Home > King of Wales > 2015 King of Wales: Prologue and Race Day 1

2015 King of Wales: Prologue and Race Day 1

August 9th2015
 By Robb Pritchard on 2015-08-09T07:56:06-06:00 | King of Wales

Spidertrax | Robb Pritchard | CC BY 3.0

Spidertrax | Robb Pritchard | CC BY 3.0


The Ultra4 Europe series kicked off in Italy where the rolling hills put me in mind of something like Little House on the Prairie… but the deep forests of Wales is pure Blair Witch Project.

The Walter’s Arena course near Neath, not that far from Nowhere in South Wales, has a man-made section for spectators to watch the cars fly but the rest of the 2km qualifying lap was fast gravel through the unforgiving trees. Speed is what we love Ultra4 for!

With 43 cars in the paddock (‘pits’ in American English) King of Wales is, of course, many times smaller than the mother event in California but with the nervous tension and rumble of V8s the vibe is just the same. Guys with grimy finger nails greeting friends from far flung countries, ready to fight for every inch in the machines they’ve spent months building… the atmosphere here is brilliant.

Before the action started there was a line up of all the trucks running on the Spidertrax axles and the sheer international spread of the series was displayed in the trucks parked side-by-side. Teams from the UK, Malta, Portugal, France, USA and Belgium, all running Spider 9s.

The qualifying course a fast blast around the valley and one by one the cars were flagged off. The UK scene is heavily into winch challenges, dragging Land Rovers with big winches up impossible routes, and these are perfect for the Legends and Modified class, but the big beasts are all in the unlimited Ultra4 class and apart from Italy and Portugal this is the only place you can see them race.

The Welsh weather is famously inclement and we were expecting a mud-fest but the sun was out and we saw the strange sight of clouds of dust hanging above the trees. Jim Marsden in the Gigglepin Land Rover was on maximum attack and got around in 4:42, 8 seconds ahead of France’s Nicolas Montador. In an impressive 3rd, showing that his 2nd place finish in King of Italy was no fluke, was Filipe Guimanaes in the bright orange Big Rocks sponsored Portuguese Euro Fighter.

Rob Tunnah, finally out in his stunning full IFS car, was just ahead of KoI winner Rob Butler but race favourite Levi Shirley was slowed with an electrical issue that meant 12th on just 4 cylinders wasn’t as bad as it could have been. All is fixed now and he’ll be pushing tomorrow.

Talking of which… It’s a 19km lap of all the insane obstacles that Ultra4 courses are famous for, with some huge man-made steps to tackle. Ledges would be a better word and more than a few people’s hope will be broken here. The course opens at 9am, closes at 6 and the one who gets 6 laps done the quickest… will get to go first on the road on Sunday when another day awaits! You will have the exclusive report here!

Spidertrax | Robb Pritchard | CC BY 3.0

Spidertrax | Robb Pritchard | CC BY 3.0

Race Day 1

I packed a rain jacket, umbrella, rubber boots and a woolly hat but today, in this strangely good Welsh weather I ended up with my Sahara hat on, getting sunburnt!

Leading away from the front was Jim Marsden with France’s Nicolas Montador close behind, the lead in sight, just as it was for him in Italy. Two cars were set off the line together at minute intervals and the whole field was waved away for a half dozen times around the 19km lap… many not to be seen again.

Some 45 minutes later it was Marsden tearing back into the arena 6 minutes ahead of the Frenchman Montador. Rob Butler in his Off-Road Armoury Euro Fighter was in 3rd but struggled on the rock pile and had to winch off (when the marshal’s Jeep turned up) but it was disaster for Levi Shirley as a rather ambitious lurch down the inside of a hairpin by Jerry Hunt T-boned the American into a roll.

One by one crews made it out of the woods for the first time and it was incredible to see how some of the smaller Suzuki and Land Rover based cars could scramble across the rocks quicker than some of the much bigger and supposedly more capable trucks. But watching how all the cars made it up the ‘steps’ up the side of the arena was just awe-inspiring. Some made it look easy, others winched although Steffan Janssens almost did a backflip back down in Montador’s old buggy.

By the end of Lap 2 Marsden’s advantage was out to a healthy 12 minutes and it looked even safer as Montador had trouble with his difflock and had to spend a couple of minutes rolling back and forth to get off the rocks. Despite losing 10 minutes recovering from his earlier inversion Shirley put in a blinding 2nd lap to get back up to 3rd… but unfortunately that was as far as he got. He parked up in the woods with a loss of drive.

Also not doing as well as hoped was Axel Burmann. The same axle that cost him a chance of victory in Italy broke again on the 1st lap and more curses were offered to the garage that built the car. Neville Ciantar in the Nusu Malta car was doing well but broke a shock and lost 40 minutes with the King guys fixing it, but was still in the Top 10.

And then, with a massive lead, Marsden came back into the arena with just front wheel drive, co-driver Mark Birch running up the steps with the winch cable before they crawled their Land Rover to the pits for repairs. The ARB locker in the rear diff was split clean in half. The mechanics did a fast repair and he carried on in 5th.

Behind in the other classes it was the usual Ultra4 carnage with many in the field lucky to just get around just the first lap, and considered it an achievement if they did, and plenty were extracted from the forest on trailers or at the end of a tow rope.

But around mid-afternoon, in from the chaos came Nicolas Montador, with a half an hour lead over Butler, but with a couple of pieces of marker tape cut and an arrow knocked down there are three twenty minute penalties looming. Butler himself took unique route through the Maxxis Bowl on the first lap and will likely cop a twenty minute penalty. Which provisionally leaves Portugal’s Filipe Guimanaes in the Big Rock Euro Fighter in the lead. Near the end of the 6 laps his engine was starting to overheat and the small forest he had stuffed in front of his radiator might have had something to do with that.

Those still going had until 6pm to go get the finish before the course was closed. There is a crowd of drivers hanging around the organiser’s office waiting to have interesting conversations about penalties and their application and so there are no official results.

Tomorrow it will be 5 laps to bring the race to conclusion but tonight there will be the first ever Ultra4 Night Stage, sponsored by Wilderness Lights.