Gritty Chesterfield rally-driver Rhys Yates mastered one of the toughest events on the MSA British Championship calendar by taking seventh overall at the Nicky Grist Stages in Wales.
The fifth round of the series is unique thanks to its mixed-surface format, but Yates dealt with the two-day blast through the forests and over the closed roads of the Epynt Military Ranges with ease to maintain his top-ten position in the overall championship standings.
Just two weeks earlier, the Brettex Site Services-backed Fiesta R5 Evo had been stranded in a ditch on the RSAC Scottish Rally. But the team worked tirelessly to repair the car in time for a brief pre-event test.
Along with co-driver Tom Woodburn, Yates headed to the Builth Wells-based rally without prior experience of the infamous Epynt asphalt roads, which formed day two of the event.
First up, though, were 40 competitive miles in the forests made famous by the final round of the World Rally Championship. Yates had the benefit of contesting the Crychan, Halfway and Route 60 stages as part of the BTRDA series in 2015, but the heavy rain and treacherous conditions which dominated the day equalised any advantage that may have given the Michelin-supported driver.
Thankfully, he was still never outside the top ten during the opening day in the mud-strewn forests to finish leg one in a solid eighth.
After a change to an asphalt set-up overnight, crews headed out to the Epynt ranges with the same fog, rain and inclement weather which had been present the previous day. However, Yates continued on the asphalt where he left off on the gravel the day before and set a string of impressive times over the opening loop.
Despite a high-speed visit to the scenery after a heavy landing in the Fiesta, a fourth fastest time on the 11th test was a highlight of the morning which assisted his move into seventh at the midday loop of stages.
Sadly, any chance of improving on his position was scuppered as an incident on stage 15 cut short the event and crews were re-routed back to the Builth Wells finish ramp. But Yates was encouraged by his performance.
“It’s one of the toughest events I’ve ever done, so I’m pleased to have finished with no real dramas” he said. “It’s a real credit to the team for turning the car around in just a few days after the Scottish Rally, and to reward them with another solid finish is a real bonus.”
Yates even believes there is plenty left ‘in the bag’. “I’m still learning about the car and getting used to the extra power from the Evo kit, so I’ve no doubt that our pace will increase on the remaining two asphalt rounds this year,” he added.
“We played our joker points this weekend which means we stay in the top ten. There are some experienced guys ahead of us, but there is a month until the next round in Ulster so we will try to get some more time in the car.”