Ulster Historic Rally preview

by Ian Harden


The three Category leaders in this year’s Mintex MSA British Historic Rally Championship – Rikki Proffitt / Phill Harrison, David Stokes / Guy Weaver and Gareth James / Steffan Evans all go to the Todds Leap Ulster Historic Rally on 23rd and 24th August with one main aim; scoring points.


After five classic rallies, the race to become 2013 MSA British Historic Rally Champion is led by Category One driver Proffitt in his Porsche 911. He holds an eight-point advantage over James’s Ford Escort Mk2 with Dessie Nutt / Geraldine McBride (Porsche 911) third. But Escort Mk1 driver Stokes is close behind in fifth place. And, with his acknowledged expertise on sealed surfaces – he took a dominant Category Two win at the recent Epynt-based Harry Flatters Rally – the series leaders can never discount the three-times British historic champion.


As always, ‘the Ulster’ takes place at a crucial point of the season. By August, competitors have ironed out their early season problems and title contenders are jockeying for position, determined to pick up championship points at this always-enjoyable but very challenging rally. This year, the battleground changes from Co. Antrim to Co. Fermanagh, where stages such as Mallabeny Hill, Carren Bridge and the rather spookily named Widow Magee will soon become well known to competitors. 


In Category One, 2013 has seen a classic fight between Proffitt and Nutt. Proffitt has taken four wins but in the lanes around Enniskillen he is – in soccer terms – playing an away match. Castlerock-based Nutt took a dominant win in the Co. Antrim lanes last year and wants to repeat the performance to put pressure on his rival ahead of the final rounds.


The Mintex MSA series has led the resurgence in Category One entries this year. Cars competing at each round include Ford Cortinas, Volvo Amazons, Minis and Hillman Imps. An integral part of this year’s BHRC has been the Imp 50 Cup, and series leaders Geoff Taylor /Steve Greenhill (Sunbeam Imp Sport) arrive in Co. Fermanagh to try to stretch their lead further. With main rivals Nigel / Henry Webster (Singer Chamois Sport) not entered, Taylor will be free to battle the bigger-engined cars. The Minis are represented by Clive King / Bob Ward’s Cooper ‘S’. The West Midlands-based pairing currently lead the HRCR Mini Cup and are making their Irish lanes debut. But their many years of experience will stand them in good stead once the stages start as they take on the local crews as well as the BHRC runners: anyone wanting to see a Mini driven to its maximum need only look out for the cream and black ‘buzz box.’


Category Two has been a tremendous ‘old master / young pretender’ scrap throughout 2013. Three-time British historic champions Stokes / Weaver have been challenged strongly at every round by Richard Hill and co-driver Pat Cooper. It has been enthralling viewing, with the two Escort Mk1 drivers separated by less than one second on many stages. Hill’s winning margin at May’s Pirelli Historic Rally was just four-tenths of a second after 55 stage miles. But Stokes won in Co. Antrim in 2010 and ’11: he will be equally hard to beat here. Porsche 911 driver Peter McDowell’s season-long consistency puts him into second in Category Two. He won his class in 2011 but, with co-driver Peter Moss installed in place of work-committed Derek Davies, will want to improve on his tenth-stage retirement last year. For Ian Drummond / Hu Kent and their immaculate ‘big arch’ Mk1 Escort the Ulster Historic Rally is always a ‘must do’ event. They love the Irish lanes and a class win is a strong probability. 


Gareth James / Steffan Evans burst onto the historic scene last year in their Ford Escort MK2 RS 1800 and, in 2013 have dominated Category Three, taking four wins from five rounds. But they will be under pressure this weekend from Ryan Barrett / Barry Ferris (Escort Mk2) who can boast a 100 percent win rate this year: they took the honours at BHRC round four, the Severn Valley Stages, their only outing of 2013.


Not far behind, father and son pairing Ernie and Will Graham in their BDG-powered Escort Mk2 will renew their friendly rivalry with Shawn Rayner / Declan Dear’s Ultra Home-backed Pinto-powered Escort. Graham is stunningly fast on asphalt but despite giving away horsepower, Rayner’s ‘no surrender’ driving style always keeps him in very close touch.


Asphalt specialist Adrian Seabridge replaces his usual co-driver, son Dan, with the vastly experienced Ryland James as they bring their beautifully prepared ex-Malcolm Wilson Escort to the Co. Fermanagh lanes for the first time. Seabridge’s deceptively fast pace on sealed surfaces often means he is not noticed by rivals until he overhauls them, so keep an eye open for the Total-liveried machine as well as BHRC stalwarts Graham Waite / Gill Cotton, who have swapped their usual Volvo Amazon for an Opel Ascona.


Having suffered an unlucky fourth stage mechanical failure at the Harry Flatters Rally, Lee Ashberrry and John Pickavance will be determined to finish the gruelling near-100 stage miles route on offer to Ulster Historic Rally competitors. The pairing brought their Escort Mk2 RS 1800 home strongly at the Jim Clark Rally in June (fifth in Category Three), so expect Ashberry’s efforts to repair the damage from Epynt to bear fruit with a safe return to the Enniskillen finish ramp.