Double header Manx National set to throw open the Protyre MSUK Asphalt Rally Championship title fight
By David Sholicar
It’s double header time in the battle for the 2023 Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship title when Rounds 2 and 3 are played out over 17 iconic and challenging Manx National Rally special stages (12-13 May).
The event returns to the Protyre Asphalt calendar for the first time since 2019, and it once again includes both daylight and night-time stages, with the notoriously changeable Isle of Man weather often throwing a curve ball into the mix.
With the winners of the opening Reed Group East Riding Stages, David Henderson/Chris Lees, electing to miss this one, there will be new leaders of the overall drivers’ and co-drivers’ points tables come the end of the Manx, while the closely fought battle for class honours will be thrown open too.
David Wright made an impressive Protyre Asphalt Championship debut when he finished second in East Yorkshire in his Michelin-shod Ford Fiesta R5. Co-driven once again by Paula Swinscoe, the Lancaster driver is best placed to benefit from his rival’s absence and is intent on knocking Henderson off the top spot.
Kevin Davies put all his Welsh road rallying experience to good use to take home sixth place points on the East Riding Stages. He should go well on the Manx too, as the Carmarthen driver teams up with co-driver Owain Davies in a Melvyn Evans Motorsport-prepared Cobra Hydraulics-backed Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh, who are currently seventh, will also have their sights on moving up the points table in their Tudor Glass Ford Fiesta Rally2.
John Stone has a lot of Isle of Man rallying experience, having competed there in a variety of cars including a Fiesta (WRC, S2500 and R5), Škoda Fabia WRC, Hyundai Accent WRC and a Metro 6R4. Co-driven by Laura Connell, this will be his third appearance on the island in his Legend Fires Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Former Manx Rally winner Neil Roskell’s pre-event preparations got off to the perfect start when he recorded his first outright victory in his new ND Civils/Burdens/Witham Motorsport Ford Fiesta Rally2 on the recent non-championship Corbeau Seats Rally Tendring & Clacton Rally. This will come as a big confidence boost as he returns to the Isle of Man with co-driver Andrew Roughead.
Hugh Hunter/Rob Fagg won the Manx National in 2017 and return to the UK’s premier sealed-surface series in a new RSH Tarmac-backed Ford Fiesta Rally2. They made their debut in the car on the Circuit of Kerry and were 25th overall when they ran wide and into a ditch, and then came home an impressive second overall in Clacton.
Former Protyre Asphalt leader and 2018 class B14 champion Wayne Sisson also returns to the series. The fast and flowing roads will suit his AMS Arnside Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 10, and together with co-driver Peredur Davies, the Carnforth driver will undoubtedly be one to watch.
So too will Steve Wood. He got his title defence off to a bad start when he ended up in a ditch on the opening stage of the East Riding Stages. Co-driven by Kenny Hull, the Aberystwyth driver's vast experience of closed road rallying, especially in Ireland, could play to his advantage as he wheels out his Trailhead Get Jerky-backed Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Callum Black may not have done a full asphalt rally since 2013 – two fastest stage times over the Porlock toll road stage on the Somerset Stages have been his only competition on a sealed-surface road in the last 10 years – but he makes his Protyre Asphalt debut aiming for victory in his Pallas Connections-backed Ford Fiesta Rally2. His skill and speed are without question, and together with Jack Morton on the pace notes he will undoubtedly be one of the frontrunners.
Also aiming for a strong finish are Anthony Eaton/Ian Jackson in their Ford Fiesta R5, Mike English/Andy Robinson in their Fiesta Rally2 and Richard Clews/Carl Williamson, who enjoyed a good pre-event test recently at Trawsfynydd in their ITG Subaru Impreza STi.
Steven Ormond-Smith will be the local favourite for a top result in his ORMCO Accounts/Manx Rally Sport-supported Mitsubishi Evo 9. He and co-driver Dafydd Evans are the defending class B14 champions and will be aiming to move up from the modest fourth place they find themselves in, after exhaust and gear linkage issues cost them time and places on the opening round.
Oli Hopkins/Ian Taylor always go well on the Manx (they were sixth overall after Friday’s stages in 2019) and return in their Hopkins Motorsport-owned Mitsubishi Mirage. Philip Hopkins/Aled Edwards also make a welcome return in their Mitsubishi Evo 6.
Joe McKeand arrives in Douglas leading class B14 after a great opening round in his Subaru Impreza. Chasing him hard will be William Hill (co-driven by class leader Richard Crozier) in their Hills Ford Fiesta Rally3, Lee and Cole Hastings (Subaru Impreza), Gordon Cunningam/Charley Sayer-Payne (Road Trip Motorhomes/Mayfield Garage Mitsubishi), Stephen Harvey/Andy Falconer (Subaru Impreza), David Taylor/Stephen Christian (Mitsubishi Evo 6), and Mark Holmes/Mark Perryman in their Mark Holmes Auto Engineering-backed Ford Fiesta S2000.
Adrian Spencer (co-driven this time by Ashley Trimble) is aiming to kick start his class B14 title challenge, after retiring his RED Industries Subaru Impreza WRX with engine issues on the opening round.
Darren Atkinson always goes well on the Isle of Man and is often the top two-wheel drive finisher. Together with co-driver Mark Twiname, the defending class B13 champion leads the category after a fantastic first round and will be looking for another big top 10 finish this time in his S&W Fabrication/DP Trucks Ford Escort Mk2.
He will certainly be given a run for his money from the likes of Brad Cole/Neil Colman (Trick Motorsport-prepared Hydroline Solutions 2.5-litre Escort Mk2), Gerry Fitzelle/Mark Mason (Escort Mk2), Oliver Davies/Jack Bowen (Adam Hewitt Agri Plant & Salvage Sales Ford Escort Mk2), Andy Scott/Ian Robertson (Millington-engined Ford Escort Mk2) and David Cluckie/Ealish Baxter (BMW 325).
Reigning Northern Ireland Junior rally champion Sam Adams made a class B12 winning Protyre Asphalt debut and, together with co-driver Michael Johnston, will be aiming to extend his advantage in his Pinto-engined Ford Escort Mk2.
Double class B11 champions Paul and Julian Doroszczuk return in their Drockspeed Motorsport Escort Mk2. They’ll be up against current class leaders Michael Harbour/Ian MacDougall (Ford Escort Mk2) and the chasing Olly Hunter/Matt Daniels (ES Electrical Contractors-backed Escort Mk2), Malcolm Boyd/Brian Stubbs (Escort Mk2), Clint Eade/Tom Murphy (BMW 1 Series) and Geoff Glover/Keith Barker (Vauxhall Astra RWD).
Meanwhile, Northallerton’s Mark and Andrew Constantine will be aiming to extend their class B9 lead in their Ford Escort Mk2.
Will Rowlands leads both the BTRDA Historic Asphalt Cup and the class index of performance-based Ford Escort Challenge. Co-driven by Emyr Hall, the Denbigh driver will be looking forward to an equally impressive run this time in his Ford Escort RS1800.
Martin and James Freestone join the battle for the BTRDA Historic Asphalt Cup as they contest the event in their Ford Escort Mk1, while Graham Mutter/Steve Hallmark return in their Escort Mk2.
Having destroyed his Peugeot 205 GTi on the East Riding Stages, Jonathan Stepney will debut his newly acquired Renault Clio Sport 2.0 16v on the Manx. Last year’s class B12 champion will be partnered by his stepfather Aled Davies and be supported by the Griffiths Group and Motorhome Services Scotland.
Pushing hard in Ford Escort Mk2s will be Lewis Gatt/Tony Edwards, John Devlin/John McCarthy, Russ and Wendy Mason, Mal Boyd/Brian Stubbs, Geoff Roberts/Ian Jones, Antony Allery/Richard Bonner, Will Onions/Dave Williams, and John and Rachael McCullough.
Archie Swinscoe will make his Protyre Asphalt debut when he contests his first rally on the Isle of Man in a Vauxhall Nova, co-driven by Jane Nicol. John Clayton/Steve Booth appear in a Nissan Micra Kit Car, while Simon Hunter/Howard Pridmore will be pushing hard in their Kwiktrak-backed Vauxhall Corsa S1400.
Protyre Motorsport will take a large number of tyres to the Isle of Man, including Pirelli, Michelin and Hoosier, and operate an on-event fitting service for all registered Championship contenders.
Special Stage TV will be live streaming all the action from the event on its Facebook page. Commentary will come from former WRC reporter Mark James.
Organised by Manx Auto Sport, the 2023 Manx National Rally is run over three legs and contains 17 special stages and 136.5 stage miles. Leg 1 and 2 (Round 2 of the Protyre Asphalt Championship) are on Friday 12 May, with the first car leaving the TT Grandstand at 11:31. The leg contains four stages (Pooil Vaasish 1 and 2, Barregarroo 1 and Injebreak) with all 21.12 stage miles completed without service. Leg 2 begins at 18:31 with a further five stages totalling 32.24 miles (Keristal, Balladoole 1 and 2, Barregarro 2 and Little London). This leg ends at 21:33, where full Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship points will be awarded. Leg 3 (Round 3 of the Protyre Asphalt Championship) is the longest of the event, with eight stages and 83.18 stage miles taking place on Saturday 13 May. The leg starts at 09:01 and goes straight into a loop of four stages (Newtown, The Curraghs, Dog Mills and The Baldwins). After a midday service at the TT Grandstand, the 42-mile loop of stages is repeated in the afternoon, before the champagne spraying finish ceremony back at the TT Grandstand shortly after 15:00.
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.
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