Mission accomplished! Ben Crealey completes 1st forest rally
For 17-year old rally driver Ben Crealey from Portadown, Saturday’s (28th March) Dolgellau-based Rally North Wales marked a significant step in his career, when he and co-driver Phil Hall from Nottingham overcame challenging weather conditions and a series of transmission problems to score Ben’s first finish in multi-venue stage rally. Added to this, it was also his first forest rally, as all his previous competition had all taken place on an asphalt surface rather than gravel.
After winning the Irish Junior 1000 Rally Challenge in 2012 and finishing second in the Scottish equivalent a year later, Ben took a year off to concentrate on his education in 2014 and, since turning 17, is now using this year to develop his rallying skills. Under the watchful eye of his Father Brendan (a former rally driver himself) and with the guidance of the MSA Young Driver Academy behind him, Ben is scheduled to contest a series of events in order to gain as much experience as possible, before challenging for the British Junior title in 2016.
Consequently, the Rally North Wales provided a first for Ben on a number of different levels: it was his first multi-venue stage event, first gravel rally, first rally with detailed pace notes and first event with his new co-driver Phil Hall. Although testing on gravel a few weeks beforehand, Ben was naturally a little apprehensive as he lined up at the start of the six-stage, 40-mile event in his Fiesta ST. The situation was made even more challenging due to the stormy conditions and torrential rain.
The wet weather meant the going would be slippery, but Ben was never to find out exactly how much grip there was in the first stage, as a driveshaft broke as he left the start line. He and Phil did a great job of nursing the car to the end of the eight-miles through Garthineog Forest, before the Geoff Jones Motorsport crew could change the shaft at the auxiliary service halt.
The next two stages in Dyfi Forest went well, until the transmission started jumping out of second gear. Even so, Ben began to get to grips with his car and the conditions. Once back at the service halt in Dolgellau, the team checked over the Fiesta and he and Phil headed off for the second loop of the same three stages they had tackled earlier, keen to have a clear run this time around.
But the transmission troubles continued and suddenly Ben found that the only gears he had were third and fourth. Then, in stage five, fourth gear went as well, meaning he was only left with third. Once again, Ben adapted to the situation and, together with help from Phil, was able to not only get through the sixth and final stage, but also make it back to the finish in Dolgellau.
Their efforts were rewarded with a final placing of eighth in class and 59th overall – a position that matched their seeding. Following the event, a relieved Ben said:
“I’m really pleased we achieved what we set out to achieve, which was to get to the finish of my first ‘proper’ rally. I have to thank the Geoff Jones Motorsport team for keeping us going and Phil, who had to get out of the car sometimes to try to fix things. Although it was frustrating at times, I really enjoyed the rally and learnt a lot. They tell me that it’s all good experience. I now can’t wait until the next one.”
The next event for Ben and Phil will be the Monaghan Stages Rally, which takes place on 26th April. The event features three stages run three-times on closed public roads in County Monaghan.
Ben’s team is supported by Yokohama Tyres, Donnelly Group and ITS. You can follow his progress on Facebook, Twitter and at www.bencrealey.com.