Chesterfield's Seb Perez defies horrendous weather for podium place in Roger Albert Clark Rally.
Chesterfield’s Seb Perez claimed a superb second place after five days of action at the Roger Albert Clark Rally.
Alongside his regular co-driver Gary McElhinney, the pair literally braved the storm on the 350-mile forest stage event over England, Scotland and Wales.
They faced a mixture of horrendous weather conditions seeing them encounter rain, snow, black ice and high winds of Storm Arwen to add to the already tough endurance.
Perez and McElhinney’s office for the 5 days was the #8 Franklin and Son’s Ford Escort MK2, prepared by Chesterfield based Dansport, one of many rally cars competing that would have seen action on the RAC Rallies of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Sub-zero temperatures saw the rally start from Carlisle with four night stages in Newcastleton and Kershope on Thursday.
The pace was fierce from the start. The pressure was on already for Perez. The first special stage of 3.58 miles (Newcastleton 1) saw three leading contenders crash out on icy forest tracks. Perez took it in his stride, finishing the stage in ninth and fourth in class.
A dark and treacherous 12.9 mile Kershope 1 stage followed to breeze into seventh on the rally and fifth fastest car through the stage.
The last two stages were re-runs of Newcastleton and Kershope with added freezing conditions to contend with.
Pretty consistent, the pair, with McElhinney reading the “pace notes” for Perez to drive in the dark, finished the first day’s action in seventh place overall.
Friday’s action was a big day, over 100 stage miles over eight special stages in the central area of Kielder.
By the end of the day blizzard conditions and gale force winds made it more of a challenge, the last stage cancelled in the interests of competitor and marshal safety.
Perez set blistering pace on the day’s first stage only to lose it on the second one of the day dropping to 11th in the rally, but still second in class. That didn’t end without incident. They lost time after an altercation with a deer in the forest, wiping out the entire lamp pods. Both car and deer were ok.
The situation in the forests deteriorated further into the evening. Storm Arwen was taking its toll with fallen trees causing havoc. Around 30 rally cars were stranded overnight in Langholm with main roads also closed. A major incident was declared which saw rally crews spending a night in the woods, returning to Carlisle at 10am Saturday morning.
It was a scene of devastation and rally organisers took the responsible decision to cancel the Saturday leg of the rally.
Perez was lucky he got back to Carlisle on the Friday night for a good night’s sleep to finish day two fifth in the rally.
With Saturday cancelled the crews transported over to Wales for the Sunday action with many tales to tell of the horrendous conditions.
Perez commented: “It was a great decision by the rally organisers. It was ridiculous out there last night but we made it and still going strong.”
Sunday was a different day in Wales. It saw six stages comprising of three re-runs of classic Lombard RAC Rally stages.
The crews regrouped in Welshpool but it was disclosed two stages at Gartheiniog were littered with trees, so Dyfnant and Dyfi only lay in wait.
SS21 Dyfnant was an 11.02 mile challenge for Perez and McElhinney, only making it through in 14th in 13.29 minutes.
By Sunday afternoon, the higher mid-Wales stages were covered with snow and ice and got worse for the second run through on Sunday evening.
The second stage of the day, Dyfi 1, was red flagged after a car had rolled on the ice.
The re-run of Dyfnant (SS24) saw Perez finish seventh fastest on stage taking it steady due to the conditions. After a re-run of Dyfi 2 (SS26), Perez was fourth overall.
Perez did well coping with the conditions. One minute it was mud and then sheet ice. The master on tarmac was becoming the expert on ice.
Monday morning saw another day and more challenges that Perez would overcome in his usual style. Five stages of action saw the pair tackle SS37 Walters Arena, famous for its watersplash and fast twisty stage.
The pair made light work of the 8.33 mile test, taking second fastest on stage of the 109 cars left and moved into second place in the rally.
Perez and McElhinney knew the pressure was on and a win could be in sight.
The pair pushed and pushed and were second fastest again by the end of SS29 Crychan 1.
They flew through SS30 Walters Arena again, still holding onto second spot.
By the end of the last stage, SS31 Crychan 2, they were still second overall to take the podium back in Carmarthen.
After a busy five days of thrills and spills, Perez said: “A fantastic result. We weren’t quite expecting it. We crept up on the last day and testament showed if you keep clean and on the road and kept a strong constant pace.
"We are really happy to finish second on such an amazing event with so much heritage and a real privilege. A big thanks to everyone involved.”