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Richard Sykes and co-driver Simon Taylor took their first win in three years on round two of the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge after a tough day’s action that saw only eight cars reach the finish in Welshpool.

The battle throughout the day threw up some surprising twists and turns but by the time the cars re-grouped at the finish it was Sykes who would lead home Steven Smith and Daniel Johnstone in second place with Damien Smith and Paula Swinscoe in third.

“It’s great to be back to winning ways” said Sykes at the finish ramp, “We drove within ourselves today because we know what the repercussions of overdoing it on these stages are. I was gunning for a win though from the start today, I think this is our first since 2009 in Ulster”, added the Citroën C2R2 Max driver.

The North Wales based event boasts some of the most technical stages in world rallying and would prove a difficult challenge for any level of driver. Stages like the 15 mile Gartheiniog and nine mile Penllyn give a real test to the competing crews and can catch out even the most experienced.

The Bulldog Rally can be just as tough on the cars and the attrition rate can be high from the start of stage one as Tom Cave found to his cost last year in the International event. However this year’s NGK BRC Challenge would be no different with three cars failing to make it to through the opening five miles of Big Ray.

Last year’s runner’s up, Simon Moore and Emma Morrison had an engine failure, which meant an early end to their rally on SS1, compounding the non-finish on Sunseeker. They were swiftly joined by another non-finisher from Rallye Sunseeker in the shape of Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy, who rolled on the stage. Both Renault Clios were now out with nil points and joined Luke Pinder and Martyn Taylor who’s car didn’t even make the start.

The cars that did make it to the end of the Big Ray stage saw Damien Smith quickest in his Ford Fiesta ST; but problems with the rear of the car meant he would eventually finish the rally in third place.

Surprise of the day however was the young Irishman Jon Armstrong who having only passed his driving test in January was competing in a proper rally for the first time. His quickest time on the second stage put him in the lead until his Fiesta ST finally stopped just one stage shy of the service halt. Alongside his experienced co-driver Emmett Sherry, Armstrong could well be one to watch this year.

Another of the pre-event favourites, Richard Archer and John Connor, suffered bad luck at the start to their day too, picking up three punctures on the opening two stages. Eventually an engine misfire called an early end to their Welsh forestry adventure.

But it was Sykes and Taylor who were in bullish mood at the start and were determined to finally make that top step of the podium. But with Taylor seemingly succumbing to an illness that had bothered him throughout the week, the task would prove to be a tough one.

Nevertheless the likable and experienced pair battled on, picking up the pace on the run through Gartheiniog, setting the fastest time and with it taking hold of the rally lead going into service, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Round one winners James Ford and Neil Colman had switched from the MK2 Escort to a similar specification Citroën C2R2 Max to that of Sykes. But the day started badly for the championship leader when his new car failed the noise test. He would eventually retire in service with gearbox problems after surviving an off on the third corner of the first stage.

The service halt at the halfway point of the rally would give the teams some valuable breathing time and allow them to re-group. But the remote service park would prove a step too far for Adam Taylor and Loic Ditchburn as their Fiesta ST caught fire on the road section. Two fire crews were called out to tackle the blaze, but fortunately the Oxford Brooks University students both managed to escape before the car was destroyed.

One man on a charge was Steven Smith in his Peugeot 206 who had caught Tony Simpson in one of the stages and with it the top of the leader board. The hot and dry conditions were causing a bit of dust on the stages but both he and his co-driver Johnstone were still in impressive form.

Another crew looking to make their mark on proceedings were Mark McCulloch and Elliott Edmundson in the Proton Satria, but driveshaft failure on Penllyn put an end to a good effort from the Scottish pairing.

Gareth White could only muster fifth place and second in RC5 in another C2R2 Citroën after an impressive podium on round one alongside co-driver Mike Dickson, but the result does put the Scotsman into third place in the championship race.

Sixth place overall went to James Watts and Steve Hartley in their VW Polo who now move into second place in the title race, “I’m very happy but bewildered that we’re here, the car’s groaning a bit. Today almost felt like an endurance rally, it was very tough”, explained an exhausted Watts. But his efforts gave him the class win in RC3.

With Taylor out and Damian Smith not registered for the Fiesta SportChallenge, Tony Simpson and Stefan Arndt were hoping to pick up maximum points once again. Sadly though the Liverpudlian was struggling to find a flow to his driving and fellow Fiesta crew of Andrew Wheatley and Richard Millener took the FSC honours. Simpson finally finished seventh overall but extended his lead at the top of the RC4 class, while Wheatley and Millener took a well deserved fourth place on the rally.

The event also saw a welcome return to last year’s RC2 Class Champion Kevin Vondy and Nicholas Kaighin from the Isle of Man, who brought their Vauxhall Corsa home in eighth place.

Sykes’ first rally victory of the year gives him the RC5 class honours to go with his overall lead in the 2012 NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge standings; a strong result from Smith has him picking up the class honours in RC4.

The gravel experience for the teams continues next month when the Championship moves north for the Pirelli Challenge Rally in Carlisle. To stay updated with all the latest action download the free British Rally Championship App and follow the trials and tribulations on our official Twitter feed @britishrally.

For more information on the NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge visit

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