2016 MSA BRC – Mid Wales Stages Rally.
Location: Powys, Wales (Cymru).
Winner: DMACK Fiesta R5, Elfyn Evans.
Stage Winners: BRC
Elfyn Evans / Craig Parry - #1 Ford Fiesta R50
Fredrik Ahlins / Morton Erik Abrahamsen - #5 Ford Fiesta R50
Stage Winners: DMACK Junior BRC
Gus Greensmith / Alessandro Gelsomino - #30 Ford Fiesta R2T0
Sindre Furuseth / Gøril Undebakke - #29 Renault Twingo R20
Being rather new to rallying, the thoughts of taking on a full on stages rally around the mountains of Wales scared me half to death. The aim from the start was the Mid Wales Stages Rally, so I worked to bring myself into the sport gently and planned a programme to get me set up.
The first event was the MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages Rally which I thought would be a nice transition from circuit racing to rallying as it takes place wholly within the confines of the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent. The plan took on more urgency when the MSA declined me a media accreditation on the grounds of a lack of rally experience. So I trotted off to Kent and came back frothing at the mouth.
The MSA, in a bid to keep the Scottish government happy after accidents north of the boarder which resulted in fatalities, have put a new safety regime in place. To say they have gone OTT is to understate. I hardly saw anything, hardly got anything of use out of the camera and hardly held on to my temper.
Second on the plan of action was the Riponian Stages Rally in Thirsk. This is a proper rally, with a service park and remote stages and everything so I thought it would be a good way to get to grips with dashing between stages and finding my way around. Again, the MSA got right up my nose, only one stage was open to spectators and they were only allowed at two corner complexes.
At the first area I tried the marshals managed to get in the way of 50% of the photos I tried to take and at the second stage we were so absurdly close to the action I struggled even with my shortest lens. At least I bumped into my British GT partner in crime for TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk, Joe Hudson, who had decided that he would come out and have a snap too. It was strange seeing him doing my job and not back in the media centre with heating and coffee.
So it was with some, (read a whole skip load) of trepidation I pointed the car towards the Woodhead Pass for the three hour drive from base in Sheffield to rally HQ in Newtown.
Service Park and Rally HQ.
The Mid Wales Stages Rally served as the first round of the reborn MSA British Rally Championship so we were promised some great entries. Being sad, and being the owner of a Vauxhall Adam, I was particularly eager to get to the Vauxhall Motorsport Junior Rally Team and take a look at the racing version of what I fondly call, ‘My Little Man’.
Aside from being, telephonically, in the middle of nowhere, the service park and Rally HQ were great. The marshals in the area were happy to have a chat and eager to help and sent me on my way up Newtown Industrial Estate to find service park S, the home of the Adams.
I got to the top thinking I had walked up a mountain but I found the cars and despite the crews and mechanics being hard at work prepping for the rally, they were happy to talk about the cars too. Rally HQ was a lot busier with everyone engaged on tasks but several spectators were milling around and a couple of media pass holders so I found more people delighted to pass the time of day.
This was not what I was expecting.
Leg 1 – Hafren/Sweet Lamb and Pikes Peak/Myherin.
The opening stages were to be run in darkness so I headed to the Hotel, checked in and got myself squared away before heading back out and into the stages. The MSA again reared their safety conscious heads by closing Pikes Peak to all spectators due to snow on the ground. At first I was rather angry about this but that anger waned over the two days.
Firstly because in Sweet Lamb I got some good pictures of the action and spent two hours having a great laugh with a bunch of local lads. Rally folk really are pleasant people you know. Secondly because I went to Pikes Peak in the morning and the thought of walking up there in the dark was frankly scary.
It was bitterly cold but we didn’t care as the cars came into a treacherous hairpin with a shear drop into a valley on the outside at breakneck speed. It was so tight that the 00 car had to pull a three point turn and the 000 deliberately overshot to find more space to turn around. Elfyn Evans didn’t give a monkeys though and flew into the turn with more than just a dab of oppo on.
43 cars screamed into the corner, jammed on the handbrake and rocketed away and after each one we gave points. It really was an impressive sight though the Land Rover Defenders did cause my heart to stop beating a couple of times as the maneuvered carefully round the corner. You could say I was becoming quite attached to rallying, I loved every minute.
Leg 2 – Pikes Peak and Hafren/Sweet Lamb.
For Sunday I decided to take one crack at each stage as the cars were doing multiple passes. I woke early and missed the hotel breakfast so a McMuffin and a Latte were my fuel for a trip up Pikes Peak. As I pulled in and paid my £5 to park I looked at the road ahead and cursed myself for not buying an SUV.
Christ was it steep and very snowy indeed.
I parked as high up as I dared, wondering why on earth I had opted for low rolling resistance tyres on the Adam. That left me with a 45 minute hike up the forestry track which was also acting as a car park, all the time looking at M3s and Porsches with owners plainly more brave than me. Once I got to the top I headed out to where the wind turbines were but got side tracked when I found a hill which would give me four different angles to shoot. I plonked my Coke into the snow to cool and waited for the first cars through.
I was staggered by the beauty of the landscape, not a feeling I am generally used to. After all, its just mud and rock right? I even liked the effect of the natural wilderness atop the mountain combined with the industrial and mechanical blight of the turbines. But of course, as soon as Elfyn came round the corner, all that went out of the window.
I was in full snapper mode, two bodies, two lenses and I was determined to get everything I could. I even broke my own rule #1 and put the camera on rapid fire for a while, and yes, I got excessively excited when the three little Adams came through.
I realised timings would be tight if I shot the full session atop Pikes Peak so after the Junior BRC cars came through I started walking back to the car. I picked up a couple of shots on the way but my main focus was getting to Sweet Lamb and the bowl before I missed Elfyn Evans. I pulled into the car park at Sweet Lamb another £5 lighter and processed some photos while I waited. I had about an hour to kill.
Yes, I set a new record for the top of the bowl to the bottom when I lost my footing and did most of the journey on my backside.
After processing all the images I kept 748, its my biggest shoot to date.
From Sheffield to Wales and back plus mileage around the rally area.
The car needs fuel, but so does the driver.
With 45 minutes before Elfyn was due to arrive I headed down to the Sweet Lamb Bowl. My aim was water splash and flying action but I couldn’t get both. Deciding that all four wheels off the ground was more impressive I aimed for a point at the bottom of the hill where I could get that sort of shot. I estimated five minutes for the careful climb down.
Two minutes later I was in position, rather muddy and rather embarrassed but thankfully not holding two broken 1Ds. Yes, I set a new record for the top of the bowl to the bottom when I lost my footing and did most of the journey on my backside.
The guys at the bottom of the hill all had a laugh but thankfully it was with me, not at me. We waited about 30 minutes and then the noise we had all been waiting for came over the hill. The weather couldn’t decide what to do with itself and we had a clear run for the first few cars. Then it decided it wanted to snow and things became much more difficult.
Lucky for me it cleared a bit for the Adams to come through but after they had passed I took the decision to head home. I was cold, my camera bag was mostly obscured by snow and I was very muddy indeed.
I was however very happy, the Mid Wales Stages showed me that even with all the MSA hassle and overly cautious safety rules, rallying was still alive an kicking. It also relaunched a championship which many had feared consigned to the history books for good. Its never good when you lose a championship and bringing it back was a great move. I wish the team behind the BRC all the best for the rest of the season, and slightly better weather.
View all the images on our archive.