Welsh Wizard wins Ulster After 122 miles of tricky tarmac rallying the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship had its 3rd different winner in 4 events and for the first time since the Pirelli International in May Mark Higgins was ...
Welsh Wizard wins Ulster
After 122 miles of tricky tarmac rallying the 2006 Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship had its 3rd different winner in 4 events and for the first time since the Pirelli International in May Mark Higgins was not on the top step of the podium. However the Manx man does leave Ireland on the verge of clinching the title.
The 2006 Phillip White Tyres Ulster Rally was just as tricky and treacherous as everyone had anticipated, and even when expecting the unexpected the event still had the ability to surprise everyone.
After the opening stage was cancelled when one of the Irish contenders crashed out the first chance the BRC cars had of going head to head was over the 8.8 miles of stage 2. Incredibly Kris Meeke topped the times in his Citroen S1600, going an amazing 16 seconds faster than the quickest registered driver. That driver was the Welsh Wizard, Gwyndaf Evans, who hustled his Hankook shod Mitsubishi Evo IX around the stage 0.9 of a second quicker than Mark Higgins in his Subaru Impreza N12, running on Pirelli tyres. 0.2 seconds further back was Pirelli Rally winner Ryan Champion, eager to make up for his Isle of Man indiscretion.
Higgins then fought back on Stage 3 to go 0.9 seconds faster than Evans with Rory Galligan in the second works Mitsubishi another 0.2 seconds slower. Ryan Champion then went quickest on the next stage, but again it was by less than a second from Evans. Mark Higgins dropped time over the bumpy sections, possibly a testament to a pre event accident that affected the handling of his Subaru Impreza N12. Rory Galligan topped the times on the final stage of the day, with Mark Higgins just behind him, but Ryan Champions time was good enough to promote him into the overnight top spot, almost 2 seconds ahead of him team mate Rory Galligan. A warped brake disc had cost Gwyndaf Evans time and had dropped him down to 3rd at the overnight halt, just over a second ahead of Mark Higgins. Ahead of all of them was Kris Meeke, who had set a string of seriously quick times and was now nearly 2 and a half minutes ahead of Barry Clark, who was the top BRC registered S1600 driver.
Saturday morning dawned on a very damp set of stages and immediately the over night lead board would change as Ryan Champion would once more be caught out by the tricky conditions as he inverted his car mid stage. With his team mate slowing to ensure that both crew were ok this elevated both Gwyndaf Evans and Mark Higgins to the top 2 positions. Another fastest time for Evans on the next stage, coupled with a cautious run for Higgins, whilst Galligan spent a bit of time extracting himself from a hedge helped assist the Welshman's lead to over 13 seconds.
Stage 8 saw Kris Meeke disappear through a hedge but Evans once more went quicker than Mark Higgins, although only 0.2 seconds separated the pair on this very slippery 8 mile stage.
Higgins mounted a fight back on the very next stage to close the overall gab to Evans to 3.3 seconds, whilst Galligan, still 3rd, dropped more time to those ahead of him.
The next 2 stages went to Evans, but both by mere fractions of a second as he and Higgins fought tooth and nail for every possible second, and in doing so gradually pulled away from the chasing pack. Problems for both Stobart Ford Fiesta S1600s meant that James Wozencroft was now leading the class but he was a long way behind the flying Welshman who was heading the proceedings.
Stage 12, a 13.5 mile run through Friary Lough, could possibly have been the turning point as Higgins went nearly 30 seconds faster than Evans but then Higgins picked up a puncture on the very next stage, dropping him loads of time. This was also the first stage win for young Stuart Jones who was gradually moving up the order.
Fastest time for Rory Galligan over the penultimate stage made little difference to Gwyndaf Evans as he was now just maintaining a 55 second lead over Mark Higgins with only the final 2.8 mile super special stage left to go.
Another fastest time for Stuart Jones, with Higgins and Evans tying for 2nd fastest on the final stage rounded off a successful weekend for the Hankook team as Gwyndaf Evans took victory on the 4th round of the 2006 championship.
2nd place was practically good enough to guarantee Manxman Mark Higgins the title - all he needs now is to score a single point on the next round to take his third title.
3rd place was just reward for a fine drive from Rory Galligan, who had struggled to find the pace earlier in the event, whilst Stu Jones was very pleased with 4th, 22 seconds ahead of Higgins team mate Julian Reynolds.
James Wozencroft kept it all together to take his first S1600 victory whilst a crash for Matt Beebe had hampered his championship hopes and allowed Justin Dale a relatively untroubled run to R3 victory.
Gwyndaf Evans was understandably overjoyed with the result what a day we have had. It has been one of the toughest events I've had to tackle, which makes the victory even more satisfying
Higgins, however, was philosophical about the days proceedings it was very frustrating to get a puncture so late in the day but I guess it was just our turn! However second place puts us in a good points position going into the next round as we only need to finish to win the championship for the third time."
Whilst the overall championship honours look likely to be decided on the next round the fight for second could rage on until the final round of the 2006 championship, with no less than 7 drivers in with a chance at grabbing the runner up spot.
-credit: brc/geoff mayes