Matt Edwards claimed his first ever Prestone MSA British Rally Championship win on the opening round of the 2018 season, the Pirelli International.
The Welshman, who missed out on his first win by just 0.1s at 2017’s final event on the Isle of Man, finished 20.5 seconds ahead of Rhys Yates with defending champion Keith Cronin taking third in his maiden appearance in a Hyundai i20 R5.
A busy day saw the crews take in 80 stage miles in Kielder Forest and it was former champion David Bogie who was the first driver to hit problems with the Scotsman rolling his CA1-Sport Skoda Fabia out of the event on the very first stage.
With Bogie out, stage one went the way of Cronin on his first appearance in the i20, but Edwards soon responded, quickly racking up a pair of stage wins before morning service with Yates following closely behind on his first appearance in a Fabia.
The trio continued to lead at the front of the field and Cronin responded with another stage win on SS4, but it was Edwards who eventually opened up a lead at the front after another string of stage winning times on stages 5-7.
And after securing his first BRC win with a controlled drive on the final stage, Edwards said on his victory: “It’s been a long time coming and I cannot thank everyone at Swift and M-Sport who helped get us to this position.”
“The Manx last year was an initial disappointment but it has given us the confidence to fight at the very front. I knew we wouldn’t be far away this weekend and car felt good, I was relaxed and it did everything I needed it to do.”
With Edwards leading by 23.2 seconds going into the final stage of the event, all eyes were on the battle for second as Cronin led Yates by just 2 seconds.
But Yates set a stage fastest time on the second pass through Whitesike, 3.3 seconds quicker than his Irish rival, which leapfrogged him into second.
Fourth in Kielder went to Martin McCormack with the Irish driver suffering gearbox issues across Saturday’s action. With no spare available, he chose not to push his Fabia and salvaged a controlled fourth in BRC1.
Jonny Greer, making his first appearance in the championship in a Fiesta R5, rounded out the top 5 on his ever gravel event in the car and picked up valuable championship points. Alex Laffey took sixth in the U-Student backed M-Sport Fiesta.
The Prestone Motorsport News MSA Junior BRC class win went the way of Norwegian driver Steve Røkland who won the class by a commanding 1m10s over Vauxhall Adam driver James Williams and 2017 championship runner up William Creighton.
With Røkland out in front throughout the day, both Williams and Creighton proved that patience pays dividends as both drivers slowly made their way up the JBRC order.
2017 champion Callum Devine, who was making a wildcard event at the Carlisle-based event unfortunately retired on stage three after turbo issues on the M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2T.
The class was rounded out by James Wilson in fourth, Oscar Solberg in fifth, defending Cadet champion Josh Cornwell in sixth, William Hill in seventh and James McDiarmid in eighth.
The Cadet Cup went to Jordan Reynolds ahead of Gunnar Karl Jóhannesson and Bart Lang.
Round two of the 2018 Prestone MSA British Rally Championship takes place in Belgium with the Renties Ypres Rally between June 22-23.