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Matt Edwards and co-driver Darren Garrod won a very closely fought Nicky Grist Stages in their Swift Group Ford Fiesta R5, after turning a two second deficit at halfway into a 58 second winning margin at the finish. Victory on the Quinton MC organised event sees them take the lead of the Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series.

The Mayor of Builth Wells, Cllr. Paul McNiffe, flagged the large field away from outside Strand Hall, in the centre of Builth Wells, with two loops of the super-smooth Llyn Login (5.02 miles), Route 60 (5.10 miles), Halfway (5.11 miles) and Crychan (7.25 miles) stages awaiting competitors.

Edwards was immediately in a titanic battle with Tom Cave/James Morgan (Spencer Sport Mitsubishi Mirage R5) as the lead swapped three times in six stages, with just a few seconds separating them as they traded fastest stage times. A big push on the final two stages gave the Llandudno driver what he thought was a 14 second victory, but that winning margin was substantially increased when a very rare co-driving mistake contravened event regulations and saw Cave disqualified from the results.

Luke Francis hurt his back after hitting a big compression at speed on the bridge in Route 60, and then picked up a front puncture on the last stage. Co-driven by John H Roberts, the 2016 event winner was therefore pleased to finish second in his Melvyn Evans Motorsport-tuned Ford Fiesta WRC to keep his Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship title hopes alive.

Rory Young’s first attempt at the Nicky Grist Stages resulted in an excellent third place finish overall. Co-driven by Allan Cathers, he recovered from two overshoots on SS2 to move from fifth at the midday service halt at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd to a podium finish in his Fiesta R5.

Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson couldn’t repeat last year’s Nicky Grist Stages win after suffering a puncture on SS1 and, more frustratingly, rear differential problems throughout the day, which made their Fiesta WRC very difficult to control. It was amazing they only encountered two spins and did well to finish fourth.

Martyn England/Dawn England enjoyed another great run in their Fiesta R5+, but dropped two places to fifth after sliding off the road on the final stage – which was their only mistake of the day. Former BTRDA Gold Star Champions Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson finished sixth in their Ford Fiesta after struggling to find the right settings to give them the grip and confidence they wished for.

Ian Joel/Graeme Wood were happy with seventh overall and first in class B13 in their Ford Escort Cosworth, while Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy finished first in the Production Cup NR4 class and eighth overall in their Mitsubishi Evo 9. They are now equal on points at the top of the Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship, with only rally wins separating them from Edwards.

Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh had to fix and oil pump issue with their Fiesta at service and were pleased to finish ninth overall, while Keith Parry/Eryl Evans survived a big moment on the last stage to complete the top 10 in their Subaru Impreza.

Class winners included Sam and Liam Johnson (RF1.4 – SEAT Arosa), Guy Butler/Jamie Mactavish (RF2.0 – Toyota Corolla), Chris Powell/Jim Lewis (1400S – Talbot Sunbeam), Joe and Michael Evett (1400C – MG ZR), Baz Jordan/Paul Wakey (H1/2 – Hillman Avenger), Ernie Graham/Robin Kellard (H3 – Escort RS), Zac Hughes/Tom Wood (N3 – Fiesta ST), Max Utting/Mike Ainsworth (B11 – Fiesta ST Max) and Allan McDowall/Gavin Heseltine (Escort Mk3). George Lepley/Tom Woodburn won the B10/R2 class and in doing so clinched the BTRDA Rally R2 Cup title in their Fiesta ST, while Geoff Cottrill (Mitsubishi Evo 9) and Abi Haycock (Escort Mk2) were the top placed Quinton MC driver and co-driver respectively.

Pat Naylor/Ian Lawrence were hoping for a good result in their Mitsubishi Evo 9, but they punctured a tyre in Route 60 in the morning and again right at the start of the same stage when it was repeated in afternoon, dropping them to 35th at the finish.

Tom Llewellin, the 17-year old son of double British Rally Championship Dai Llewellin, enjoyed an excellent first gravel rally. Together with Dale Bowen, he finished fourth in the B10/R2 class, only missing out on a podium after hitting a bump on SS6 and suffering a loss of power when it upset the ECU connection on his Peter Gwynne Motorsport Suzuki Swift. He still finished a magnificent 46th overall, out of 113 starters.

There were 40 non-finishers. Sacha Kakad/James Aldridge rolled their Ford Fiesta on SS4, Layton Waters/Tudor Jenkins broke the differential on their Proton Satria on SS1 and Bob Morgan/Adie Williams suffered a fuel tank leak with their Winner Garage ŠKODA Fabia vRS. Emma Morrisson started first on the road in her first rally as a driver, but a snapped wishbone in her VW Lupo GTi on SS1 forced her and co-driver Jon Quintrell into retirement. Fancied 1400 runners Perry Gardener/Steve Link (Vauxhall Nova) and Steve Black/Paul Morris (Suzuki Swift) both retired with engine related problems, while Steffan and Claire Williams (Nissan Micra) went off on SS2.

Dylan Davies/Llion Williams continue to lead the Pirelli MSA Welsh Forest Rally Championship, despite retiring their smart self-built Subaru Impreza when a ball joint broke on the penultimate stage. They are, however, now tied on points with Wug Utting/Bob Stokoe, who finished 13th overall in their Impreza N12b.

Matt Edwards said: “We made a steady start but soon got back into the rhythm and took a pair of fastest stage times before being caught up in dust on stage four, after the car in front of us unfortunately spun. We decided to have a go and push hard to see what we could do in the afternoon, and with our Pirelli K4s hanging on well, we were able to set some good times on the following stages to take a twelve second lead into the final stage. Again dust was causing us some issues throughout, but our pace on the clear sections was enough to limit the damage and take victory! The stages were fantastic, loose in places but that adds to the challenge, and well done and thanks to the organisers for running a slick event despite the heat.”

Cllr. Paul McNiffe, Builth Wells Mayor, said: “It’s the second time I’ve been involved with the Nicky Grist Stages – last year as Deputy Mayor and this time as Mayor, and it’s great to see the event come into the town centre and for the people of Builth Wells to come out and see the rally cars and drivers. The start ceremony outside Strand Hall and the finish in Groe Park, on the banks of the River Wye, show what a beautiful place Builth Wells is, and it’s another major event for the town. Having flagged the cars away, I went up to the Epynt stages to watch the cars in action and saw many people from Builth Wells who were enjoying the rally, so hopefully the Nicky Grist Stages will come back to Builth Wells next year.”

Nicky Grist said: “What a great weekend – close competition, wonderful weather and a nice breeze that helped to clear the dust away. The pace at the front of the rally was fierce, with Matt Edwards showing his class with some stunning stage times in the afternoon to win the event comfortably. Many thanks to Neil Cross, the Clerk of the Course, to Quinton Motor Club and to all the many volunteers without whom we would not have been able to run the rally. See you all next year!”

Neil Cross, Nicky Grist Stages Clerk of the Course, said: “Quinton Motor Club would like to congratulate Matt Edwards and Darren Garrod on a fantastic win and all those who finished a tough day of rallying. The event ran very well and we dealt with a few incidents over the day that caused a few delays. We would like to thank our army of volunteers for all their efforts in the hot and dusty conditions. I’d like to thank Nicky Grist for his continued support of the event and for also supplying the much appreciated water to the crews and officials.”

2018 Nicky Grist Stages – top 10 finishers
1. Matt Edwards/Darren Garrod (Ford Fiesta R5)….42mins 09secs
2. Luke Francis/John H Roberts (Ford Fiesta WRC)….+58s
3. Rory Young/Allan Cathers (Ford Fiesta R5)….+1m 39s
4. Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta WRC)….+1m 47s
5. Martyn England/Dawn England (Fiesta R5+)….+1m 59s
6. Charles Payne/Carl Williamson (Ford Fiesta)….+2m 22s
7. Ian Joel/Graeme Wood (Ford Escort Cosworth)….+3m 06s
8. Russ Thompson/Andy Murphy (Mitsubishi Evo 9)….+3m 15s
9. Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta)….+3m 22s
10. Keith Parry/Eryl Evans (Subaru Impreza)….+3m 33s

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