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Merfyn Hughes Memorial Rali Llyn

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Harlech & District Motor Club

16th/17th March 2024

Merfyn Hughes Memorial Rali Llyn 2024
Winners: Kevin Kerr/Steven Roberts (Ford Escort)
Photograph: © David Hales

Organiser: Harlech & District Motor Club

Date: 16th/17th March 2024

Clerk of the Course: Emyr Jones & Wil Evans

Route: 110 Miles (Map 123)

Base: Pwllheli

Starters: 90

The third round of the Welsh Road Rally Championship, the Merfyn Hughes Memorial Rali Llyn, attracted another oversubscribed entry, with the maximum capacity 90 cars taking the start.

The Harlech & District Motor Club event was once again based at the Plas Heli Centre in Pwllheli, which hosted both the Start and Finish. A major change for the 2024 Llyn was that there was a greater use of 'whites' in the route.

Rain fell for most of the day leading up to the Start and continued in torrential downpours throughout most of the rally. However, it was fog that most competitors complained about, with the mist restricting vision to just a few metres at a number of points.

The first half of competition took place in the southern end of the peninsula, but, after Petrol at Llanbedrog, the second half moved to the northern part of the Llyn.

There were two consecutive standard sections that opened the contest; the first was a four minuter, timed to the minute, which was followed by four and a half miler timed to the second. The start was near Mynytho, with the first TC at Bodlondeb, there then followed a tight and intricate part, which took the route around the base of Carn Fadryn.

Most crews cleaned the first part, but all dropped time at SS3F, which was situated at Llaniestyn. Fastest were top seeds Arwel Hughes Jones/Dylan John Williams (Ford Escort); the driver was looking for his seventh win on the Llyn, while the navigator was seeking his fifth. They were eight seconds ahead of Kevin Kerr/Steven Roberts (Ford Escort). This set the pattern for the first half as these two crews battled for the lead.

Ieuan Evans/Dafydd-Sion Lloyd (Ford Escort) were third fastest, 19 seconds behind the leaders, and led a tightly packed field.

The section did caused problems for other competitors; Bro Caron winners, Chris Richmond Hand/Shaun Richards (Ford Escort) lost five minutes after picking up a puncture. They continued, but, after picking up another puncture in the second half, withdrew.

Meanwhile Gwynfor Jones/Chris Evans (Ford Escort) only got to the first PC before their car was halted by a broken dry sump belt. Also out at an early point was the Golf GTi of Mark 'GT' Roberts/Dylan Jenkins which suffered a failed alternator.

A Neutral took crews through Tudweiliog, before they embarked on three standard sections strung together. These took the route in a snaking south-westerly direction parallel to the coast, finishing at Ty-hen. All three TCs were timed to the second.

Everyone dropped time at STC5, the first TC, while most cleaned STC6, but only a few were on time at SS7F. Kerr/Roberts took a second out of Hughes Jones/Williams' lead at STC5, but Evans/Lloyd were quickest and were now 15 seconds from first place.

The two leading Expert Class contenders were battling for fourth place at this point; Gareth Rhys Jones/Deio Rhys Jones (Toyota Corolla) led Andrew Baines/Adam Jones (Ford Escort) by ten seconds.

STC6 at Glanarfon was cleaned by all of the top 30 cars, but was the downfall for Dafydd Alun Davies/Bryn Jones (Peugeot 205) and Richard Gareth Jones/Alan Parry (Ford Escort), both of whom booked in a few seconds early at the control, the penalty for which was a fail.

The final control of the section was cleaned by four of the leading cars, although Evans/Lloyd dropped a second. Carwyn Evans/Aled Pennant (Ford Escort) were one of the crews to clean the section and, as a result, moved from eight to sixth. George Williams/Cadog Davies, who had been in sixth place, were 33 seconds late at the TC and fell to ninth behind Dewi Williams/Moi Willaims (Peugeot 206) and Richard Jerman/Alan James (Ford Escort).

The route reached the end of the peninsula with the section from SS8S to SS9F, which was timed to the second. It used the lanes and tracks directly north of Aberdaron, including a 'Follow Arrows' part at Bryn Mawr. This area is the heart of the Rali Goffa James Trenholme territory and it was the Clerk of the Course of that event, Carwyn Evans, who, along with navigator Aled Pennant, was the only one to reach SS9F on time. This propelled the pair to second place, ten seconds behind Hughes Jones/Williams, and one second ahead of Kerr/Roberts.

Evans/Lloyd were now in a lonely fourth place, 23 seconds off the lead, but 25 ahead of fifth placed, and Expert leaders, Jones/Jones. Guto Ifan/Kieran Price (Ford Escort) had been second quickest to SS9F, dropping 18 seconds; this, plus cleaning SS7F, moved them up to eighth.

Action then moved to Rhoshirwaun with three standard sections, which ran through Penycaerau and the tricky loop through Llanfaelrhys, before finishing at SS13F near Plasnewydd. Of the three TCs, only the middle one was timed to the second; it was only at this control, after the Llanfaelrhys loop, that most crews dropped timed.

Quickest once again were Evans/Pennant, this moved them to within eight seconds of Hughes Jones/Williams and five seconds ahead of Kerr/Roberts. The big losers on this section were Evans/Lloyd, they lost around 30 seconds with a 'moment' and dropped to fifth place, behind Jones/Jones.

Merfyn Hughes Memorial Rali Llyn 2024

The final section of the first half was an immensely complex affair using the lanes around Bryncroes, before heading via Mynydd Rhiw to finish at Plas yn Rhiw.

Despite the challenge, both Hughes Jones/Williams and Kerr/Roberts were on time at SS15F, while Evans/Pennant dropped 21 seconds. This meant that at Petrol the top seeds led by 13 seconds from Kerr/Roberts, with Evans/Pennant 29 seconds off the lead.

Evans/Lloyd had reestablished themselves in fourth place, but were over a minute off the lead, while Jones/Jones led the Expert Class and were in fifth.

In the Semi-Expert Class, Tomos Roberts/Rhys Wills (Peugeot 206 GTi 180) held a lead of almost three minutes over their nearest class rivals. They extended this to four and a half minutes by the Finish to secure the class win.

Guto Cae Garw/Osian Gwyn (VW Golf GTi) were two minutes ahead of any other novice crew at Petrol and came home to take the Eric Morgan Memorial Award for the highest placed Novices at the end, when they held an advantage of almost nine minutes.

Three crews, seeded together, failed to make the halfway halt; these were Danny Cowell/Paul Holmberg (Subaru Impreza), Gethin Roberts/Trystan Leyshon (Proton Satria) and Thomas Jones Thomas/Gwilym Wyn Evans (Ford Escort RS2000).

The event was to be denied the titanic fight for the win that the positions at Petrol had promised. Not far into the section that opened the second half Hughes Jones/Williams were forced out when the dry sump belt on the Escort broke, exactly the same breakage that had halted the driver's father on the first section of the night.

The section used a lengthy track, running from Gallt y Beren to Mathan Isaf, so had to be timed to the minute - standard sections timed to the second cannot use private property for more than 250 metres.

Kerr/Roberts just made their minute by a few seconds, so were clean at the end control, while all their rivals, including Evans/Pennant, arrived a few seconds late and therefore added a minute to their total. This gave the new leaders an advantage over the remainder of the event that no one could make up.

A section that took the route from Pencaennewydd to Bryncir, the most northerly point of the rally, had to be cancelled after a marshal arrived at their timing point after the first three cars had passed.

This left three sectors remaining. None had intermediate time controls, but all the finish controls timed to the second. Everyone dropped time on all three.

Evans/Lloyd were fastest, in total, over the three and this allowed them to pass Evans/Pennant for the runner up spot. They finished the rally one and a half minutes behind Kerr/Roberts and 48 seconds ahead of Evans/Pennant.

The victory gave Kerr his third win on the Llyn, while Roberts became the first person to win the event as both a driver and now as navigator. Kerr also took the lead in the Welsh Championship, having won two of the three opening rounds.

Gareth Rhys Jones/Deio Rhys Jones finished in fourth and won the Expert Class; the results pushing the navigator into second place in the Welsh Championship. George Williams/Cadog Davies recovered from ninth at Petrol to finish in fifth. Alan James now leads the battle for the Welsh Navigators' crown after three consistent finishes, including seventh on the Llyn.

Dewi Williams/Moi Williams had been in eighth at the halfway halt, but retired with a broken shaft on their Peugeot in the second half.

It had been a tough event. A number of crews had failed to make Petrol within their maximum lateness and there were only 46 finishers.