The Denbigh duo take on the Welsh rally legend

A two-man team of Vale of Clwyd drivers will be looking to recover as they tackle the Get Connected Rali Ceredigion this weekend and go head-to-head with one of the legends of Welsh rallying.

Will Rowlands and Rich Birch are bringing their classic Ford Escort to Aberystwyth for the two day event where they will compete against Gwyndaf Evans in the Historic Class, also in an Escort.

Former British Champion Evans from Dolgellau and father of Elfyn Evans, the first Welshman to win the RAC Rally, walks away first in his category while the Denbigh pair finish third and hope for a lucky break after winning this year’s RAC Rally was followed by a disaster.

Last year the pair won the Historic Class at the Argyll Rally in the heart of the Scottish Highlands at Dunoon, but their attempt to defend their title didn’t even make it to the start line due to an unfortunate accident on the northern motorway.

But Will, a plumber, and Rich, a maintenance supervisor at Denbigh-based Lock Stock Self Storage, who sponsored him for the event, are hoping for better luck this Saturday and Sunday

The two, both 39, have known each other since they were at Denbigh High School and are both members of Clwyd Vale and Bala Motor Clubs.

Their car dates back to the golden age of rallying in the 1970s when Brit Roger Clark twice won the RAC Rally in an Escort when the North Wales woods were the cockpit in which he battled legendary flying Finns Hannu Mikkola and Timo Makkinen fought.

These superstars would all recognize the car, driven by its owner Will with Rich in the passenger seat, which is based on an original 1970’s body and rebuilt with an engine and parts identical to those of the 70’s.

The rear wheel drive vehicle is powered by a classic 270hp Ford Cosworth BDG 2.0 liter engine and the two are well fitted with rally tyres.

Rich said: “We won the Historic Class at Dunoon last year and finished 19thth 140 in total, ahead of many cars that cost a lot more, so we were really happy. It was good fighting with the big boys up there.

“Will and I have known each other since school and we’ve been in rallying for a long time – when I first saw it on TV I was hooked.

“I was only about seven and just couldn’t believe these guys were driving cars so fast through the trees.

“There is a great relationship between us in the car. We may look like Laurel and Hardy, but we know each other really well.

“It’s a brilliant event down at Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth, all held on tarmac roads which are closed to the rally.

“One of the Sunday stages is a long endurance test of 17 miles and we’re not taking any chances because we want to make sure we’re there at the end.”

“Then we’re back the next morning for another eight stages – we recorded them beforehand – to the finish late on Saturday afternoon.”

The action gets underway on Saturday with two heats starting at Aberystwyth Harbour, heading into the town center and finishing just short of the promenade before the field heads out into the countryside for stages at Glan yr Afon and Devil’s Bridge.

Sunday’s action includes a loop of four stages raced twice; once in the morning and again in the afternoon, including the long 17-mile Llanfihangel stage and nine miles of hilly tarmac through Nant y Moch.

Lock Stock Self Storage’s Lisa James said: “We are delighted to support Rich. He and Will both have a passion for rallying and it will be nice to see the Lock Stock logo flying around on these West Wales stages.

“We love to advocate for local people and organisations, including those involved in sport, and we’re sure they will be very competitive.”

It’s been a frustrating season so far for Will and Rich, who have also struggled with mechanical issues at previous events, but they’re hoping the Rali Ceredigion will be a turning point and set them up for a more successful trip to Scotland in October for the Isle of Mull Rally.

Rich added: “We expect at least Saturday to be very dry which can take a toll on the tyres, but rain is forecast through Sunday so it could be quite difficult.

“We’ve had a bit of bad luck so far this year but we’re hoping to put that behind us and do well this weekend and then in October at the Isle of Mull.”

About Veronica Richards

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