Scottish rally driver Garry Pearson secured a dominant victory at last weekend’s Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages Rally [4 September], winning four of the event’s five stages outright in the process.
Pearson and co-driver Niall Burns took their Skoda Fabia R5 to the win with almost a minute in hand to their nearest challengers George Lepley and Tom Woodburn in their Mitsubishi Evo X. Ian Bainbridge and Will Atkins rounded out the podium places in third.
Organised and promoted by Sixty and Worcestershire Motor Club, the event saw a shift in format for 2021 with all of the competitive stages taking place entirely within the Radnor Forest complex in Powys, Wales. The event base would also shift from its traditional Ludlow base to Badlands Farm near Kinnerton and 120 competitors would line up to take the start of the popular annual event with five stages and 44 miles of competitive action ahead.
Fresh from a category win at a British Rally Championship qualifier in Aberdeen just a few weeks previously, Pearson would show his hand early, stopping the clocks six seconds faster than number one seeds Callum Black and Jack Morton in their Ford Fiesta R5. However, stage two saw Pearson move into a class of his own with a 14-second lead heading into the first service of the day.
The second loop saw the chasing pack begin to close in on the Scots stage times but it would be too little, too late and Person was left to celebrate not only the event overall win on his first visit to the rally but also scooping maximum points in the MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series and Pirelli Motorsport UK Welsh Rally Championship to boot.
“It feels really good to win here,” he said at the finish.
“I’m quite surprised in a lot of respects to be honest. This morning I didn’t feel fully at the races, but the times were there and then this afternoon it was a case of getting through and we did it; I`m very happy, over the moon.”
“It was a challenging day all round, of course, it was a shame for Callum [Black – to retire] but the stages were great, full credit to the organisers as the stages held up very well and they were really enjoyable. Delighted with the day to be honest”
Black was looking like the closest challenger to the Skoda driver over the morning loop and would sit in third spot after the third test. However, he would not emerge from the fourth, clipping a log pile and breaking the steering in his Fiesta.
Stepping into that position would be Lepley who was throwing his ageing Mitsubishi through the gruelling and super-fast Radnor tests in impressive fashion. His pace early in the day ensured he took a worthy second place overall.
Bainbridge struggled early in the day with set-up issues in his Skoda R5 but after changes in the first service halt, would start to make progress up the leader board to become Pearson’s nearest challenger towards the end of the rally. After finding himself in a lowly 17th overall after the opening test, he climbed through the ranks to finish a notable third.
Elliot Payne has only a handful of gravel events under his belt but set a blistering early pace to sit third after the opener. Payne and co-driver Cameron Fair were never outside of the top three times in their Fiesta R5 during the day, aside from the second test when they were stuck behind a slowing competitor’s dust, dropping well over a minute in the process. They fought back to fourth by the close of play.
Arguably the drive of the day came from local ace Perry Gardener and co-driver Jack Bowen. Gardener, from Ludlow and son of previous event winner Shaun, would make his four-wheel-drive debut in a Fiesta R5 and instantly took to the new machine; rounding out the top five.
Paul Barrett and Gordon Noble made the trip over from Ireland a worthwhile one, to take top two-wheel-drive and Historic in their Ford Escort Mk2. Herefordshire’s Roger Chilman would be fighting for Historic honours through the day, before succumbing to a double puncture on the very last test in his Escort MK2.
The Eventsigns Woodpecker Stages Rally was forced to run behind closed doors in 2021, but it is hoped that the popular event will return to a more traditional format in 2022.
Image: Rallysport Media