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Jeremy Easson and his co-driver Nigel Gardner, recorded a convincing victory in the fifth round of the Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge, on this Saturdays (20th July) Swansea Bay Rally, a performance which also rewarded them with first first place in the Group N category for production class cars and a very credible 7th overall.
The event was also the fifth round of the Kumho National Rally Championship, with 11 Evolution Challenge crews lining up alongside a further 50 competing teams. Consisting of five classic rally stages covering 70 competitive miles through the forests in the Vale of Neath, the dry weather was to see the roads surfaced with with a loose layer of gravel, resulting in the going being more than a little dusty.
As has become customary in this year’s Evo Challenge, Easson/Gardner took the lead after the first stage, Tower (18.6 miles), but this time it was a very much on-form Graeme Presswell/Phil Cottam who claimed second, just one second behind! Such was the pace of these two crews, they also held fifth and sixth places overall, amidst a host of far more powerful WRC and Group A machinery.
The battle for third was also hotting up, with Evo Challenge Newcomers, John Morgan/Andrew Sankey, fourth round winners Anthony Willmington/Andy White and Mark ‘Anson/Graeme Walker all within six seconds of each other. However, it was IAnson/Walker who were first to leave the chase, the cambelt jumping as they finished the opening stage. They were then followed into retirement by Arwyn Williams/Terry Moore, when their cars turbo decided to expire.
Stage two, Rhondda (14.81 miles), saw Andrew Haddon/Mark Crisp and David Bagshaw/Stephen Griffith join the battle for third, whilst Geoff Lennox/Steve Cressey brought their day to end when they went off the road, puncturing the oil cooler. Paul James/James How also had problems on SS2,
when they slid off the road and got stuck in a ditch, dropping themselves out of contention.
Other retirements were Kevin Stevens & Stewart Foley after stage three, Rheola (15.0 miles), who were debuting their completely rebuilt Evo 7 following a big off on round four. Having had to stop and change a puncture on the opening stage, their bid to get back on track for a shot at the Evo
Challenge title was blighted and when the competition gearbox started to misbehave, they decided to call it a day.
The final two stages of Tyle (5.7 miles) and Resolven (14.4 miles) were to prove decisive. Having had a big moment on SS3, albeit without loosing time or inflicting any damage, Preswell/Cottam admitted to being shaken and chose to cool things down a little. However, such was the pace of their pursuers, their cautiousness saw them drop to fourth, overhauled by Morgan/Sankey and Willmington/White.
This also allowed Easson/Gardner to extend their lead to 1 min 36 secs, the Evo Challenge front runners stunning everyone with their blistering pace
through stages three, four and five.
“After a difficult time on round three and non finish on round four I’m pleased to have won this one”, commented a delighted Easson at the finish.”The car has run faultlessly and other than a puncture towards the end of stage two the whole day has gone exactly according to plan.”
Their third Evo Challenge victory of the year sees Easson/Gardner top the table once more, six points ahead of Willmington/White in second and I’Anson/Walker in third a further seven points adrift.