Being a three-time British Rally Championship runner-up must be quite tough for a career-minded driver. There must come a point where you must either concede defeat or stare the challenge in the face, tighten the belts and dig deep.
In 2022 Osian Pryce did just that. Assembling the same team which took him to second place in the 2021 title race, Pryce and co-driver Noel O`Sullivan elected to return to the BRC for another [and maybe even one last] shot at the coveted crown.
The BRC had tormented Pryce for several years, coming aching close to the top spot but with a largely unknown field of BRC1 contenders to battle against this time around, would 2022 finally be his season?
Unknown that is, apart from a four-time BRC champion in Keith Cronin. If anyone knew how to win titles, it was the Irishman and returning to the series in an attempt to equal Jimmy McRae’s five-time record, Cronin would quickly become Pryce’s fly in the title ointment.
Perhaps predictably, it was a tit-for-tat title fight between the two experienced drivers with a healthy mix of newcomers throwing their hats into the ring to keep the “stalwarts” honest.
The season kicked off in Essex for the first time in its history and Cronin led for much of the opener in Clacton, before Pryce overhauled him on the final loop, handing the Welshman the first win of the season and arguably the psychological advantage.
A swap to new rubber for Cronin at the Jim Clark Rally saw a calmer approach from the Volkswagen Polo GTi driver but eyes were fully on Pryce during the opening night’s loop of stages. Failing to stop and change a puncture breached an event regulation and the Welshman was excluded, allowing Cronin to cruise to victory. One all then.
The first gravel encounter at the Nicky Grist Stages saw Pryce take win number two and the perfect response to the calamity of the Jim Clark points situation, but Cronin replied with success of his own at the Grampian.
Three rounds remained and it was level pegging. Joker opportunities would mean a few extra points were up for grabs, but both played tactically, and it was the newcomer to the series, Rali Ceredigion that would prove pivotal in the title race.
Once again Cronin set the early pace but in the darkness of the opening loop, fired his Volkswagen off the road during the tricky night-time leg, leaving Pryce to quite literally, secure a home win. Advantage Pryce.
Trackrod Rally Yorkshire would be the decider and if Pryce could keep Cronin at bay – that elusive title was his. Cronin did all he could to curb a gusty drive from Pryce in Yorkshire, but the damage was done. Finally, Pryce and co-driver Noel O’Sullivan joined a list of greats including the likes of Colin McRae, Ari Vatanen, Stig Blomqvist and Hannu Mikkola.
“I have always wanted to have my name on that trophy,” said Pryce.
“We have been patient, the hunger never faded so I’m so glad we persevered and kept at it.”
But it wasn’t all about the two Polo drivers this season. A dynamic mix of BRC1 newcomers marks an exciting chapter in the top-flight series with some inspiring speed coming from many corners of the entry lists.
The only other British Rally Championship winner in 2022 was a well-deserved one at that – Ruari Bell. The Skoda Fabia driver had been knocking on the door of the top step all season long, securing no less than three podiums along the way. But success finally came at the Cambrian Rally, pushing WRC ace Oliver Solberg throughout the day to stamp his mark on the BRC scene once and for all.
If luck was on his side, James Williams may well have challenged for the title in his Hyundai i20. Seven stage wins during the season highlights the potential in the young Welshman but could quite bring it all together to take a win. But third place in the standings is no mean feat for a debut BRC1 campaign.
Eamonn Kelly wrapped up the Junior BRC title in fine style, allowing himself to see out the season in a Polo R5 at the Cambrian and took second place in the process – undoubtedly one to watch in 2023.
Garry Pearson would swap from a Fiesta to a Fabia mid-season, encouraging a shift in speed and would lead the Cambrian Rally after the opening leg. But misfortune came knocking during the season and the only podium came at his home event – the Jim Clark Rally.
Other notable performances came from Elliot Payne in his Ford Fiesta Rally2 and Jason Pritchard in his Polo GTi. Pritchard bagged a fastest time on the gravel of the Grist and rounded out his home forest rally with a maiden BRC podium.
Andy Davies enjoyed his first foray into the BRC in a Fiesta R5, despite a topsy-turvy year, with Meirion Evans bringing his Polo GTi out for two events, fourth at the Jim Clark was a highlight.
Will 2023 see a changing of the guard? Not long to find out….