Chesterfield driver Rhys Yates delivered a brilliant performance to lead the latest round of the British Rally Championship, the Renties Ypres Rally in Belgium this week.
Rhys’ best-of-British performance came courtesy of a string of fastest times down the Belgian lanes, where not even the locals could keep up with the flying RYR ŠKODA Fabia R5.
Unfortunately for Rhys and co-driver James Morgan, a small mistake on the eighth stage of the Friday-Saturday event cost them the lead and their dreams of a maiden British Rally Championship win.
Rhys ran fractionally wide in a fast-left corner, clipped a tree and damaged a right-rear suspension link. Running at reduced speed, Rhys was confident of getting the car to the end of the test when the part broke and dropped the Fabia into a ditch.
Unable to fix the damage themselves, Rhys and James took time penalties on the remaining two Friday stages before rejoining on Saturday morning.
Once again, Rhys was on inspired form and posted more fastest times to begin his climb back up the leaderboard.
That climb back – and Rhys’ strongest ever BRC performance – ended on SS15 when the pair went off the road.
Rhys’ now returns to the main focus of his 2019 programme, the World Rally Championship (WRC). The next round of the WRC takes him north to the super-fast roads of Jyväskylä for Neste Rally Finland, one of the world’s best known and loved motorsport events.
“I’m so chuffed with the pace we’ve shown here in Ypres. The competition’s massive out here, both from the BRC crews and the locals and, right from the start in qualifying, we’ve shown good, sustainable speed.
“While Ypres isn’t one of our WRC rounds for this season, it’s an event I’ve always enjoyed and I wanted to come out and see how we could measure up against both the British crews and the locals.
“This is one of the fastest Tarmac rallies in all of Europe, so to be third quickest on the qualifying stage – and fastest Brit – was the perfect start. I was confident I could keep it there for the duration of the rally.
“I’ll be honest, we only had two moments in the entire rally – and those two moments have cost us the chance of a first British win.
“Leading a BRC round was great and when we came out of that stage (SS7) fastest, everything was looking really good. The car was working well, James and I were happy with the pacenotes; everything was bang on.
“In the next one I’d marked a corner as flat and, with hindsight, I just needed a small lift in there. We ran wide in the left-hander and just touched the tree with the right-rear of the car.
“I felt the damage to the suspension and thought: “OK, that’s no bother, it’s only 100 metres to the finish [of the stage]. I can manage this, get to the end and fix it.”
“Unfortunately we probably hadn’t taken enough speed off and that right-rear [wheel] locked up and turned the car directly into a bank. The damage wasn’t too bad, but we couldn’t fix it ourselves so we had to miss the next two stages.
“The RYR team did a great job on Friday night and gave us the perfect car for Saturday. Again, everything was going so well. We were fastest of the Brits and looking really strong when we carried too much speed through one corner and went into a ditch on the outside of the bend. That was the end of that.
“Naturally, it’s a bit disappointing not to bring home the first British win, but the upside is the speed.
“I’ve never set as many fastest times on a BRC round or been as competitive overall here in Ypres and those are the big positives I take forward to Finland.”
Rhys’ BRC performance:
SS1 4th (stage time) 4th (overall position)
SS2 3rd (stage time) 3rd (overall position)
SS3 3rd (stage time) 3rd (overall position)
SS4 1st (stage time) 3rd (overall position)
SS5 2nd (stage time) 2nd (overall position)
SS6 2nd (stage time) 2nd (overall position)
SS7 1st (stage time) 1st (overall position)
SS10 3rd (stage time) 9th (overall position)
SS11 2nd (stage time) 9th (overall position)
SS12 1st (stage time) 9th (overall position)
SS13 2nd (stage time) 9th (overall position)
SS14 1st (stage time) 7th (overall position)
Hot. Then hotter (19-33 degrees).
About Renties Ypres Rally
Based: Ypres, Belgium
Competitive distance: 172.67 miles (277.88km)
Total distance: 338.36 miles (544.52km)
Neste Rally Finland (WRC 2)
Rhys reckons: “This is the big one. If the World Rally Championship was the Olympics, Finland would be the 100 metres. As well as Monte Carlo, it’s kind of the one that’s right up there that everybody wants to win.
“I’ve never been there before, but I know this one by reputation. The roads are fast and unforgiving and, courtesy of enormous jumps, the air time is substantial! For anybody into rallying, this is the one they want to go.
“I can’t wait.”