Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux secured his third Motorsport UK British Rally Championship win of the season, after a scintillating performance at the Ardeca Ypres Rally [22-24 June] in Belgium.
Fourmaux would lock horns with fellow countryman Stéphane Lefebvre over the opening loop of stages before the former Citroen factory driver exited the event after a spectacular roll on Friday afternoon.
That left Fourmaux and co-driver Alexandre Coria with just the task of managing their pace over the remaining tests, which the Pirelli-shod Ford Fiesta Rally2 crew executed perfectly, to take yet another maximum haul of points for their championship. Their win would also give the British Rally Championship its first victory at the Ypres Rally on its fourth visit to the popular Belgian event.
A last-minute registration for Davy Vanneste proved fruitful for the Belgian, taking his Volkswagen Polo GTi to second on his BRC debut whilst Garry Pearson kept the Belgian ditches at arm’s length to secure his first BRC podium of 2023.
Ypres Rally is one of the most highly regarded rallies in the world, with breathtakingly fast stages and unforgiving cuts a feature of the two-day event. The longest in the BRC calendar, it was always highly likely to throw up some surprises over the 137 miles, 18-stage rally; and it didn’t disappoint.
The BRC would go head-to-head with its Belgian counterparts in the Belgian Rally Championship and the local heroes are often hard to beat on home turf. After qualifying determined road order on Thursday night, Friday’s opening leg housed eight tricky tests with a mid-afternoon start and the finish in the fading daylight.
It was Lefebvre and Fourmaux who became the targets, swapping fastest stage times by just tenths of a second over the opening loop. But the Michelin-backed Citroen C3 Rally2 of Lefebvre and co-driver Loris Pascaud would leave the road on the Messen-Middelhoek stage in dramatic style, rolling around 12 times after getting out of shape in a tricky section of the test.
Fourmaux enjoyed a comfortable gap to nearest rival Vanneste and much like the Jim Clark Rally before, was able to manage his lead throughout the second day. Even ECU issues in the closing stages didn’t unsettle the Frenchman, and he was eager to bring home the spoils after his last visit here as part of the World Rally Championship, saw him crash his Rally1 Puma in dramatic style.
But there were no such troubles this time around, taking both the BRC and coveted Ypres Rally victory, his home event.
“Everybody knows that Ypres is a really prestigious rally so of course, it feels very good to be in first position and put last year here fully behind me,” said Fourmaux.
“It has been a long and tough rally and we have not been able to relax all weekend, but I am very happy with my performance and my pace. A BRC win is of course, good for the championship but I will need to see what other rounds I can do because of my WRC commitments, but for sure, it is nice to win three rallies in a row.”
Vanneste and co-driver Kris D’alleine inherited second after Lefebvre’s demise on Friday and that’s where they would stay after the battle for the remaining podium spots went the way of Pearson.
The Scotsman and co-driver Daniel Barritt were delighted to clinch a BRC podium after a Jim Clark Rally to forget, their Hankook rubbered Polo crossing the ramp in Ypres without a scratch on it, an impressive feat on Pearson’s first attempt at the Belgian event.
But it could so easily have been different.
Despite limited testing before the event, James Williams and Dai Roberts were taking the fight to the Belgian crews and sat third BRC crew overnight as the confidence grew. But power steering failure forced their Fiesta Rally2 into a ditch and the subsequent time lost extracting the Ford meant they would drop significantly down the order. Fourth was little comfort for a sterling drive throughout the weekend.
A brave run by BRC3 ace Johnnie Mulholland ended with an engine issue for the Ford Fiesta Rally3 driver. He and Eoin Treacy were closing in on the pace of the Belgians all weekend before a heavy smoking engine signalled something much more sinister on Saturday afternoon.
In a rally of attrition, the Belgian lanes claimed many crews but their resilience and desire for points saw them overcome adversity throughout the weekend.
The Junior British Rally Championship is the hunting ground for future talent and where better to hone your skills than in the daunting lanes of Belgium.
Kyle White was fresh from two Junior BRC wins this season and was in command of the progressive youngsters, before a trip into one of the infamous Belgian ditches put paid to a strong run. That left Kyle McBride to pick up the mantle, be he too would suffer in the ditches on Friday, leaving returnee Casey Jay Coleman to grab hold of the lead – and keep it.
Coleman has endured a few tricky events behind the wheel but he and Lorcan Moore returned a mature performance in their Fiesta Rally4 to secure Coleman’s maiden Junior victory in impressive fashion.
Both White’s Peugeot 208 Rally4 and McBride’s Fiesta re-emerged on Saturday, with the battle for runner-up spot going the way of McBride and co-driver Liam McIntyre. They did enough to claim second and open the fight for the Junior title wide heading to Ulster. White and Sean Topping were happy with their pace over the closing stages, taking the fight to the Belgian Juniors, but they couldn’t make up the time they lost, taking third.
Mike East and Emily Easton-Page had beaming smiles after the opening day in Ypres, with East in awe of the impressive stages and bumper crowds both on the stages and in the towns. The Fiesta R2T paring would sadly endure a trip into a ditch on Saturday morning but managed to re-join and take a well-deserved National Rally Title maximum points haul.
The British Rally Championship now enjoys a summer break but stays on asphalt for the next round of the series as it returns to Northern Ireland for the Modern Tyres Ulster Rally in August.