Welshman Osian Pryce lost a second possible British Rally Championship win to a fuel-related problem aboard his Ford Fiesta R5 at this week’s John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally.
Osian and co-driver Dale Furniss had been in the thick of the action through the Northern Irish lanes. They ended the opening leg less than a second behind rally leader Keith Cronin after a string of fastest times through the treacherously slippery stages.
Their efforts would, however, count for nothing when they were forced to retire the Alphera/Hills Ford from second place on the 11th of 14 stages.
Despite a second successive early bath, Osian found plenty of positives in his trip across the Irish Sea.
“I’ve been struggling to find the confidence in the car on the last few rallies,” he said, “so to come here and be competitive like this is good news for me. I think we all know that, when it comes to anywhere in Ireland, Keith [Cronin] is probably king. He’s got so much experience of these conditions and this style of road; so to be with him and beating him on some stages is really good for me – especially with this one being my second event in the car on Tarmac.”
Pryce was particularly pleased with his storming drive through the final three Friday stages, when he slashed Cronin’s advantage from 19 seconds to nine-tenths of a second. On stage four – Holly Hill – he was an astonishing 12 seconds faster (a second per mile) than everybody else. And that included dropping time with a 360-degree spin.
“Friday afternoon was fantastic,” Osian said. “We came here to win and, ultimately, that hasn’t been possible. But what we have done is show the pace we have and show that we’ve been able to take good time out of Fredrik [Ahlin, series leader] and leave him behind a bit here. That really shows progression for me. I’m happy with that.”
The smiles weren’t quite so wide on Saturday.
“I got caught out under braking at the first stage on Saturday,” said Osian. “I had to grab the handbrake and spin the car. That meant we slid backwards into a wall – the wall definitely came off second best…
“We dropped around 20 seconds with that problem – the exhaust was squashed and the concentration had gone a little bit for the rest of the stage. We were still quickest again on one of the stages in the next loop, but it was on the repeat of that stage where we went off backwards that our rally ended.
“The car cut-out, just like it did on the Nicky Grist. I was so sure it was the same problem, I jumped out of the car, gave the fuel pump a whack and that got it going again. We were able to go flat-out for a quarter of a mile or something like that when it happened again. I did the same again and we could get the car started, but when we put it under load and tried to pull away it wouldn’t run at all.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of frustration to have the problem again and it goes without saying it hasn’t helped our championship situation. I said before the event we had to win to keep the title chances alive. Now we’re firmly in the hands of the other drivers and our chance is slim, to put it mildly. The final round (138.com Rally Isle of Man) is a double-header, which means we still have a mathematical chance of taking the title and that’s all the motivation I need.
“We’ll be back on the Isle of Man. I can’t give up on this year.”