10 JULY 2017 16:19
A dominant performance in the opening stages of this weekend’s Nicky Grist Stages - the fifth round of this year’s Prestone MSA British Rally Championship - saw Osian Pryce and Dale Furniss in the Spencer Sport prepared, Hills Ford, Alphera backed Fiesta R5 lead the event for 11 of it’s 20 stages, until an electrical issue brought their challenge to a premature end on Sunday morning.
Teammates James Williams and Dai Roberts in the HT Installations, West Wales Rally Spares supported Fiesta R2, repeated their impressive Ypres result with another third place in the Junior British Rally Championship category for under 24-year old drivers.
Based in Builth Wells, the two-day Nicky Grist Motorsports sponsored rally is unique in the BRC calendar, as it features loose-surface stages on the first day and asphalt on the second. For Osian and Dale it’s their most local event, so unsurprisingly, they chose to play their Joker and consequently, score double points.
Starting from the centre of the mid-Wales market town on Saturday morning, competitors embarked on the first of the day’s eight stages on the gravel roads over the Epynt Military Ranges and in the surrounding forests. By virtue of topping the British Rally Championship points table following their third place in Belgium a fortnight ago, the Welsh pair were seeded at number one and consequently, ran as first car on the road.
Although the dry and dusty conditions meant they were ‘sweeping’ the loose gravel off the surface, Osian and Dale lost no time in making their mark and set the fastest time on the first of the event's four stages to pull out a lead of 22.5 seconds by the time they booked into the first service halt at the Royal Welsh Showground. A quick check by the Spencer Sport team revealed their R5 Fiesta was running perfectly and a fifth stage win in the afternoon was to follow.
With Osian reporting he didn’t feel 100%, a sensible run over the day’s remaining three stages meant he and Dale pulled out a 19.3 second advantage over their closest rivals and eventual event winners Fredrik Ählin and co-driver Torstein Eriksen. Consequently, they were in a perfect position from which to mount their asphalt assault the following day.
The extended evening’s service interval allowed teams to swap their cars’ set up from gravel to asphalt, the Spencer Sport technicians changing the specifications on both cars like a well-oiled machine.
Sunday dawned dry and bright and the perfect conditions for the undulating roads that follow the topographic contours of the ranges were to encourage a fast and furious pace. In order to reduce the average speeds, organisers had strategically placed a series of straw bales in the form of chicanes on some of the faster stretches.
Like others who had previously made contact with these man-made obstacles, Osian and Dale did likewise on the first stage of the day. Surviving the impact - albeit minus some of the Fiesta’s bodywork, their next encounter was straying sheep - another downside of running first on the road.
Even so, these distractions did little to break their stride and they continued at the front of the field until stage 12, when the engine suddenly cut out. Coasting to a halt they tried to restart the Fiesta, but it was not to be and the rally favourites were denied the victory they truly deserved. Once back at the service park, the team traced the problem to an electrical issue relating to the fuel pump.
“It’s so disappointing when a good run ends this way, especially as it’s the team’s, Dales and my home event, but that’s how it is”, said an unsurprisingly frustrated but philosophical Osian. “It’s also a shame that we couldn’t take advantage of playing our joker, so we’ll have to look at the maths and see what we need to do for the rest of the season to keep our title hopes intact.”
Meanwhile, in the race for BRC Junior honours, James and Dai were on a mission and from the word go, had established themselves amongst the category leaders - all driving R2 machinery. The time sheets revealed this was to be the most fiercely fought round of the season, with the top seven JBRC crews separated by less than 30 seconds by the end of the first day’s 45-miles on gravel, with James and Dai third and just 8.2 seconds off the lead.
Fired up for Sunday’s tussle on the tarmac, James and Dai were in the ascendancy and took the lead on the first stage in the morning, only to succumb to a significant over-shoot on stage 11. The subsequent delay relegated them to third and, try as they might, the competition between the front-runners was so close they were unable to claw back the lost time.
After enjoying his second celebration on the JBRC podium in two weeks, 19-year old James said: “We set the bar high in Ypres and perhaps I was perhaps expecting a lot from this event, but I’m really happy to score another third place. It’s great to know we can be on the leading pace in the Juniors, especially on an event like this with its change of surfaces, so I’m now looking forward to see if we can make even more progress when we go to the Ulster Rally for the next round.”
The Nicky Grist Stages marks a significant event in Spencer Sport’s year. As it’s the Llandysul-based team’s home event, together with the event sponsors Nicky Grist Motorsports, it takes the opportunity to set up an exclusive hospitality area. Located at a spectacular vantage point on the Epynt ranges, the invited guests are able to see the competing cars pass multiple times over the two days, as well as enjoy lunch and be entertained by celebrity speakers that this year included Welsh Rugby Internationals Scott Williams and George North.
“From a PR and team perspective, this has been a hugely successful event and I must thank all of our guests and supporters for joining us. I must also thank the team for their professionalism and hard work.” said Spencer Sport team manager Charlie Jukes.
“Of course, it’s bitterly disappointing that Osian and Dale were unable to fulfill their promise and deliver the result they cleary showed they could achieve, but issues like the one that stopped them have been few and far between for us, so you have to put it down to just bad luck. We are delighted with the Performance of James and Dai. James is making great progress and we’re sure there’s even more to come as he gains experience.”
The Spencer Sport team now prepares for the sixth round of the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship, the annual all-asphalt Ulster Rally that takes place on 18th & 19th August.
The team would to thank its partners for their support: Spencer ECA, DMACK Tyres, Motul, Hills Ford, Alphera Financial Services, Oil4Wales, Nicky Grist Motorsports, PIAA UK, Speedline Corse UK, Atech Racing, HT Installations and West Wales Rally Spares.