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JJ Brown Memorial Rally

Caernarfon & Anglesey Auto Club

20th/21st January 2024

JJ Brown Memorial Rally 2024
Winners: Kevin Kerr/Max Freeman (Ford Escort)
Photograph: © Duncan Littler

Organiser: Caernarfon & Anglesey Motor Club

Date: 20th/21st January 2024

Clerk of the Course: Daniel Jones & Shaun Bee

Route: 120 Miles (Maps 115, 123 & 124)

Base: Penygroes

Starters: 90

For the first time since 1991 the JJ Brown Memorial Rally was included in the Welsh Championship, forming the first round of the 2024 series. This, plus its inclusion in the ANWCC title race, ensured that it received an over subscribed 90 car entry.

Heavy rain had fallen all day in North Wales, so it was in sodden conditions that the cars left the start at Penygroes. Torrential showers and high winds were to make the going difficult throughout the night.

A short sharp five minute section, near Aberesach, opened proceedings and indicated the teams who were on form. It was cleaned by only two crews, reigning Welsh Champions, Arwel Hughes Jones/Dylan John Williams (Escort) and Kevin Kerr/Max Freeman (Escort).

There was to be drama on the second section, which ran through Mynachdy Gwyn. The 90R 90L in square 4445 caught out Car 2, Ieaun Evans/Dafydd-Sion Lloyd (Escort), they went off and were unable to regain the road.

Owain Rowlands/Jamie Mills (Mazda MX5), who had been fifth fastest to SS1F, arrived at the scene and, in avoiding the stricken Escort, hit a large puddle, this threw water on to their windscreen, blinding the driver; they ended stuck in the ditch. The Mazda pairing lost 26 minutes before getting out; they continued and managed, with the help of the event allowing lost time to be regained, to make Petrol within their time limit.

The situation at the bends got more difficult when Dafydd Alun Davies/Andrew Baines put their Peugeot 205 off the road at the same spot. This blocked the route and following crews, two-thirds of the field, had to reroute, miss out the following the time control and then picked up large penalties at SS2F. This led to the section being cancelled from the results.

The leading crews had cleaned the section, so this cancellation didn't affect the battle for the lead, although it meant that Rowlands/Mills were in fifth place overall at the petrol halt, their 26 minute penalty having been scrubbed.

The route moved south, with Section Three starting at Bryncir, with the tight and twisty lanes meaning that all cars dropped time at the first intermediate time control. Jones/Williams took the lead as they were one second quicker to the ITC than Kerr/Freeman. Richard Jerman/Alan James (Escort) and Chris Richmond Hand/Shaun Richards (Escort) shared third fastest times, six seconds behind the leaders.

The third ITC on the section, which was after the track through Pentyrch-uchaf, also saw timed dropped by every crew. Jones/Williams only held the lead until the ITC as they picked up a puncture and lost 59 seconds to Kerr/Freeman, who were fastest to the control.

Kerr/Freeman now held a lead of 31 seconds over George Williams/Cadog Davies (Escort), who, in turn, were just two seconds in front of Rowlands/Mills.

Punctures had also afflicted Iwan Roberts Jnr/Aron Jones (Toyota Corolla T-Sport); they lost almost three minutes over the section.

The fourth section took the route to its most southerly point; it was a four minuter, just to the west of Porthmadog. Hand/Richards were quickest here, who, after a poor third section, now moved back up to sixth place overall. Jones/Williams were second fastest and passed Jerman/James for fourth place. The top three remained unchanged, but Kerr/Freeman extended their lead to 39 seconds.

The next section started near Penmorfa, looped to the west to Gell, before moving back eastwards and finishing at Prenteg. There were two ITCs, but the leading crews only dropped time at the end of section TC.

Jones/Williams dropped the least time at SS5F and moved ahead of Rowlands/Mills for third place. Meanwhile, Williams/Davies closed the gap to the leaders and were now 15 seconds off first place; this was to be the high point of the event for them.

JJ Brown Memorial Rally 2024

There was a 30 minute Neutral Section which took the route to another four minuter, which was on the track above Llyn Gwynant. It was here that the Snowdonia ditches claimed yet another victim, this time it was the second placed Escort of Williams/Davies. They were unable to get back on the tarmac and were out.

With the leaders being on time at SS6F, it was on to the final section before the petrol halt. This ran from Llanberis to Bryngwyn.

Jones/Williams suffered further problems as their Escort's alternator worked loose and they lost all their lighting. It was fixed and they completed the section, but had lost 30 seconds to Kerr/Freeman, who were fastest.

Petrol was taken at Cwm-y-glo, where Kerr/Freeman now led by almost a minute; this was despite a problem where their Escort's headlights kept going out as the rain and standing water got into the car's electrics. Jones/Williams were in second place, but only 19 seconds ahead of Jerman/James, while Hand/Richards were nine seconds further back in fourth.

The Expert Class was led by Rowlands/Mills, who were in fifth place overall; they were 40 seconds ahead of sixth placed Emyr Owen/Llion Williams (Escort), who were their nearest class rivals. Alun Pierce Jones/Alun Hayward (Escort) were in seventh overall and third Experts, however, although they finished the event, they were disqualified at the end for a give way offence.

Tomos Llyr Roberts/Caron Thomas (Citroen Saxo) held a lead of almost three minutes over their nearest challengers in the Novice Class; the French car was in eighth place overall.

The second half consisted of a further seven sections, but all were short; only two had an ITC and the longest section was only five and half a miles long.

Everyone dropped time on the eighth section; this was a six minuter around Glascoed Hall. Kerr/Freeman, once again, were fastest, and extended their lead to over a minute. Jones/Williams were second quickest and pulled away from the battle for third place, where Hand/Richards had closed to within five seconds of Jerman/James.

Significantly on this section the rally came to an end for Rowlands/Mills; their Mazda made contact with a wall and went no further.

The next three sections, which were to the north-west of Caernarfon, were cleaned by all the leading crews. Section 12 used the tracks around Tryfan Junction and saw all crews drop time. Jones/Williams were fastest, but Kerr/Freeman were only two second behind, limiting their loses. Hand/Richards were 11 seconds quicker than Jerman/James and moved into third place; possibly significant in the battle for the Welsh Championship, in which both crews are contenders.

Jones/Williams cleaned the final two sections, which took the route back to Penygroes and the Finish at the Pant Du Vineyard. However, Kerr/Freeman only dropped 12 seconds more than the Welsh Champions and came home with a victory margin of 52 seconds, ten years after their previous success on the JJ Brown Memorial.

Hand/Richards pulled out a further eight seconds from Jerman/James to secure the final podium position. Emyr Owen/Llion Williams were fifth, a minute behind fourth place, and took a clear win in the Expert Class. Tomos Llyr Roberts/Caron Thomas continued their domination of the Novice Class and finished in tenth place overall.

It had been a tough night, with water and ditches claiming many victims. Just over half the starters made the Finish; there were 47 classified finishers.