Port Talbot's Mynydd Epynt rally decided by a tie break
PORT Talbot Motor Club's MSA REIS-Get Connected Asphalt Rally Championship got off to a cracking start.
Unfortunately, Bridgend man Peter Lloyd was sidelined after a parts shortage on his Subaru Impreza WRC machine meant a non-start.
Bitterly cold overnight conditions brought some pre-start drama as snow threatened and gritting lorries moved up on to Mynydd Epynt, but although icy conditions remained, the snow swept northward.
Competition remained close, however, as Steve Simpson and Patrick Walsh led the event in the Subaru Impreza WRC until the very last of the seven stages, when in the flash of an eye the leaders slid off course and into a waiting chicane, dropping a lot of time.
Damian Cole, who was forced to abandon plans to run his newly built Mk 2 Ford Escort due to technical issues, wheeled out his usual Ford Focus WRC at No. 1 spot and swept into a matching time with the former leader.
The Impreza and Focus needed a tie-break decision that went to Simpson by reason of his win on the first stage of the day.
A muddy first stage and more grit than comfortable on the second made the going uncomfortable at high speed, though Simpson was fastest on both.
Andy Fenwick showed good pace, too. His Hyundai Accent WRC machine was quick but fragile and he lost the clutch on stage three, allowing Paul Bird and local co-driver Aled Davies to pounce and hold third to the end despite the driver not having been to Epynt before.
Tyre choice hampered many in the cold conditions and the leaders gained more time on the long fifth stage despite a tyre losing pressure — that stage was reversed for two final runs.
Damian Cole upped the pace on the sixth stage despite finding the going slippery and he matched Simpson's Subaru after a scary slither for the leader.
But Epynt debutant Bird simply flew to beat them both, with the British Superbike and MotoGP team boss making up for a stage three spin that cost half a minute and firmly stamping his claim on the final podium spot.
West Walian Mark Solloway drove well, only for a puncture to the Ford RS1800 to drop him out of a class lead.
Good local results included a class win for young Cameron Davies and Tom Hughes in their Ford Fiesta ST.
Another went to Rob Tout and Dan Holley in the Mitsubishi Evo9 by a huge margin.
Graham Hollis and Alan Jones took a third in the Ford Escort, Washington with James and Paul Williams claiming third place in a Darrian T90GTR and sixth overall despite a misfire and gearbox problems.
Llanelli man Bob Fowden, with Steve McPhee alongside him, also took a class win and eighth overall in the Comline Autoparts — Longlife Exhausts — Kumho supported Subaru, while Port Talbot driver Marcus Mullins, co-driven by Ammanford's Claire Williams, pulled off a stunning class win of over 12 minutes in their VW Polo.
It gave Claire a strong lead in the FMP Rally Challenge, a series set up by Maesteg Motor Club to support the Wales Air Ambulance with the on-event collection raising £130 for the charity.