The City of Newry in Northern Ireland was the setting for round six of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, the Ulster Rally and, for Lampeter’s Meirion Evans, it would the first Championship event at the wheel of his newly acquired Skoda Fabia R5.
Traditionally a two day event, the Ulster would be a one day sprint for 2019 but it was no less of a challenge; with 93 competitive mileage along the fast but twisting lanes North of Newry, the event would provide a tough challenge for 24 year old Evans and his co-driver Jonathan Jackson.
After a good debut in the ex-Skoda Motorsport Fabia R5 on the Down Rally in the same region a few weeks previously, the Scan Station backed pairing were cautiously confident aboard their new steed, knowing full well the size of the challenge that lay ahead. After a good shakedown on Friday evening the pair headed into the opening 8.9 mile opening test at McGaffins Corner in seventh overall – the slipperier than expected conditions catching out those around them.
An overshoot into a field on Stage 2 would see the Melvyn Evans Motorsport run crew drop around 10 seconds to their rivals. Despite that, Evans would enter service in eighth place overall, a position they would keep over the second loop of three stages, the drying roads allowing the pair to gain more confidence in their new machine with every passing mile.
The final loop of stages would provide one final sting in the tail. The duo entered the penultimate stage of the event holding on to eighth place overall, gradually closing the gap to the competitors ahead. By the end of the final run of the nearly 13 mile stage, they were up to fifth due to incidents and mechanical failures ahead. After gaining another place on the final stage, they were up to fourth overall and third in the Irish Tarmac Championship points – by far their best result this season as a delighted Meirion explains;
[I’m pleased our hard work has been rewarded with a result, something that seems to have eluded us so far this year. We’ve shown really positive pace on most events this year but little things, be it mechanical, punctures or maybe a little error has set us back by the end of the rally. We we’re a bit caught out with just how slippy the first stage was. I’d anticipated a drier start and didn’t have the best set up or enough confidence in the Skoda to push that hard in those conditions, but that will come with time. After overshooting on stage 2 and a big delay going into stage 3, it felt like a pretty disjointed first loop. Over the second loop we found a better rhythm and moved a bit closer to the guys in front and we kept improving. By the last couple of stages I was really starting to feel more at home in the car and set some decent times all things considered. It was a rally of high attrition, so I’m very pleased we managed to put the car on the trailer without a mark and with a good result in the bag and we can look ahead to the next one now.]
The next event for the Irish Tarmac Championship is the season finale in Cork, for the Cork 20 International Rally – an event Meirion and Jonathan have contested three times previously, taking their first International podium at the event in 2018. Before that however, they will contest an historic event much closer to home – Rali Bae Ceredigion in Aberystwyth – Wales’ first closed road event;
[I’m looking forward to finishing the season on
these two events. Rali bae Ceredigion will be a massive event for the area.
It’s highly anticipated and the type of rally that we’ve waited too long for in
this area. Hopefully the rally will be a success and a solid platform to build
on for the future for the organisers. It’s well supported and has some top
drivers on the entry list which will make an interesting day.
Cork 20 holds some nice memories for me, we had a great weekend there last year. The stages are all absolute classics and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into both events.]
Meirion and Jonathan would like to extend their continued thanks to all the team at Melvyn Evans Motorsport, The Scan Station and to Michelin for their support this season.