Steve Wood begins Protyre MSUK Asphalt Rally Championship title defence on the East Riding Stages
By David Sholicar
Steve Wood will begin his Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship title defence on the Reed Group East Riding Stages (Sunday 26 February) – and like all the events in last year’s calendar, this year’s opening round will be completely new to him.
The Aberystwyth driver will also start the season without his regular co-driver Dale Bowen, who is contesting another event in Portugal the same weekend – so Wood will be partnered by Mark Glennerster for the first time. His title-winning Ford Fiesta RS WRC will look different too, sporting new sponsorship from Trailhead Get Jerky.
“It’s going to be my first time on the East Riding Stages but having done pretty much all of my stage rallying in Ireland over the last fourteen years or so, and road rallying in Wales before that, all of the Protyre Asphalt events I did last year were new to me too and we ended up winning the title,” says Wood.
“I’ve watched some of the onboards from last year’s East Riding Stages. The stages look fast, smooth and a bit slippery in places, so with only two passes on the recce it’s going to be tricky.
“We’re obviously going there to try and win, but the opposition is very tough – with the likes of last year’s rally winner David Henderson and Neil Roskell in his new car. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself thinking about winning the first round. Let’s see how the recce goes first and we’ll take it from there.”
David Henderson will indeed want to maximise his event-winning knowledge of the stages to score maximum Protyre Asphalt points. Co-driven by Chris Lees, he’ll return in his Keco/PAR Petroleum-backed Ford Fiesta Rally2, which will also sport a new livery.
Last year’s Protyre Asphalt runner-up Neil Roskell will make his Championship debut in a new ND Civils/Burdens/Witham Motorsport Ford Fiesta Rally2. Co-driven by Andrew Roughead, the Blackpool driver finished fourth on last year’s East Riding Stages and will be keen to make a strong start to this year’s Protyre Asphalt campaign.
John Stone finished third in the 2022 Protyre Asphalt points standings after an impressively consistent run. Co-driven by Laura Connell, he’ll be looking for wins this year in his Legend Fires Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Stephen Simpson starts the new season in a similar position, after four very high scores secured him fourth in the points table last year. Together with Patrick Walsh on the pace notes, he’s returning in his smart Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Manchester-based John Cope teams up with Neil Colman in a Ford Fiesta R5, while Mike English/Andy Robinson appear in their unmistakable turquoise Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Class B14 champions Steven Ormond-Smith/Dafydd Evans return in their Manx Rally Sport-supported Mitsubishi Evo IX. They’ll have some tough competition, not least from Adrian Spencer/Mark Hewitt in their RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX and Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman in their Ford Fiesta S2000.
Escort Challenge and Class B13 champion Darren Atkinson starts the 2023 series with Mark Twiname co-driving in his Atkinsons Sandblasting/S&W Fabrication-backed Escort Mk2.
A fierce battle is likely to resume with the likes of Brad Cole/Jamie Vaughan, who appear again in their Hydroline Solutions Escort Mk2, Antony Allery/Richard Bonner in their Salter Demolition Ford Escort RS and Geoff Roberts/Ian Jones in their Escort RS1800.
This year they’ll be joined by the reigning Northern Ireland Junior rally champion Sam Adams who, co-driven by Michael Johnston, will make his Protyre Asphalt debut in his Pinto-engined Ford Escort Mk2 – plus Michael Harbour/Ian MacDougall in their Escort Mk2.
There are plenty of other exciting two-wheel drive cars on the entry list too – including the brand new Hills Ford Fiesta Rally3 of William Hill/Richard Crozier, the RWD Vauxhall Astra Mk3 of Geoff Glover/Keith Barker, the BMW 325 of David Cluckie/Ealish Baxter and the 2-litre Renault Clio of Mick Quinn/Chris Walker.
Also returning are the Class B12 champions Jonathan Stepney/Aled Davies. They enjoyed their best season so far last year in their rapid 1.9-litre engined Griffiths/Gavin Griffiths Group-backed Peugeot 205 GTi and will be once again looking for maximum class points and a giant-killing overall finish.
Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to the East Riding Stages, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders.
Special Stage TV will be live streaming the action from the event on its Facebook page. Commentary will come from former WRC reporter Mark James, who will be accompanied stage-side by the Protyre Asphalt frontrunning driver Mark Kelly.
Organised by Beverley & District Motor Club, the East Riding Stages Rally begins with a ceremonial start at 09:00, followed by a 50-stage mile route contained within two loops of four stages held on closed roads in East Yorkshire. There will be a new fan zone in the historic Market Cross in Beverley Market Place and a new centralised service area located at Normandy Barracks Leconfield, situated just outside Beverley. Spectator information is available at: bdmc.org.uk.
Regulations and details on how to enter the 2023 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship are available at: asphaltrallying.com.
Membership of the BTRDA can be done online at: btrdamembership.com.
East Riding Stages – top 10 seeded entry
1. David Henderson/Chris Lees (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
2. Neil Roskell/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
3. Frank Bird/Jack Morton (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
4. Elliot Payne/Tom Woodburn (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
5. Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
6. Steve Wood/Mark Glennerster (Ford Fiesta RS WRC)
7. John Stone/Laura Connell (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)
8. David Wright/Paula Swinscoe (Ford Fiesta R5)
9. Joe Cunningham/Josh Beer (Ford Fiesta R5)
10. Kevin Procter/Jamie Edwards (Ford Fiesta RS2000T)