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Moonbeam Rally

Sponsored by CRM-Tech Motorsport

Telford Auto Club

17th/18th February 2024

Moonbeam Road Rally 2024
Winners: George Williams/Nick Bloxham (Ford Escort)
Photograph: © Joseph John Gilbertson

Organiser: Telford Auto Club

Date: 17th/18th February 2024

Clerk of the Course: Darren Ikin

Route: 100 Miles (Maps 126 & 137)

Base: Shrewsbury

Starters: 52

Although using familiar territory, the 2024 Moonbeam, had new start and finish venues. The Start was at the Shrewsbury Mart, on the north-eastern edge of the Shropshire town. The action took place to the south, with Petrol, as usual, at Craven Arms and the Finish at the welcoming Pound Inn at Leebotwood.

The event had received an entry of over sixty cars, but a large number of last-minute withdrawals meant that only 52 cars took the start.

Heavy rain had started during the afternoon, and, despite predictions, didn't relent until after the competitors were on their way home. The sodden conditions were to have an affect on the running of the rally.

The first car, 2023 winners, Mark Lennox/Ian Beamond (Ford Escort), headed the field from the Start at 23:45, with a 15 minute run out to TC1, which was at Aitcham.

There was no gentle introduction to the competition, the rally opened with two four minuters with an intricate route. All crews dropped time at TC2, which near Berrington, and TC3, which was just north of Pitchford.

George Williams/Nick Bloxham (Ford Escort) were quickest to TC2, two seconds ahead of Jamie Crump/Clive Jones (Ford Escort) and seven in front of Zak Hughes/Macauley Bridgwater (Peugeot 206 GTi). It was the later pair who dropped least at TC3, and narrowed the gap to the leaders to two seconds. Richard Jerman/Alan James (Ford Escort) were now in third, 15 second off first place.

Two cleanable standard sections followed; these took the route to the final part of the opening sections before the first Neutral. TC5 was at Boreton, with TC6 at the junction with the A49 at Hunger Hill. This involved the crossing of the Cound Brook though a ford, north-east of Condover.

Jerman/James were quickest to TC6, just ahead of Lennox/Beamond and Williams/Bloxham. These were the first three cars through, behind them problems began to unfold. Gareth Price/Liam Evans, running fifth on the road, drowned their BMW 318Ti in the ford; they were to go no further. This incident delayed Hughes/Bridgwater, who lost over a minute to the front runners.

Further down the field more cars got stuck in the swollen brook and eventually the road was blocked, with later runners having to divert around to get to TC6. The decision was taken to cancel the penalties at the control.

A Neutral section took crews south to Dorrington and the start of the next group of Standard sections. The route dipped briefly on to Map 137 for TC8 at Smethcott. Mark 'GT' Roberts/Steve Price (VW Golf GTi) were quickest here, this moved them to with five seconds of third placed Jerman/James. Five seconds was also now the gap at the front between Williams/Bloxham and Hughes/Bridgwater.

Crews then returned to Map 137 for a loop around Coppice Farm, before moving south back on to 137, where almost the rest of rally was run. The leading crews dropped no further time before a Neutral that took them through Picklescott.

The first half closed with a string of six standard sections strung together. This sector ran from Betchcott, via the Long Mynd, Plowden and Hopesay before finishing at Cheney Longville.

It was only the section that ran up the Long Mynd from Ratlinghope that caused the front runners to drop time. Crump/Jones were quickest up the climb and this moved them ahead of Roberts/Price for fourth place.

Williams/Bloxham were second fastest at TC13 and, with no more time lost, this gave them a lead of eight seconds at Petrol over Hughes/Bridgwater. Jerman/James were a further eight seconds back in third.

Roberts/Price were in fifth and the last crew within a minute of lead. Top seeds, Lennox/Beaumont, were only in sixth place having had to tackle most of the first half with a single headlight; being run in the West Midlands, spotlights were not allowed on the Moonbeam.

The Semi-Expert Class was led at Petrol by Pete Phennah/Tim Powley (Peugeot 106 GTi), the navigator contesting his first road rally in 12 years. They had a lead of almost a minute in the class, but had had the tank guard come lose as they hit a patch of water hard; after a struggle they managed to remove the offending item at the halt.

Tom Morgan/Will Hough (MG ZR) were leading the Novices at the break; they were 30 seconds ahead of category rivals Daniel Isaac/Lori Williams (Peugeot 205) at this point. Morgan/Hough went on to win the class by four minutes as Isaac/Williams retired in the second half.

Monbeam Road Rally 2024

Like the first half, the second half opened with two tight four minute sections, on which all crews dropped time. These ran along the southern part of Wenlock Edge, before a climb up to Diddlebury.

Roberts/Price were quickest to the first TC, which was at Wolverton Wood; this moved them back past Crump/Jones in the tight battle for fourth place. The leaders were second to the Golf crew at TC19 and quickest to TC20. However, Hughes/Bridgwater weren't far behind and were only 14 seconds off first place at TC20.

For most of the top crews no time was dropped as the route moved through Peaton, Cockshutford and Beambridge. The exception were Lennox/Beamond who were two minutes late at TC22, near Upper Heath, after having to stop and change a puncture.

The next critical sector was a "follow the arrows" section that led to TC26 at Chatwall Hall. Willaims/Bloxham were into their stride now and pulled out a further ten seconds over Hughes/Bridgwater and twenty over Jerman/James, Roberts/Price and Crump/Jones here.

The heavy rain had abated for a short while earlier on, but it returned as crews tackled the second half, this led to the cancellation of the next section. This part used a field at East Wall, which was sodden. Williams/Bloxham got through and set best time to TC27, 14 seconds ahead of Hughes/Bridgwater.

Lennox/Beaumont were the first to struggle to gain traction through what was becoming a morass; the pair dropped almost four minutes before getting out. Robbie Pugh/Osian Davies (Ford Escort), who had been in seventh place at Petrol, one second behind Lennox/Beaumont, became totally stuck and failed to escape the mud.

Later crews were instructed not to attempt the field and were diverted around it. The section therefore had to be cancelled.

TC28 to TC29 ran from Plaish to Church Preen and included another "Follow Arrows" section. Amongst the front runners the pattern remained the same; Williams/Bloxham were fastest with Hughes/Bridgwater next up; the two crews were now separated by 37 seconds. Behind them Roberts/Price overtook Jerman/James for third place.

After a brief return to Map 126 for TC30, which was near Acton Burnell, the final dropper of the night was back at Chatwall Hall. Hughes/Bridgwater were fastest here, taking five seconds back off Williams/Bloxham. Meanwhile, Crump/Jones passed Jerman/James, demoting the latter to fifth place at the Finish.

Thus Williams/Bloxham finished with a victory margin of 32 seconds over Hughes/Bridgwater, who must be knocking on the door of their first victory, after another top performance. Roberts/Price took the last podium position, although they were almost two minutes off first place.

The win made it a double for Nick Bloxham, he having won the Bagger in January with George's father, Duncan.

From Petrol, Phennah/Powley maintain their lead in the Semi-Expert Class, coming home ninth overall and four minutes in front of their neatest category rival.

Despite the very challenging conditions, 37 crews made it to the Finish at Leebotwood.