Ingram draws first blood at brutal Probite BRC opener

Chris Ingram and Alex Kihurani claimed victory on the opening round of the Probite Motorsport UK British Rally Championship [BRC], by taking the top spot at the Legend Fires North West Stages on Saturday [23 March].

Ingram blasted his Michelin-shod Volkswagen Polo GTi through the challenging lanes of Lancashire to four fastest times to secure his maiden BRC win, taking home maximum points in one of the most exciting lineup of series contenders for many years.

Irish ace and 2021 Junior BRC champion William Creighton mounted a late charge in his Pirelli-supported Ford Fiesta Rally2 to secure second overall whilst Meirion Evans gave the Toyota Yaris GR Rally2 an impressive debut on UK soil to round out the podium spots in third.

The re-invigorated British Rally Championship attracted a star studded entry to the opening round of the season which would see 10 tests and 57 stage miles on offer in the twisty and technical closed-public roads around the Garstang rally base. Coupled with several high-speed and open moorland stages, it would be a demanding start to the BRC’s highly anticipated season.

The public would come out in force to see the stars and their cars on Friday night as Garstang town centre saw thousands of rally fans line the high street for the ceremonial start as the crews were waved over the ramp to a rapturous welcome.

The action would begin on Saturday and the already challenging stages would become even more demanding on cars and crews thanks to a widely changeable weather system. Heavy rain showers were beating down on already sodden stages to add further jeopardy to the scoreboard.

It would be Ingram who showed the BRC contingent the way, with scratch time over the opening Beacon Fell test, opening up a 5.9-second lead to four-time BRC champion Keith Cronin who was back for another shot at claiming a fifth title.

In turn, Cronin was 5.8 seconds up on 2022 British champion Osian Pryce. Ingram had put his 2022 event-winning knowledge to good use and having a clean road in front of him would aid his bid to take back-to-back North West Stages wins.

The Manchester-born ace edged out another eight seconds on the second test and despite a fastest time for Pryce and co-driver Rhodri Evans on the third, would find himself almost 18 seconds ahead with two tests to go in the loop.

Sadly with several incidents blighting the opening loop of stages, organisers were forced to cut the morning short, cancelling the fourth and fifth stages for all and leaving many without any stages completed over the first run.

With all cars re-routed back to service, the afternoon leg would go ahead as planned and the battle resumed, albeit in much wetter conditions than the morning pass. Pryce was quickest out of the blocks on the Beacon Fell repeat, going an impressive eight seconds faster than anyone else in his Fiesta Rally2, but would exit the rally on the very next test with mechanical issues.

Creighton would do his best to gain ground on Ingram but the Polo driver was uncatchable, taking his very first BRC win against some of the toughest competition the series has seen in many years.

“It’s amazing to win at home against such strong competition,” said an elated Ingram.

“I knew there was going to be some quick guys, especially the Irish who have had a lot of seat time. And especially this guy (Meirion Evans) who’s been really quick this afternoon so it’s going to be one hell of a battle for the rest of the season.

“We had to get the job done, we had a strong start but overall it’s been a difficult day actually; we went out on slicks thinking it would be dry out here, but I think overall we’ve managed it well”.

Fresh from a podium at the West Cork Rally last weekend, Creighton and co-driver Liam Regan would be delighted with second spot, further cementing their pace which saw them secure the 2023 FIA Junior World Rally Championship title. Creighton would be the leading M-Sport Ford World Rally Team driver home.

It would be Evans, along with co-driver Jonathan Jackson who rounded out the podium, returning to Garstang to spray the champagne alongside teammate Ingram, giving the Castrol MEM Rally Team an early lead in the BRC Teams Championship. Despite having only driven the car for a handful of miles prior to the event, Evans did enough to put the all-new Yaris Rally2 into the top three on its UK debut.

The drama would unfold throughout the field and James Williams would have to overcome a few new-car niggles as he settled into his Hyundai i20 N Rally2. With Ross Whittock alongside, Williams salvaged fourth from a tricky day behind the wheel and valuable points in his BRC campaign.

It was a positive result for Neil Roskell and Dai Roberts in their Ford Fiesta Rally2. Up against some of the giants of the rallying world, Roskell held his own to take the fifth spot, despite clashing with a straw bale chicane on the final stage, managing to coax the car over the finish ramp, albeit battered and bruised.

Rounding out the top six would be Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin in their Fiesta Rally2. On the crest of a wave after back-to-back Irish Tarmac Rally Championship wins, Cronin couldn’t quite make it pay in the BRC. A puncture, driveshaft failure, handbrake issues and a wrong tyre choice made it a troubled day behind the wheel for the Irish pairing.

There were plenty of casualties during a brutal day on the stages, with Kyle White and Sean Topping’s Hyundai i20 exiting on the opening stage after a heavy impact. JKS Team Northern Ireland teammates Alan Carmichael and Claire Williams would also be forced out after their Hyundai i20 suffered power issues. Putting an end to a strong showing, Max McRae and Cameron Fair slid off the road in their M-Sport Fiesta Rally2 on the ninth test.

The BRC3 category saw a pair of duelling Ford Fiesta Rally3’s but it was asphalt ace William Hill who took the top score with Peredur Davies alongside. Steve Waugh enjoyed his step up from last year’s Fiesta R2T, taking second in his example and Adam Westerby on the notes. James Lightfoot and Ula Budzyńska secured a solid finish on their BRC4 debut, bringing their Fiesta R2T home in 74th overall.

Junior British Rally Championship
The Junior British Rally Championship is always a hotbed of action as young drivers aim to prove their worth and bid for the coveted title. Taking the opening round glory and becoming one of the youngest-ever Junior BRC winners, Kalum Graffin took his Peugeot 208 Rally4 to a sensational win, against stiff competition. He and co-driver Richard Crozier battled hard all day with their rivals, to take the win by just 11 seconds from Robert Proudlock and Steven Brown their similar machine.

Each of the Junior contestants showed their hand throughout the day, with Casey Jay Coleman and Lorcan Moore rounding out the podium after suffering a double puncture during the afternoon loop. Both Graffin and Coleman utilised their bonus points inducing `Joker`, which gave them an additional five and three points respectively.

Open Rally Title
A late entry into the category for Hugh Brunton and Drew Sturrock proved fruitful, as the Skoda Fabia crew stormed to the Open Rally Title event win. They held Hugh Hunter and Rob Fagg’s Fiesta Rally2 firmly at bay, to take the category win and a top-ten finish in the process. John Morrison and Max Freeman secured third.

National Rally Title
Darren Atkinson and Simon Walling took their Ford Escort MKII to an impressive National category victory. The asphalt ace finished well inside the top twenty overall and took maximum category points as a result. The Darrian T90 GTR of Wayne Jones and Dafydd Evans took second after a difficult day, as Matthew Dance and Jason Davies rounded out the top three in their Escort.

Highlights of the Legend Fires North West Stages will be aired on ITV4 and ITVX on Tuesday 2nd April at 17:45 and repeated on Sunday 7th April at 08:00.

The next round of the Probite British Rally Championship heads for the gravel and world-class stages of the Rallynuts Severn Valley Stages in April.

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