After eight challenging stages, Osian Pryce/Stephane Prevot lead the JDS Machinery Rali Ceredigion by 42.7 seconds ahead of second-placed Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson, who are in-turn 15.4 seconds ahead of Callum Black/Jack Morton.
A spectacular ceremonial start and Rali Show on Aberystwyth Promenade was held on Friday evening in front of huge crowds. Backlit by a magnificent display of late-summer sun setting over Cardigan Bay, the occasion provided a perfect prelude for things to come.
Action for the 110-car field got underway on Saturday morning with a 5.29-mile run through Signature Systems Borth 1, Evans setting the fastest time through the stage. However, his lead was short-lived and on SS2 – ETT Trailers Cwmerfyn 1 – a spin and puncture relegated the VW Polo R5 driver down the leader board. Consequently, Pryce - driving a similar car - emerged from the 4.30-mile run with a margin of seven seconds over Black in his Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Next came the longest stage of the day, RSK Group Cwm Ystwyth 1 providing a demanding 17.1-mile stretch from Devil’s Bridge to Rhayader. Determined to make up for lost time, Evans went fastest ahead of Pryce and Black.
At the lunch time service halt the timesheets revealed the top three as Pryce, Black and Evans, with James Ford/Neil Shanks fourth in their Citroen C3 Rally2 and James Williams/Dai Roberts fifth in their Hyundai i20 Rally2. The afternoon saw a repeat of the morning’s three stages followed by two runs through the half-mile, spectator-focussed Cambrian Training/Get Jerky/LAS Recycling-sponsored Aberystwyth street stage.
Despite experiencing a few ‘on-the-edge’ moments, winner in 2019 and runner-up in 2022 Pryce went on to win four of the day’s eight stages, only to report a potential transmission problem detected when negotiating the compulsory ‘donut’ in the final Aberystwyth stage.
A committed drive saw Evans set three fastest stage times and fight his way up to second place by the end of the day. Behind him the battle for third was fought out between Black and Williams. However, contact with one of the many wrapped bales that marked the event’s various chicanes in SS2 and SS8 did little to help the third-place finisher last year and frustratingly, Williams ended the day 1.3 seconds behind Black in fourth.
In contrast, Black was pleased with his position and a considered drive to ensure he scored maximum points in the Protyre Asphalt Championship meant that he only needs to finish in the top five registered crews on Sunday to take the 2023 title.
Another driver to fall foul of the infamous chicane bales was Ford. Whilst inflicting a considerable amount of body damage to his Citroen, he was pleased to reach the overnight halt still in fifth place.
“It’s good to have pulled out a lead today, but it’s never a comfortable one when you’re halfway through a rally - and there’s still a long way to go", said Pryce. "Other than a spin in stage one, it's been a good day, so all being well I'm hoping we can do the same again tomorrow."
Sunday sees a further three stages run twice over the technically demanding but satisfying-to-drive Cambrian Mountain roads..
Top 10 overall - end of day one (provisional results): 1: Osian Pryce/Stephane Prevot (VW Polo R5): 45:35.9 2: Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (VW Polo R5): 46:18.6 3: Callum Black/James Morton (Ford Fiesta Rally2): 46:34.0 4: James Williams/Dai Roberts (Hyundai i20 Rally2): 46:35.3 5: James Ford/Neil Shanks (Citroen C3 Rally2): 47:15.8 6: Garry Pearson/Daniel Barritt (VW Polo R5): 47:52.2 7: Neil Roskell/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta Rally2): 48:25.4 8: Mark Kelly/Will Atkins (Skoda Fabia R5): 49:00.8 9: Kevin Davies/Owain Davies (VW Polo R5): 49:14.5 10: John Dalton/Gwynfor Jones (Darrian T90 GTR): 49:42.8