Welsh crew Osian Pryce and co-driver Dale Furniss made history on September 8 when they won the first ever stage rally held on closed public roads in Wales, the Get Connected Rali Bae Ceredigion.
They took the lead on stage two and, after a day-long battle with fellow countrymen Tom Cave and Dale Bowen, they crossed the line to take victory by 7.7 seconds.
The weather could not have been more perfect for the inaugural running of this ground-breaking event, with Aberystwyth and Cardigan Bay bathed in sunshine, as the field of 120 cars left the start outside the National Library of Wales.
From this point, crews faced four stages across the Cambrian Mountains in the morning and the same loop of four in the afternoon, punctuated by a half-time service halt at Aberystwyth University, the host venue for the rally.
The crew who held the accolade of being fastest through the first stage, Caws Cenarth Bont-Goch, were Merion Evans and Jonathan Jackson in their Skoda Fabia R5, who went 0.3 seconds quicker than Cave in his Hyundai i20 R5.
Pryce was third, 2.1 seconds later in his similar car – but notable by their absence were number three seeds Daniel Harper/Chris Campbell, who pulled over with a broken driveshaft in their Mini WRC.
It was at this point competitors realised why there had been so much excitement about the roads used by the rally. Stage two, Spencer Nant-y-Moch, was a faster encounter than its predecessor – but every bit as challenging.
With Evans going off the road and Cave experiencing issues with his front brakes, Pryce took the lead and emerged from the 9.63 run that circumnavigated Nant-y-Moch reservoir by 6.5 seconds.
Now in third place, Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke were getting to grips with their loaned Ford Escort Mk2 and thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Pryce went on to extend his lead in SS3, Palletforce Ystumtuen and, even though Cave got within 0.1 second of his time in SS4 Statkraft Pendam, the gap had increased to 10.9 seconds by the time cars returned to Aberystwyth University for the midway service halt.
Although wearing out the rear tyres, Pritchard had consolidated his third place, with Damian Cole – the managing director of the rally’s title sponsor Get Connected – and co-driver Max Freeman, fourth in their Fiesta WRC, followed by Hugh Hunter/Rob Fagg in a Focus WRC in fifth.
It was clear from the smiling faces that competitors were relishing their first taste of Welsh closed road stage rallying, with drivers and co-drivers reporting the character of the twisty and undulating roads across the Ceredigion Hills meant it was the ‘busiest’ they had ever been inside the car.
With his car’s brakes improved, Cave went in pursuit of the lead on the afternoon’s loop. Whilst he closed the gap to 8.1 seconds with one stage to go, Pryce was rapidly acclimatising to his Hyundai and, following a concerted effort by both Welshmen in the final stage, positions were maintained – Pryce becoming the first ever winner of this brand new and innovative event by a margin of 7.7 seconds.
Such was their pace at the front of the field, he and Cave increased their advantage over Pritchard and Cole – and with Hunter retiring with a broken clutch after stage five, Mellyr and Rhodri Evans were fifth, having overhauled Martin McCormack and Barney Mitchell – both crews in Escort Mk2s – in the closing stages.
For the organisers, what had started out as an idea more than 18 months ago, had now become a reality and they were understandably delighted by the feedback received from competitors.
The organisers were also pleased to see the thousands of spectators watching from the three specially allocated Fan Zones, to have provided live broadcast coverage throughout the event and hosted sponsors and guests in a purpose-built hospitality area overlooking the Nant-y-Moch reservoir.
Pryce said: “I didn’t expect this at all and it’s awesome to win this historic event. The plan was just to get to the finish but to have been locked in a battle with Tom (Cave) all day and to come out on top has been brilliant.
“It takes time to settle into a car like this so we’re really pleased with the result. The event was just fantastic and the way it ran is a credit to everyone involved.”
Cave said: “Whilst we had a few issues with the car this morning, I’ve really enjoyed the event and driving on such great stages. From a competitor’s point of view, the organisation has been fantastic and everyone involved should be congratulated for a job well done. I’m already looking forward to next year!”
Jason Pritchard said: “It has been an absolutely brilliant day and I need to thank Scott Williams Motorsport for lending me the car – it has been an absolute dream to drive. The stages were very tricky, you really have to trust your notes and the co-driver, but what an awesome job the organisers have done with this event. Fantastic car, fantastic stages. I’ve been smiling all day!”
Cole said: “This has been one the toughest and consequently most enjoyable rallies I have ever driven – and you really know you’ve done a rally after these stages. It’s been great to be involved with this event and work with such a motivated organising team, who have put in so much work to get this rally off the ground.”
Clerk of the course, Wayne Jones said: “I’m delighted that everything has gone according to plan and the day has exceeded our expectations. However, we could not have done it without the help and support of so many people and organisations, the residents and landowners, local authorities, Aberystwyth University, our commercial partners – and the competitors.
“And, of course, I have to thank the fantastic organising team, the marshals and everyone who has worked so hard behind the scenes to deliver a safe and successful event. It’s enabled us to make history by running the first ever closed road stage rally in Wales.”