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Per Ardua Ad Infinitum 2024 Rally Report | Legs 1 and 2

Per Ardua Ad Infinitum 2024 Rally Report | Legs 1 and 2

As the cars lined up to take the start of this year's Per Ardua rally this morning, the big surprise was that the skies were clear, and the sun was shining down on the famous Metropole Hotel. After all the noise about potential snow this week it might have been a bit of an anti-climax, but nobody seemed to mind. Paul Dyas was certainly up for it in his new blue Volvo, I’m not sure what medication he had taken this morning, but he was in an ebullient mood, determined to provide stiff competition to those around him, especially Dan Willan.

The competition would begin quickly just down the road from the start, at the Royal Welsh Showground, with a pair of long tests to get the blood pumping to the right areas. The top seeds came out swinging, and it was a rousing spectacle for the few spectators who had gathered on the banks to watch the show.

A lot of the rally this year is set within the Epynt Ranges, whose hallowed tracks will provide much of the entertainment. It wasn’t too long before the crews got their first taste of this action, with three quickfire tests on the gravel roadways that diverged off the main road through the range. These provided some of the first drama of the event, when the new Volvo of Dyas and Taylor lost all performance, thanks to a flaccid fuel pump. As Dyas frantically pumped at the mechanism to tease some fluid from it, the mood was all a bit limp. Going out at this stage would certainly be a bitter pill to swallow, especially as the pump was brand new. Eventually though his persistence paid off and the car was underway again! A hard morning, and a big dent in their hopes for glory.

A second regularity of the day followed, back across Sennybridge and, after a quick stop for coffee, there was another regularity, a tricky little number through Abergwesyn and up the Devils Staircase. It wasn’t necessarily a navigational nightmare, but the narrow roads and steep climb certainly made maintaining a pace a challenge, but for anyone who did chance a look out the window the reward was the valley and the hills bathed in spectacular light and with barely any other road users it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Two further tests presented themselves before the lunch break, on the Bont Dolebolion rally stage, a real treat. The middle of the leg results showed a tight fight for honours, led by car number 1, Dan Willan and Niall Frost, with the VW Golf shod pair of Thomas and Roger Bricknell chasing hard in second spot and after a tremendous morning performance third place was held by John King and Oli Waldock.

Into the afternoon then with a pair of long regularities to kick things off, as the route circled back round to Epynt again for another pair of tests, as the sun began to sink lower in the sky and the cloud rolled in. As they had done all day, the number 1 car of Willan and Frost completed these tests with zero-time penalties and with the fastest, or near fastest time, although the quickest machine on the final test of the leg was the canary yellow Escort crewed by Jon Dunning and Henry Carr.

Someone in the rally office clearly has a sense of humour, as the leg ended in a pub on the very day and at the very time that England and Wales were meeting in this year’s Six Nations Rugby Tournament. Thankfully all of our crews managed to dodge the partisan patrons swilling pints and when the rally results came in Willan and Frost had extended their lead, with King and Waldock 31 seconds adrift, closely followed by Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan who had climbed up to third with the Bricknell’s losing time on the last regularity of the day. Dunning and Carr had climbed as well, no doubt ready to pounce on any errors by the provisional podium sitters.

The day wasn’t done yet though, with leg two ready to take centre stage as darkness fell. This is the leg that Clerk of the Course Guy Woodcock had prophesized would do a lot of the sorting out of the final result and, his predictions were to be proven somewhat correct. The majority of the action would take place back on Epynt, with four Time Control sections on the gravel tracks of the ranges – with more than a few used by the World Rally Championship over the years. The second of these TC sections would prove pivotal in the direction of the hard-charging Toyota MR2, as it duly charged a little too hard and overshot a corner into a ditch. Try as they might, King and Waldock couldn’t get the stricken machine out and John's cries of frustration are still ringing out in the darkness somewhere. They were freed eventually, but the damage had already been done and the pair had dropped to 15th place by the time the next set of results were collated and by the end of the day, they had dropped to 25th.

It shows just how quickly things can change, which is perhaps why Paul Dyas had his pecker up again. He and Martyn Taylor were hard at it trying to change their fortunes and had performed well in the tests all day long and with the third best time on Leg 2 coming from the blue Volvo, they were at last getting it up the order. Second best on the leg went to Mick Valentine and John Thornley, who stormed up the leaderboard into second place overall after dropping just 2:15 in total, driving in the dark clearly suits Mick’s flamboyant style behind the wheel of his Escort. Their performance had pushed the other Escort of Dunning and Carr down to third, with Bloxidge and Canavan now in fourth place in the VW. Top of the pops again though and best on leg by 21 seconds were the formidable pairing of Willan and Frost, who are seemingly untouchable now with two and a half minutes in hand over their closest rivals.

As Guy had predicted, the nighttime leg had shaken up the order and, if they have a clean run tomorrow, set the course of victory for Dan Willan and Niall Frost. But as we have seen repeatedly today anything could happen and their lead could crumble. The tussle for the podium positions is also anything but settled, with the fight now being joined by Valentine and Thornley. To that end, there is still plenty of rallying to be done, and it will be intriguing to see how it all plays out as this frantic event enters the third and final leg first thing tomorrow morning.

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