Champion, endured a difficult event in his Subaru Impreza. He and co-driver Chris Williams ran out of fuel on stage two and their fightback was hindered by brake trouble. They eventually climbed to 23rd after they set a string of top four fastest times. For them it was a case of what might have been.
WALES RALLY GB NATIONAL RALLY Results after 13 of 13 Special Stages
1. Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9) 1h 45m 02.6s
2. Andrew Gallacher/Jane Nichol (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9) +30.1s
3. Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9) +1m 20.9s
4. Tristan Bailey/James How (Mitsubishi Lancer WRC 04) +2m 34.9s
5. Ieuan Rowlands/Emyr Hall (Subaru Impreza) +2m 58.8s
6. David Howells/Robin Hernaman (Subaru Impreza) +4m 14.3s
7. Paul Walker/Vernon Brown (Subaru Impreza) +5m 26.2s
8. John Morrison/Peter Carstairs (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9) +5m 31.2s
9. Phil Brown/Hamish Campbell (Subaru Impreza) +7m 15.2s
10. David Stokes/Guy Weaver (Ford Escort RS1600) +7m 15.7s
full final classification, click here