The place, the rugged and atmospheric Isle of Man. The date, September 14th. The event, the Rumble on the Rock – the final rally of the 2017 BRC season. The mood, tense.
Fast forward 24 hours and an exhausted and elated Matt Edwards, after a gruelling “breakthrough season”, climbs from his Swift-sponsored Ford Fiesta R5 knowing he has claimed third place overall in the 2017 BRC.
Make no mistake, this is a phenomenal achievement for Matt, his co-driver Darren Garrod and the rest of the Swift Rally Team, who were competing against much bigger and more established teams.
This time last year, Matt, based in Llandudno and from a rallying family, was maintaining his own car as well as driving it.
This was Matt’s first season at the BRC, and the organisation has hailed it as a “breakthrough” for the 32-year-old driver and dad of two.
“It was a case of David vs Goliath,” he agreed. “We have exceeded all expectations.”
“We’ve done a lot more with less resource than bigger operations.”
Could have been even better
Third is incredible, but it could have been first place – utterly unthinkable back when the season started.
Going into the Rally Isle of Man, Edwards was one of three drivers who could still theoretically win the 2017 championship. The other two were three-time BRC champion Keith Cronin and championship leader Fredrik Ahlin.
The BRC labelled the Welshman the “dark horse” of the three.
To win overall, Matt needed to win both legs of the Rally Isle of Man and also for both Cronin and Ahlin to fall by the wayside – a “tall order” in the words of the BRC.
After pushing Cronin and Ahlin all the way, the Swift Rally Team eventually finished 3rd with Cronin claiming his fourth BRC championship.
But Cronin emphasised the quality of the competition.
“This was the toughest event I have ever done and the hardest title to win," he told the BBC.
The BRC is made up of seven rallies across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There was also an overseas event in Ypres, Belgium.
The overall winner is the driver who racks up the most points overall.
Going into Rally Isle of Man, Matt had claimed two podium finishes. He then claimed another two second places to make that four overall.
Cronin finished 1st with 129pts overall. Matt wasn’t far behind in 3rd with 94pts.
But which one meant the most to Matt? He points to the rally in Ypres, Belgium as his season highlight.
“It was my first international rally, and where I achieved my first fastest stage times. It was also my first British Rally Championship podium,” he reflects.
There’s no I in team
Matt says he couldn’t have done it without the wider Swift Rally Team.
“Everyone on the team is on-board,” he explained. “We’ve developed things race by race and stayed competitive throughout: particularly in the second half of the season.
“Everyone is looking at how to do their job that bit better.”
Freedom for fitness
This extends to the team at Swift HQ looking after the car.
Previously, Matt had been responsible for maintaining his own car. Technically this was no problem (Matt built his own rally car in 2002). But it was a massive drain on his time and his energy.
Thankfully, that all changed for 2017.
“The car has been great,” he explained.
“It’s the first time I’ve not had to maintain the car myself. With it being looked after at Swift HQ by Andy Cator and team, I’ve been free to focus on my driving and fitness.
“Fitness is important: races are long and demanding,” explains Matt.
“With a decent level of fitness, you’re less likely to be hit by fatigue as the race progresses.”
We asked Matt what he wants to achieve in the 2018 season and there was no deliberation.
“To win a rally,” he answered in a heartbeat.
“We came second place at four rallies over the 2017 BRC. It would be great to win one in 2018.”
A fantastic result
“This is a fantastic result by Matt and the whole of the Swift Rally Team,” says Swift Managing Director James Turner.
“They have worked incredibly hard throughout the year, and deserve this success. We look forward to even more success in 2018.”
The Swift Rally Team defied all expectations to claim a podium place in the 2017 British Rally Championship. Driver Matt Edwards reflects on the season….