After five pulsating rounds, the British Rally Championship will be decided on the final event of the season — the Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally in southern Scotland this weekend (14 September).
Two drivers have a mathematical chance of clinching Britain’s premier rallying title, and all that stands between the two protagonists are nine stages, equating to 75 gravel miles through the picturesque Galloway forests.
In one corner, defending champion Matt Edwards and in the other, young-charger Tom Cave. Edwards has had a near perfect start to his title defence, with only a retirement on the Pirelli Rally the only blot on his copy book. The M-Sport star has raised his game again in 2019 and comes to Scotland with Cambrian, Ypres and Ulster Rally wins and an impressive 93-point haul.
The Pirelli-backed Ford Fiesta R5 driver has already helped co-driver Patrick Walsh to his title, and now the Welshman enters his third Showdown in a row. Edwards will need to take a cautious approach – as a seventh or better will seal a second straight BRC title, a feat last achieved by Keith Cronin in 2010. Easier said than done in the challenging forestry tracks.
Sparring partner Cave has had a roller-coaster of a season in the BRC top-flight. A last stage triple puncture retirement on the Cambrian Rally failed to ignite the Welshman’s year. However, a fired-up Cave came out fighting in his Michelin-shod Hyundai i20 R5 with back-to-back BRC wins on the West Cork and Pirelli rallies and a second in Ypres – putting him equal on points with Edwards heading to the Ulster Rally.
Sadly, for Cave and navigator Dale Bowen, a rare error saw them crash out of the event in the closing stages of the event – leaving them with only option for the Scottish BRC round – to drive for the rally win.
With both drivers still to play their points paying Joker – 30 points are up for grabs, with one driver to become the 2019 British Champion.
Matt Edwards – Ford Fiesta R5 – M-Sport
“The feeling is really good coming into the final round and the whole team have really helped me get to this stage. We have done the ‘easy’ part, now we have to work hard to secure the championship.
“I will be driving in the middle of the road, I won’t be taking any risks or big cuts and the car will be filled with lots of spares to get me to the finish – I can’t take any risks.
“I don’t feel any more pressure than I did last year. It will be exciting for the everyone watching as I guarantee Tom and I will have different game plans. The stages are excellent, and it will be a great battle providing an exciting end to the championship for all involved.”
Tom Cave – Hyundai i20 R5 – PCRS Rallysport
“We have to go for it and take the win. I know Matt will be taking it easy and won’t be fighting for every tenth as it’s his to lose, but it will be difficult for him to drive at 50-60% rather than fully focused 100%. The package I have around me is very good, the Hyundai worked well on the last gravel event on the Pirelli Rally and I have gone well on Scottish stages previously. You can say the championship is 50/50 but in reality it is less than that, but anything is possible, and I am up for the challenge and giving it my all.
“I did the event in 2009 but we only did one stage as the gearbox went. Scotland as a whole has some brilliant stages and are very fast but very technical. I have gone well in the past on the Scottish Rally which has similar stages in character so I am looking forward to getting back there and getting into the title fight.”
Elsewhere in the BRC1 category, Local hopes will be pinned on Alex Laffey (Carnoustie) and Stuart Loudon (Glasgow) in their Ford Fiesta R5. The Scottish pairing took their first BRC podium together earlier in the year and would love to repeat the feat on home soil. Challenging them and the title protagonists will be several crews all eager to take their first podium of the year.
Jonny Greer and Dai Roberts are reunited as Greer’s usual co-driver Kirsty Riddick is running and overseeing the final round of the championship. Greer has been in the hunt for a podium all season and would love to end 2019 on the rostrum.
Fellow Northern Irishman Alan Carmichael returns to the series with Claire Williams sat alongside. Carmicheal continues to learn the car and gravel stages but could spring a surprise in his right-hand-drive Hyundai i20 R5 this weekend. Joining him in the PCRS fold will be another two Hyundai’s in the hands of series returnee Enda McCormack and Billy Coleman Award winner James Wilson who will be wanting to show his raw pace in the top flight of the BRC.
Money, Money, Money – €60,000 up for grabs in Scotland
While the overall Junior BRC title has already been sewn up by Josh McErlean last time out on the Ulster Rally, the focus now in the exciting front-wheel-drive category switches to the Ford Fiesta Trophy.
The €60,000 prize from M-Sport and Pirelli is still up for grabs and three drivers will go toe-to-toe for the voucher which will be put forward to a Junior World Rally Championship campaign in 2020.
James Williams heads into season finale in fine form, having taken the outright R2 win in Belgium and a solid second in class on the Ulster Rally. Ruairi Bell has quietly gone about his business this season but has been there or there about, and with every round has built his speed as he challenges closer to the front. Bell is tied on points with Williams and it will be a case of whoever finishes first out of these two will win the lucrative prize fund.
However, if either should falter, Scotsman Finlay Retson will be ready to pounce. The Blairgowrie driver may be 17 points adrift, but if retirements creep in and Retson finishes in the top two a seismic shift could yet occur with the prize pot heading to Scotland.
Elsewhere, William Creighton (Peugeot 208 R2), Marty Gallagher (Ford Fiesta R2T) and Jordan Hone (Opel ADAM R2) will all be searching their first JBRC win, while Rupert Flynn will be hoping to put the icing on his Cadet Cup title in his Ford Fiesta R2.
The Armstrong Galloway Hills Rally will bring the curtain down on the British Rally Championship season on the 14 September. Nine stages and 75 miles await, and more details for the event can be found at www.gallowayhillsrally.co.uk