Top five finish for Chesterfield's Rhys Yates in gruelling weather-hit rally

Rhys Yates conquered the biggest challenge in UK rallying by securing a top-five finish on his Roger Albert Clark Rally debut.

By Mark Duffy
Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:33 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:36 am
Rhys Yates in action at the Roger Albert Clark Rally.
Rhys Yates in action at the Roger Albert Clark Rally.

The Roger Albert Clark Rally is a famous five-day event for historic rally cars, Yates swapping his trusty M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 car for a legendary Ford Escort RS1800 MK2 - built in-house by the RYR team.

Joined in the car by debuting co-driver Max Freeman, Thursday’s opening leg saw the duo tackle four stages under darkness within the Kielder Forest complex.

Kielder is famous for its deep ditches which have been known to swallow cars whole, but the pair steered clear of drama to end the day eighth.

Friday served up eight more scintillating speed tests in Kielder and the 29-year-old picked up where he left off the previous evening to set back-to-back top ten times. Everything seemed to be running smoothly; until Storm Arwen arrived and turned the rally on its head later in the day.

Yates was caught in heavy snow during the penultimate Falstone blast. He dropped almost three minutes with zero visibility, but recovered with a top-five time at the following Bewshaugh stage and remained eighth at the overnight halt in Carlisle.

Fallen trees then left several crews stranded for the night and rally organisers were forced to cancel Saturday’s leg in southern Scotland on safety grounds.

There was little time for respite, though, as the rally descended on Mid Wales for four more stages on Sunday. Storm damage rendered the Gartheiniog test impassable, leaving just two loops of Dyfnant and Dyfi intertwined by a 30-minute service in Dolgellau.

A rear axle problem caused hefty time loss over the first pass, but was patched up in service thanks to some quick thinking and welding. Despite freezing conditions, the second loop proved less costly and the crew climbed to seventh before travelling further south for the final day.

Monday’s opener claimed some high-profile victims as a number of crews crashed or succumbed to mechanical woes. Thankfully for Yates, an ice-induced spin was the only trouble to report.

He swooped up to fifth with a third-fastest time in Glasfynydd before cementing his position with another podium time on the penultimate Walters stage.

A mature drive over the final test rounded off a punishing week of competition, with Yates and Freeman scooping an impressive fifth overall on their maiden RAC appearance.

Sunday’s mechanical woes denied a potential podium result, but Yates was delighted just to finish with a top-five finish.

He said: “What an experience! First time out on the RAC and we got fifth - I’m happy with that.

“We were kind of in no-man’s-land all the way through it, but that’s the nature of this rally. The Escort is mega fun to drive and we showed really good pace on our second ever event with it.

“The conditions on Friday night were by far the most difficult I’ve ever driven in. There were some hairy moments and at times I could barely see past the bonnet. But we finished, which is a huge achievement in itself.”