Some of the best drivers in the UK and Ireland headed to last weekend’s Grampian Forest Rally (14 August) near Banchory, with Matthew Wilson and Elliott Edmondson storming to an impressive victory in their M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2.
With the top-flight Motorsport UK British Rally Championship heading to the event for round three of the series, a stellar lineup of 120 crews started this year's event, going head-to-head with the KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship regulars, contesting a thrilling mix of high-speed and flowing gravel tests in the Durris, Fetteresso and Drumtochty forests.
It’s been around 30 years since Britain’s premier rally championship has utilised the forests just west of Aberdeen and the largely unknown stages for the contenders would see an unpredictable fight for the categories across the field. With many of the SRC crews having the benefit of previous experience of the sandy surface, a battle royale’ would take place across the six stages and 44 miles of competitive action.
As a busy M-Sport Director, Wilson made a return to the BRC in 2021 for the first time since 2016 and showed he had lost none of his pace by taking the opening stage win. His three-second lead would be extended throughout the day to take his first BRC victory in 16 years.
“We are really, really pleased with that result,” said an elated Wilson.
“I enjoyed it all to be honest. It's a shame we didn't have the fight with Matt [Edwards] in the last two stages but we just needed to keep up the good rhythm and not make any mistakes.”
“With the pace of the BRC you certainly have no time to bed yourself into these stages, you've just got to go for it and that’s what we did. It’s a great rally and the stages are super up here but it’s also a level playing field as not many have been here before. I’m really chuffed.”
Behind him, the fight for the podium spots raged throughout the day with the Melvyn Evans Motorsport teammates Matt Edwards/Darren Garrod and Osian Pryce/Noel O’Sullivan swapping seconds in their Volkswagen Polo GTi R5’s.
Two-time BRC champ Edwards recovered from a slow start to close in on Wilson, but sadly retired with a misfire, enabling Pryce to take a well-deserved second place. M-Sport driver Rhys Yates and co-driver James Morgan battled with a pop-off valve issue to scoop the final podium places in third.
Irish crew Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin continued to impress on their return to competitive action, taking fourth place in their Fiesta Rally2, whilst Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes were another to show an impressive turn of pace as they got used to the unique Kincardineshire stages, taking their Hyundai i20 to fifth by the close of play.
Taking maximum points in the Scottish Rally Championship and an impressive sixth place despite not being able to recce the stages beforehand, Duns driver Garry Pearson and co-driver Niall Burns took the SRC honours in their Skoda Fabia R5. Pearson kept fellow SRC contenders Jock Armstrong/Cammy Fair at bay during a troubled day for the Castle Douglas driver, with a damaged Fiesta Rally2 at the finish a sign of a difficult day in the forests for Armstrong.
Upholding local honours, Banchory’s Bruce McCombie overcame a puncture to take 18th overall in his impressive Ford Focus WRC. Co-driven by Michael Coutts, McCombie recorded his 22nd Grampian Rally start in the process.
Huntly’s John Wink took his Hyundai i20 R5 to 22nd overall with Neil Shanks, in the co-drivers seat.
With restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 situation, spectators were not permitted to attend the forests but the action was broadcast across social media by the British and Scottish Rally Championships enabling fans to watch the battle for the win from home.
Event Spokesman and Rally Secretary, Gordon Ritchie is delighted by the response to the 2021 event.
“It was a huge honour to have the British and Scottish Rally Championships join us for the Grampian Forest Rally this year and we are delighted with the feedback we have received,” he says.
“The rally saw a fantastic mix of cars and crews from across the UK and Ireland head to the region to sample some of our iconic stages and it provided the perfect backdrop for a fantastic battle and day of motorsport. Of course, we would have loved to have fans with us during the day, but we would like to thank them for cooperating with our requests. Congratulations to Matthew Wilson and Elliott Edmondson on their win and we are looking forward to seeing what the 2022 edition of the event holds”.
Image credits: Jakob Ebrey Photography