Arron Newby kept his MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series title hopes alive by taking a closely fought Phil Price Memorial Woodpecker Rally victory on Saturday [9 September].
Newby and co-driver Jamie Edwards had been embroiled in a battle all-rally long with Elliott Payne and Tom Woodburn, but it was the Skoda Fabia R5 driver that would come out on top after eight intense stages, with just three seconds in hand over the second-placed crew. Rob Wilson and Richard Crozier rounded out the top three in their battle-scarred Mitsubishi EVO VII.
The searing late summer sun would add an extra dimension to the weekend’s action as the Ludlow-based event would see rising temperatures and hanging dust making the right forest stages on both sides of the English and Welsh border. Supported for a second year by Presteigne Tyre Services and Phil Price Rally School, the Sixty and Worcestershire Motor Club organised forest event ran for the 40th year and attracted an impressive list of contenders who would face tackle eight stages and around 44 competitive miles throughout the day.
A revised route for 2023 saw brand new stages introduced and offered the chance for some of the UK’s fastest gravel drivers to prove their pace and secure the overall rally win, whilst also keeping one eye on their championship hopes.
But it was an early drama for one of the pre-event favorites Matt Hirst who was forced to withdraw the night before the event with engine issues in his Fiesta R5, leaving the likes of Payne and Newby to battle it out.
Newby held the early lead but just for one stage as Ludlow’s Perry Gardener stamped his mark on the timesheets to go fastest on the second test, Ceri and move ahead. Gardener and Jack Bowen then set another scratch time on the Hopton stage, before a sad early bath in Haye Park – just a stone’s throw from the family business, their Fiesta R5 suffering suspension issues.
That promoted Newby back into the lead and after a slow start from Payne, he was just 12 seconds shy at the mod-point service back at the Racecourse. But the blistering heat would take its toll and Payne was evidently suffering as he returned Ludlow, and it would be a tall order to overhaul Newby over the remaining four stages.
But Payne gave it everything – winning three stages over the afternoon loop to eat into Newby’s lead; but it wouldn’t be enough and Newby was elated to secure the overall win, ensuring he could take the BTRDA title fight to the next round.
“That’s an unbelievable weekend,” said Newby.
“We have been really consistent all day and the car has been mega. We went on a hard tyre to make sure it lasted and we came to that last stage with Elliot just six seconds behind. I said to Jamie [Co-driver], let’s just give it everything but it was so difficult in the dust, we couldn’t see a thing for the first two miles.
“But honestly I didn’t expect to be stood here with the champagne in first, it’s a really surprising win”.
Whilst Payne took second, it was Wilson who took the maximum score in the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship, hauling his Mitsubishi to an impressive result despite the more modern machinery around him, and rounding out the podium in the process.
Russ Thompson enjoyed a day-long battle for the podium but was forced to settle for fourth in his Mitsubishi Evo IX with Steve Link on the notes, whilst Alistair Ginley and Craig Thorley rounded out the top five in their Ford Fiesta Rally2.
The National section of the event would house the Fuchs Lubricants British Historic Rally Championship contenders and it would be a victory for home hero Joe Price and Chris Brooks in their Ford Escort MKII. The lead swapped three times over the opening three stages with stage one winner and FIAT 131 driver Nick Elliott being shunted down the order by George Lepley’s Mitsubishi Galant on the next.
But by the third test Price moved into the lead and from there he had full control of the pack and despite a late charge from Lepley, Price held his own to take the National victory on home turf. Lepley grabbed the runner-up spot on the Galant’s full rally debut whilst it was Herefordshire’s Roger Chilman who took third with Patrick Walsh on the notes in their Ford Escort MKII. The podium was also enough to hand Chilman maximum points in the British Historic Rally Championship – his third BHRC win of the season.
The event was a qualifying round of the Fuchs Lubricants British Historic Rally Championship, the MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series, the Pirelli Motorsport UK Welsh Rally Championship and the Seacon UK English Rally Championship. Other regional series included the Welsh Historic Rally Championship, IPS Paints Rally Challenge, ANWCC Forest Stage Rally Championship and HRCR Stage Masters Rally Challenge.