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  • Writer's pictureSteve Jones

Meirion Evans sets his sights on 2022 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship assault in Volkswagen Polo GTI

[Photo courtesy of Eddie Kelly Motorsport Photography]

Meirion Evans has his sights set on next year's Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (ITRC) following a successful return to competition in Ireland on the recent Cork 20 international in his Scan Station-backed Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.

The 26-year old Lampeter-born driver is enjoying one of his best rally seasons this year, having won both the Argyll Rally in Scotland and the Three Shires Rally in England, finished second on the Cork 20 International Rally in Ireland and third on the Rallye Du Boulonnais in France.

Preparations for his 2022 campaign will continue when he and co-driver Jonathan Jackson (Colwyn Bay) contest the Wexford Rally on 17 October in their Michelin-shod Polo R5, which is prepared and run by the family-owned Melvyn Evans Motorsport team in Llanwrda.

The ITRC is one of the sport’s most difficult challenges for a visiting driver, as no-one from outside Ireland and Northern Ireland has been champion since Scotsman Jimmy McRae back in 1981.

Meirion has been preparing for a full assault on the ITRC since 2018, when he moved from the Peugeot 208 Rally Cup in France to concentrate on learning the Irish closed roads, initially in a Hyundai i20 R5. In 2019 he did the full ITRC series and became the first overseas driver since Mark Higgins in 2008 to score maximum ITRC points on an event – finishing second on the Cork 20 International Rally in a Škoda Fabia R5.

Meirion had begun the 2020 ITRC with an excellent fourth place finish on the Galway International Rally, the wet and slippery winter event making it one of the most difficult rounds to survive, let alone score a good points-scoring finish on. That was the only round of the series to run in 2020, as Covid-19 restrictions saw the rest of the season, as well as the 2021 ITRC, cancelled.

But since the Covid enforced suspension of all motorsport events in the UK and Ireland were lifted a few months ago Meirion has been on superb form.

Winning the Argyll and Three Shires closed road rallies were obvious cause for celebration, but so too was his performance on the Cork 20 International Rally – which he led for five stages before the weather worsened and greater experience of the event became more significant. Meirion still finished second, beaten only by Callum Devine who is a Motorsport Ireland supported driver and a European Rally Championship regular.

“Ireland is a tricky place to go and do well, because all the rallies are pretty similar every year and you’re competing against drivers who have done each rally at least six or seven times,” says Meirion.

“It’s a bit early to one hundred percent fix a plan for next year but with the way things ended in 2020 it feels like there’s some unfinished business out there, so I’d definitely like to go back if we can get things together.

“We’ve done all the events in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship calendar once now and some of them twice so I’d like to think that we’re at a stage where we can compete at the front of every rally we go to.

“I certainly feel at one with the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. Since I moved to Michelin tyres we have been competitive everywhere so I have no doubts on that front – it’s just down to me as a driver to do the job.

“Because of Covid, we haven’t done a lot of rallies in the past two years – but what we have done recently have been very successful.

“We won the Argyll Rally in odd circumstances as the car ahead of us was given time penalties for hitting chicanes, but there again we kept out of trouble and I was pleased with our pace by the end. It was nice to get my first major overall rally win, and my first since my junior rally days, when the final results came through.

“It was about two months later by the time travel restrictions had eased and we went to the Rallye Du Boulonnais in France to get back in the swing of rallying again. We had every type of weather, so we got to drive the Polo R5 in the wet, dry and everything in between and I felt that we learnt an awful lot in two days.

“We came back from France feeling at one with the car and went straight into the Three Shires. We won ten of the fourteen stages and when we pushed hard on the closing stages to make sure of the win it took me to another level with the car.

“I knew coming off the final stage of the Three Shires that the driving was at a good enough level to allow me to be in the mix on the Cork 20 – although moving up to an international rally is always very different, as you have to be on the pace from the word go. We managed to hold on to the lead for the first five stages, but then the weather changed and we dropped to second behind Callum Devine. He’s been competing in the European Rally Championship and has done a lot more events than I have in the past two years, so I was very pleased to be competitive against him and other Irish drivers like Sam and Josh Moffett.

“I’m looking forward to Wexford. It’s not a round of the Irish Tarmac Championship but it will be more good experience of rallying in Ireland and there will no doubt be a lot of fast drivers doing the event as well. It’s another good opportunity to compare yourself against the right level of competition and it’s more seat time. Whilst we’ve done a few rallies in the last couple of months, over the course of the last eighteen months we have actually done very little compared to normal.

“In our last four events we have scored two wins, a second and a third. I feel that right now it’s the best it’s ever been as a package –and my driving is probably at its best as a result of that. I’m completely at one with the Polo R5 and the Michelin tyres are fantastic. The challenge is to keep it there now.”

When he’s not driving, Meirion is busy running cars for Osian Pryce and Matt Edwards, who are currently first and second in the British Rally Championship for Drivers’, whilst Melvyn Evans Motorsport is leading the Teams’ category.

If that wasn’t enough, Meirion’s father Melvyn is leading the Protyre Motorsport UK Asphalt Rally Championship!

[Photo courtesy of Eddie Kelly Motorsport Photography]


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