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Denbigh duo take on Welsh rally legend

A two-man team of Vale of Clwyd drivers are looking to bounce back when they tackle the Get Connected Rali Ceredigion this weekend and go head-to-head with one of the legends of Welsh rallying.

Will Rowlands and Rich Birch are taking their classic Ford Escort down to Aberystwyth for the two-day event which will see them compete in the Historic Class where they will be up against Gwyndaf Evans, also in an Escort.

Former British champion Evans, from Dolgellau and father of Elfyn Evans, the first Welshman to win the RAC Rally, goes off first in their category with the Denbigh pair third away and hoping for a change of luck after being dogged by disaster this year.

Last year the two won the Historic Class at the Argyll Rally in the heart of the Scottish Highlands at Dunoon but their attempt to defend their title didn’t even get to the start line due to an unfortunate accident on the motorway north.

But Will, a plumber, and Rich, a maintenance supervisor with Denbigh-based Lock Stock Self Storage who have sponsored him for the event, are hoping for better luck this Saturday and Sunday

The pair, both 39, have known each other since their schooldays at Denbigh High School and are both members of Clwyd Vale and Bala Motor Clubs.

Their car dates back to the golden age of rallying in the 1970s when Britain’s Roger Clark twice won the RAC Rally in an Escort when the forests of North Wales were the cockpit where he battled against legendary Flying Finns Hannu Mikkola and Timo Makkinen.

Those superstars would all recognise the car piloted by its owner, Will, with Rich in the co-driver’s seat and which is based around an original 1970s body and rebuilt using an engine and parts identical to those from the Seventies.

The rear-wheel drive vehicle is powered by a classic Ford Cosworth BDG two-litre engine blasting out 270 horsepower and the pair are well-stocked with tyres for the rally.

Rich said: “We won the Historic Class last year at Dunoon and finished 19th overall out of 140, ahead of plenty of cars which cost a lot more so we were really pleased. It was good to be up there battling with the big boys.

“Will and I have known each other since school and we’ve been into rallying for a long time – the first time I saw it on television I was hooked.

“I was only about seven and I just couldn’t believe these guys were driving cars so fast between the trees.

“There’s a great relationship between us in the car. We might look like Laurel and Hardy but we know each other really well.

“It’s a brilliant event down at Devil’s Bridge, near Aberystwyth, all run on tarmac roads which are closed for the rally.

“One of the Sunday stages is a long endurance test of 17 miles and we’ll be taking no chances as we want to make sure we’re there at the finish.”.

“Then next morning we’re back for another eight stages – we’ll have recce’d them beforehand – to the finish late on Saturday afternoon.”

The action kicks off on Saturday with two runs starting from Aberystwyth harbour, heading into the town centre and finishing just before the promenade before the field heads out into countryside for stages at Glan yr Afon and Devil’s Bridge.

Sunday’s action comprises a loop of four stages run twice; once in the morning and again in the afternoon, including the long 17-mile Llanfihangel stage and nine-miles of undulating asphalt through Nant y Moch.

Lisa James, of Lock Stock Self Storage, said: “We’re delighted to support Rich. He and Will are really passionate about rallying and it will be good to see the Lock Stock logo flying round those stages in West Wales.

“We like to get behind local people and organisations, including those involved with sport, and we’re sure they’ll be very competitive.”

It’s been a frustrating season so far for Will and Rich who have also had mechanical problems at earlier events but they are hoping the Rali Ceredigion will be a turning point and set them up for a more successful trip to Scotland in October for the Isle of Mull Rally.

Rich added: “We’re expecting it to be very dry, at least on Saturday, which can take its toll on tyres but the forecast is for rain by Sunday so it could be quite tricky.

“We’ve had a bit of bad luck so far this year but we’re hoping that’s behind us now and we can do well this weekend and then up on the isle of Mull in October.”