Osian Pryce, together with co-driver Stephane Prevot, recorded a resounding victory on this year’s JDS Machinery Rali Ceredigion.
Having taken the lead on the second of the event’s 14 stages, Pryce and Prevot crossed the line 22.9 seconds ahead of second-placed Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson, themselves 8.6 seconds ahead of James Williams/Dai Roberts, who had charged through the second day in a battle that was to decide the podium positions.
The scene for this year’s rally was well and truly set at Friday Evening’s Rali Show and Ceremonial start on Aberystwyth Promenade. Illuminated by a spectacular sunset over Cardigan Bay, huge crowds turned out to witness a selection of competing cars and crews.
A loop of three stages in the morning followed by a run through the same three stages in the afternoon over roads across the Cambrian Mountains provided nearly all of Saturday’s 54.32-mile competitive distance. The day concluded with stages seven and eight in Aberystwyth, two half-mile blasts that started from the town centre and headed onto the sea-front road.
Saturday’s competitive action began with the Signature Systems Borth 1 stage that saw Lampeter's Evans emerge ahead of the 110-car field.
However, a spin and puncture in SS2 – ETT Trailers Cwmerfyn 1 – enabled Machynlleth's Pryce to take the advantage and going on to set a total of four fastest stage times out of eight, the 2019 winner and 2022 runner-up would stretch out a 42.4 second lead by the end of the day.
Determined to fight back, Evans set off in pursuit and went fastest through SS3, the RSK Group Cwm Ystwyth 1 stage and at 17.1-miles, the longest of the rally. Going on to claim a further two stage wins, Evans did well to battle back to second place before the overnight halt.
Focussed on his challenge for the Protyre Asphalt Championship title, Callum Black was quick out of the blocks and held second place on Saturday morning.
Having established a comfortable championship lead, he opted for a considered approach in the afternoon order to secure victory on Saturday’s penultimate round and make Sunday’s final round a more straightforward affair.
As such, he regarded his third-place at the end of the first day as a bonus.
After finishing a credible third overall last year, Newcastle Emlyn's James Williams looked to continue his Rali Ceredigion fortunes this weekend.
A shaky start that included an off-road excursion and contact with a large chicane marker-bale in a car that was brand-new to him did little to boost his confidence. He was therefore pleased to make it to the overnight halt in fourth place.
Adding to the mix were James Ford/Neil Shanks, who’s solid performance into fifth place was also interrupted by a marker-bale. Fortunately, no mechanical harm was done, although the same could not be said for a number of their Citroen C3 Rally2’s bodywork components.
Saturday concluded with the Cambrian Training/Get Jerky/LAS Recycling Aberystwyth 1 & 2 stages.
Ahead of competitors arriving, Matthew Wilson wowed the onlooking fans with a series of demonstration runs in an M-Sport Puma Rally1 Hybrid, the crowds once again, enjoying the evening’s glorious Ceredigion sunshine.
The unique nature of this high-profile spectator stage that included the execution of a compulsory donut, saw Mark Kelly/Will Atkins step up to the challenge and go fastest on both occasions.
Sunday’s schedule featured another trio of runs over the Cambrian Mountains in the morning, followed by a repeat of the same three stages in the afternoon.
Each of the five leading drivers had opted for different day-two strategies: Pryce was looking to find a pace that would enable him to maintain a comfortable lead whilst not take any risks; Evans would push as hard as he could but accepted he was unlikely to make up the 42.4 second deficit; Williams was aiming to restore his confidence after a difficult first day and claim a place on the podium for the second year running; Black was intent on finishing the event and thereby secure the Protyre Asphalt Championship title, whilst Ford had an eye on a top-three placing and fitted a set of softer tyres to help the cause.
All of the top-five drivers lived up to their strategy pledges, with Evans fastest on the day’s first stage - SS 9, Shirgar Butter Llanafan 1 – just fractions of-a-second ahead of Williams and Pryce in third. SS10, Rallycover Clywedog 1, saw the first tied stage win, when Evans and Williams set identical times. Williams then claimed his first outright fastest time on SS11, Spencer Quantum Nant y Moch 1, this infamous nine-miler and driver’s favourite the only stage to have featured in all three editions of Rali Ceredigion.
Overall positions at the lunch time service halt read: Pryce, Evans and Williams, whilst Black – now in fourth - admitted he had backed off just enough to secure the Protyre Asphalt Championship prize. In contrast Ford was pushing harder, but a technical issue resulted in a late exit from service and the consequent application of a time penalty.
Pryce drove faultlessly over the final three stages and in doing so, recorded his fifth fastest time of the rally on the penultimate stage. Williams, on the other hand, was on a mission and went on to win the remaining two.
But try as he might, he was unable to overhaul Evans and the podium positions remained the same.
Black also held station to finish fourth, whilst a consistent performance over the two days rewarded Garry Pearson/Daniel Barritt with a credible fifth place.
At the finish, a very satisfied Osian Pryce said: “It’s been a challenging rally, I’ve really enjoyed the driving and I’m delighted to have won. But I couldn’t have done it without everyone who has supported me, Melvyn Evans Motorsport for providing me with such a great car and Stephane for being part of the team.
“This has been a fantastic event. It’s great for the area, great for the Sport and I applaud the organisers for all they have achieved.”
In response, Chairman of the JDS Machinery Rali Ceredigion organising committee Phil Pugh said: “I must congratulate Osian and Stephane on their impressive performance.
"I also congratulate every crew who collected an award, all those who made it to the finish and thank each and every competitor for joining us for what has been an amazing event. Its surpassed our expectations and we hope those of others too.
“This rally is only possible because of the incredible team behind it; the marshals, officials, sponsors, partners and everyone who’s been involved. We were delighted to see so many people watching the event on the stages and follow it online. We look forward to doing it all again next year!”
Results 1: Osian Pryce/Stephane Prevot (VW Polo R5): 1:24:30.8 2: Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (VW Polo R5): 1:24:53.7 3: James Williams/Dai Roberts (Hyundai i20 Rally2): 1:25:02.3 4: Callum Black/James Morton (Ford Fiesta Rally2): 1:26:18.1 5: Garry Pearson/Daniel Barritt (VW Polo R5): 1:28:19.0 6: James Ford/Neil Shanks (Citroen C3 Rally2): 1:29:29.1 7: Kevin Davies/Owain Davies (VW Polo R5): 1:29:57.4 8: Mark Kelly/Will Atkins (Skoda Fabia R5): 1:30:06.3 9: Andrew Purcell/Shane Buckley (VW Polo R5): 1:31:53.4 10: John Dalton/Gwynfor Jones (Darrian T90 GTR): 1:31:59.1