Last weekend Kyle and County Down co-driver Sean Topping, using their familiar Peugeot 208 R2 secured a superb third place Junior BRC finish on the Nicky Grist Stages on their first experience of the Welsh forest special stages.
“We knew before we went that it would be a big challenge for us, but we set ourselves a target of trying to obtain a podium position. When were delighted to achieve that and then when I realised that it put me into the Junior BRC points lead I was ecstatic, still am!” said a very happy Kyle from his home outside Lisburn
A brief test the week before-hand in a local forest helped to tune the crew into gravel mode again, following their second position on the opening tarmac round, and then it was over to Builth Wells in Wales and the reconnaissance of the eight gravel stages that lay ahead.
“It really is a steep learning curve, everything is new for us. We made our own pace-notes but looking back with hindsight I was a little cautious in making them. I felt they were too safe on the rally, but it was hard to get a feel for the grip at road speed. We noticed many of the other crews bolted on gravel tyres to their recce cars, which I would say would have given a better feel for the road. It didn’t concern us in the slightest though as our plan was to start cautiously and try to learn the new terrain.”
On the first stage Kyle and Sean set fourth fastest time, a decent start, and fifth fastest on the second test.
”Like everyone else when the wreckage of Ollie Mellors R5 car was brought back to the start of the first stage, it made us more cautious. Although we planned to feel our way at first, I felt we were a bit over cautious on the first loop. It took a while to understand the surface. Despite the warm, dusty conditions it felt slippery at times but the harder you pushed into it, there seemed to be more grip, and our Michelin tyres were helping here. The driving style was actually different to the forests we had driven on the excellent Motorsport Ireland forestry events.”
Nevertheless, after four stages 25-year-old Kyle was in third place in the Junior BRC, behind the more torquey and powerful Rally 4 Fiesta’s of leader Ruari Bell and William Creighton in second. Interestingly all top three of these drivers started their rallying in the Northern Ireland Junior 1000 Rally Challenge some years back.
“Funny back in those early days of the Junior 1000 when I was fourteen or fifteen, I always dreamt of being able to compete at BRC level, and now just to be given the chance to be in it is absolutely amazing. We have bene made very welcome by everyone and it really is a dream come true!”
At the mid-day halt the service crew, Kyle’s dad Gary and Alan Purdy tightened up the suspension on the 208 R2 and bolted on four new Michelin tyres in readiness for the repeat run of the four morning stages. On stages five and six they set excellent third fastest times, the leaders too far away to catch, but the plan to consolidate third had nearly went awry on that sixth stage.
“We were lucky only to drop 15 seconds or so. I had flicked the car into a hairpin, and the back really caught grip and flicked the front off-line onto a big berm of loose gravel that had built up. We were beached! There were no spectators around and the car was going nowhere. I had to go between first and reverse a few times then suddenly we got grip and we were away. It was a big relief, and we really went flat out on the next stage to try and make up for the time loss.”
They set second fastest Junior BRC time, and moved into second Junior overall, as William Creighton had unfortunately slid off on this penultimate test.
The final Crychan stage, a famous one from WRC Rally GB was the longest one. By now though the front tyres were virtually in tatters, a bit like Kyle’s nerves as he prepared for that crucial stage:
“I was sitting in the car having a munch on a scone, when I noticed the other crews around me were all very busy changing their front wheels!
"They had carried two new spare tyres in the boot and were bolting on fresh rubber. We never even thought of doing that, especially considering the expense of it but we will have to take note! I probably drove my best on that stage, as the tyres were literally down the canvass, and we were spinning wheels everywhere.
"Ultimately, we only lost second place by two seconds to Scottish driver Finlay Retson. However, at the end of it all we were simply delighted to achieve our aim and get another podium position with eighteenth overall to boot.”
It’s Scottish gravel for round three in August, another new experience for the team, but one to look forward too. “We think those stages might suit the R2 car better, and we took away a lot of things to improve from the Nicky Grist event. We also felt that when everything was right that we were closing in on the winning pace too.” The team are also now very actively pursuing sponsorship opportunities which would be a big shot in the arm to maintain the mighty challenge but for now Kyle and Sean are thankful for the current assistance from Gary White Car Sales, L.A Distribution, Finaghy Cleaning Services, Jetvent, Michelin and Snap on Tools.
Let’s not forget the significance of winning the Motorsport UK Junior BRC in 2021, as the prize of a fully funded drive in a four-wheel drive Rally 2 Hyundai in a World Championship (WRC) event is a big one.