The Phil Price Memorial Woodpecker Rally is ready to welcome around 130 crews to Ludlow this weekend [9 September] as the popular gravel rally returns with a brand-new look for 2023.
Supported for a second year by Presteigne Tyre Services and Phil Price Rally School, the Sixty and Worcestershire Motor Club organised forest event will see a top-quality list of contenders tackle eight stages and around 44 competitive miles in forests on both sides of the England and Wales border.
With a fresh new format this time around, the rally will take in stages never used previously by the event, as well as reigniting some old favourites and retaining the crowd-pleasing stages that both fans and drivers have come to enjoy.
And the lure of a new challenge has attracted a bumper entry to the Ludlow Racecourse rally base this weekend, bolstered by being a round of a host of top-drawer championships including the Fuchs Lubricants British Historic Rally Championship, the MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series, Pirelli Motorsport UK Welsh Rally Championship and Seacon UK English Rally Championship. Other regional series include the Welsh Historic Rally Championship, IPS Paints Rally Challenge, ANWCC Forest Stage Rally Championship and HRCR Stage Masters Rally Challenge making the trip.
And it will be last year’s podium sitter Elliott Payne who will enjoy number one on the doors of his Ford Fiesta Rally2 after taking third overall in 2022. Payne and co-driver Tom Woodburn are in the pound seat for the BTRDA title fight and a good result here will certainly boost their chances of a back-to-back title.
Also in contention are Matt Hirst and Declan Dear and the pairing starts at number two seeds in the Fiesta R5. Hirst hasn’t managed to finish the Woodpecker since 2018, so is hoping his luck will change this time around and is another to be looking at points in the championship fight.
Tackling his first gravel rally of 2023, Hugh Hunter brings his Ford Fiesta Rally2 to the event with Mark Glennerster calling the notes. Hunter has been out of action for much of the season but will use the rally as a reintroduction to the forests.
Arron Newby and Jamie Edwards break up the Ford chain with their Skoda Fabia R5 at car four and are another pairing to be concentrating on the BTRDA title chase. Wins at the Malcolm Wilson Rally and Rallynuts stages means they have impressive form already this year and another victory is on the cards.
The first local contender is Perry Gardner from Ludlow, who makes only his second outing of 2023. Gardner took the runner-up spot on the rally last year but with all new stages this time around, it could well be a tough ask to repeat that result. He wheels out his Ford Fiesta R5 with Jack Bowen in the co-driver’s seat.
Other notable contenders in the top ten include Northern Ireland’s Alan Carmichael who comes straight from his British Rally Championship campaign to Ludlow in his Hyundai i20 R5 and Ian Bainbridge who will tackle only his second event in his new Volkswagen Polo GTi R5.
And it’s not just the four-wheel drive machinery that will wow the crowds on Saturday. The British Historic Rally Championship contenders will also be battling for honours in the National section of the event and at the top of the field is last year’s category winner and local ace Henri Grehan who tackles his first event of 2023 with Emma Clarke alongside in the Escort MKII. The Ludlow driver is also the reigning Historic champion but could well need a few stages to get back into the groove.
Keeping Herefordshire hopes alive is Roger Chilman, who has Patrick Walsh on the notes as usual. The Escort MKII crew have won the first two rounds of the BHRC this season but have dropped away a little as the season progressed.
The FIAT 131 Abarth of Nick Elliot and Dave Price is another fan favourite and although they are series leaders, a win has eluded the pairing so far this year. More local contenders include Ludlow’s Robert Gough with Paul Morris in the co-driver’s seat and just a few cars back will be his father Richard in the ex-Ari Vatanen Escort, a multiple Woodpecker winner in his own right. Ludlow’s Joe Price also throws his hat into the ring in his Ford Escort, with Chris Brooks on the notes.
Spectators will get plenty of chances to see the cars at close quarters and in action during the weekend too, with opportunities to view the cars as they arrive at Ludlow Racecourse on Friday [8 September] from 14:00.
The Racecourse also hosts the start at 07:31 on Saturday [9 September], as well as the mid-point service halt from 12:05 and the ceremonial finish from 17:30 that day.
The action can be found in the Ceri stage, located just south of the Village itself and that test runs twice, at 09:52 and 15:17. The popular Haye Park stage returns just outside of Ludlow and is also run twice, at 11:38 and 17:03. Parking at each location is £10 per car including a guide and entry to Ludlow Racecourse is free of charge.
More information for spectators can be found on the event website www.woodpecker-rally.co.uk
The latest updates can be found on the event’s social media feeds.