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A true epic saw the 91 starting crews take in 30 stages across England, Scotland and Wales, in the 260+ stage mile event. It all started st Shelsley Walsh with a run up the hill climb and a historic first ever competitive run down the hill to follow. Jason Pritchard & Phil Clarke (Escort MkII) lead by a single second after the opening pair of stages before the real meat of the rally began. Roger Chilman & Bryan Thomas (Escort MkII) set fastest time by 18 seconds through Radnor, to lead Pritchard by 9 seconds with Steve Bennett & Osian Owen (Escort MkII) third overall. Pritchard was joint fastest with Matt Robinson & Sam Collis (Escort MkII) on Gwibedog but fastest on the Epynt stage put Pritchard back in to the lead as the crews headed up to Carlisle. Chilman was 2nd overall, just 9 seconds back with Rudi Lancaster & Guy Weaver (Escort MkII) just over half a minute back in 3rd place.

Day 2 was set to be a monster at over 90 stage miles and McCormack struck with fastest time from Pritchard through Shepherdshield 1 to move up in to 3rd overall. Pritchard was then fastest through the first runs of Whitehill & Roughside, extending his lead to 53 seconds over Chilman, with McCormack just 5 seconds further back, now in 3rd overall. The same 3 stages were repeated and McCormack moved up to 2nd overall with fastest in Shepherdshield 2, Robinson was fastest through Whitehill 2 to climb past Chilman in to 3rd overall before Pritchard took another stage win on Roughside 2 to hold a 56 second lead over McCormack as the night stages beckoned.

There was the small matter of the open rally too and it had been a tight battle between the Escort MkII’s of David Hutchinson & Jeff Garnett against Mick Plowman & Nigel Hutchinson. By the end of stage 12 Hutchinson had a 14 second lead over Plowman, with James Nicholls & David Allman (205 GTi) just over a minute further back. Henri Grehan & Chris Ridge (Escort MkII) were the highest seeded open rally crew at the start but an engine issue in Radnor saw them consigned to super rally, after missing 3 stages on the Friday.

Into the evening and Robinson was fastest through Ogre Hill 1 before a string of 3 fastest stage times for McCormack saw Pritchard’s lead shaved down to 49 seconds, at the halfway mark for the event. Robinson was over a minute further back just 20 seconds ahead of Chilman. In the other categories Adam Milner & Roy Jarvis (Escort MkI) held the category 2 lead by almost 4 minutes from Jimmy McRae & Pauline Gullick (Firenza Can-Am). The evergreen Bob Bean & Malcolm Smithson (Lotus Cortina) held a commanding lead of over 12 minutes in category 1.

Day 3 and with 72 stage miles there was no let up as Greskine 1 had patches of ice which claimed Ben Friend & Cliffy Simmons in their Pinto Escort MkII. They had been leading their class and were running 6th overall against the more powerful BD Escort MkII’s. Pritchard was fastest through this stage and the following one before McCormack took the repeat of Greskine before Pritchard doubled up on Windy Hill. The lead was 46 seconds over Pritchard. In the open rally Hutchinson just had to keep it straight as Plowman dropped away and missed a few stages, leaving him super rallying. Nicholls was over 4 minutes behind with Dave Hemingway & Simon Ashton (Escort MkII) 5 minutes back in 3rd place.

Twiglees just before sunset followed and a broken driveshaft just off the stage start saw Pritchard’s impressive rally end in retirement. McCormack now lead Robinson by over two and a half minutes with Chilman just under 40 seconds back in 3rd, enjoying stages which were all new to him. Alan Walker & John Connor (Escort MkII) were fastest through this stage as they found themselves embroiled in a battle with Steve Bannister & Callum Atkinson (Escort MkII) for 4th overall, after Bannister was making up time following an uncustomary roll in the earlier stages.

Chilman was then fastest through Castle O’Er 1, Craik and Twiglees 2 to reduce the margin to Robinson down to just 14 seconds at the end of day 3. For the record Adrian Hetherington & Andrew Grennan (Escort MkII) were fastest through stage 25, Castle O’Er 2. Bean was now almost 30 minutes ahead in category 1 but in category 2 Milner went off in stage 24 and his rally was over. McRae now lead the category from Chris Browne & Ali Cornwell-Browne (Escort MkI) by 29 seconds.

On to the final day where 5 stages and 60 stage miles would decide the outcome of the RAC rally. Robinson was under pressure from Chilman so joint fastest with McCormack through Newcastleton helped. With Walker now up to 4th overall following another roll for Bannister you would have expected him to back off but quite the opposite as he blitzed the longest stage of the rally, Capelstone Fell 1. Robinson was 18 seconds slower than Walker but now had 46 seconds on Chilman. Falstone 1 saw a 2nd stage win for Hetherington, who was now 5th overall.

The last service saw the leader board looking fairly settled with just two stages to go. Robinson was fastest through the final two stages to narrow the margin down to 1 minute 44 seconds but it was McCormack’s 2nd RAC win and a well earnt one too. Pritchard had been on it from the start and seemed able to answer ever question McCormack asked of him until his retirement, not that McCormack didn’t have his own mechanical issues too. In fact all 62 finishers have their own stories of triumph over adversity on this marathon event, plus the 29 non-finishers where they weren’t so fortunate with Friend being the last to retire after his car cried enough on the final stage.

The final resulte will show that McCormack was victorious from Robinson with Chilman 3rd overall just under 3 minutes behind McCormack. The rest of the top ten reads as follows; 4th Walker +5:57, 5th Simon Webster & Jez Rogers (Escort MkII) +7:24, 6th Bannister +10:36, 7th Paul Griffiths & Iwan Jones (Escort MkII) +12:01, 8th Stuart Egglestone & Brian Hodgson (Escort MkII) +12:36 and first Pinto (class C3), 9th Josh Browne & Jane Edgington (Escort MkII) +15:05 and 10th Baz Stevenson-Wheeler & John Pickavance (Escort MkII) +21:38 as a final stage maximum saw Hetherington drop from 5th to 11th on the final stage.

In category 2 McRae won by two and a half minutes with Bean victorious in category 1 by almost 35 minutes. Hutchinson managed his advantage in the open rally to win by just under 3 minutes from Nicholls with Hemingway a distant 3rd. For full results please go to – http://results.djames.org.uk/results/overall.php?EventID=501&StageID=0&OverallPositions=OverallPositions&e=501&selection=all

It has been a wonderful return for the RAC rally after 3 years away and with the event next scheduled for November 2019 we are already looking forward to what should be another epic rally with many stories to match.

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