Safety comes to the fore for Wheeler

2016 BRC3 Champion Chris Wheeler and co-driver Yan Griffiths suffered an accident on the Epynt Ranges during the Nicky Grist Stages back in July, prematurely ending their season. We caught up with Chris to discuss the road to recovery and his future plans.

BRC fans were sadly denied the answer to the age-old question in 2016. Which is better… front or rear-wheel-drive? Wheeler’s Citroen DS3 R3T wasn’t quite ready for round one to go up against BBC Top Gear presenter Chris Harris in the Toyota GT86 CS-R3, so the Torquay-based drivers first event came on the Pirelli Carlisle Rally in Cumbria. Two solid finishes and two class wins from his first two events put the 22-year-old ahead of Harris in the standings by the time the Nicky Grist Stages arrived.

“We used the first two events to feed ourselves into the new car.” Explained Wheeler. “The Citroen DS3 is an awesome bit of kit and we used the Pirelli and Scottish to get to grips with it.”

By the time the Nicky Grist Stages came around in July, the driver from the South West felt he could press on and show the versatility of the French pocket-rocket as he adapted from the gravel of day one to the smooth asphalt of day two.

“The Nicky Grist Stages was going well up until our off. I’d say it was the most enjoyable rally I have done in a while and our times were what we were aiming for.

“On Stage 14 as the road went round to the left and over a bridge. We got four wheels off the ground, and as we landed the unexpected occurred. The off-side driveshaft let go and gave all the power to the near-side-wheel, launching us off the road at high speed – into the trees without any warning at all.”

The stage and the subsequent stages were cancelled as rescue units from around the complex descended upon the scene within minutes.

“It was an almighty Impact which folded the car up, right back to the windscreen – even pushing the bulkhead of the car back to the dashboard.

“I want to praise the safety crews and marshals that got to the scene so quickly and also the safety devices in the car. As it was a head on accident, the HANS devices saved our necks and spines without a doubt.

“I had internal chest, mid and lower back bruising. The tree we hit made my knee push up, whacking the steering wheel, causing my ligaments to be torn and cracking my knee cap. My co-driver Yan [Griffiths] suffered broken vertebrae in his back and is slowly but surely making a recovery.

“This was the biggest accident I have had in my career and now I fully appreciate the safety measures put in place. Our rollcage, harnesses, helmets and HANS devices all did the job and without these, who knows what could have happened.”

Two rounds past and the frustrated young-gun was eager to get back on his feet and get behind the wheel again and one step towards that goal was Chris flying over for the end of season awards on the Isle of Man. Wheeler was his usual optimistic self and showed a great deal of determination to return to Britain’s premier rallying series after his summer accident.

“I really enjoyed the BRC rounds we did in 2016 and I am hungry for more. I have bounced back quicker than the car currently so the plan is to do a few smaller events in my Ford Fiesta MS1 in the new year and get the confidence back as the Citroen is rebuilt. We will be back in the latter part of the year to undertake a few rounds before hopefully a full year in 2018.”

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