REME Man Wins 2017 Armed Forces Rally Team Drivers' Championship

A warning - the above report contains flashing images from the start.

British Army Sergeant Ben De Ronde has won the 2017 Armed Forces Rally Team Drivers' Championship, with Corporal John Gage taking the Co-Drivers' title.

The team had a busy few weeks as the drivers came towards the business end of the season, taking part in their final two events of the campaign.

That meant taking on two of the most gruelling events in the British calendar - the Trackrod Rally Yorkshire, centred on the forests of the northern end of the county, and the Wales Rally GB.

Four forces crews entered round seven of the 2017 Armed Forces Rally Team Championship, the Trackrod, centred on the seaside town of Filey.

The opening session saw a daunting night stage in the heart of Dalby Forest, with drivers taking on 12 miles of unforgiving mud and gravel.

For the newest racer in the team, Royal Signals Lance Corporal Tyrone Westall, with co-driver LCpl Rob Barr of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), it would be a massive test just to complete the stage.

Handling the dark best of all was the REME's Sgt Ben De Ronde, who with co-driver SAC Andy Carter of the RAF was quickest by half a minute over Major Clive Alford and Cpl John Gage.

All four military Land Rovers restarted the following day, with five more forest stages. 

Armed Forces Rally Team

Alford overdid it trying to catch Sgt De Ronde, who had his own problems, with a suspension failure. It would have meant certain retirement had it not been for a civilian service team fixing it with welding equipment with seconds to spare.

SAC (T) Chris McCarthy and co-driver Steve Partridge put in a solid performance and would finish the event third.

On the final stage, rain added a new set of problems. Sgt De Ronde, despite his makeshift suspension, held off the Maj Alford challenge to claim a win, leaving the pair tied on 42 points at the top of the forces championship. Maj Alford, though, would not be competing in the final event - the Wales Rally GB.

Five forces vehicles were entered into the climax of the season in Chester, with eight special stages seeing the crews competing on the same tracks as the best in the world.

Armed Forces Rally Team at Wales Rally GB

The first spectator stage, at Cholmondeley castle near Wrexham, attracted thousands of spectators, before the teams headed into the mountains for more challenges including the monster 25 kilometres of Dovey - a test for even the most experienced crews.

All five military Land Rovers ultimately made it back to service, although Cpl Gary Hazleby's needed a gearbox change overnight.

In the main event, Welshman Elfyn Evans was on his way to becoming the first Brit in 17 years to win the Wales Rally GB and the first Welshman ever to do it, with teammate Sebastien Ogier poised to take the World Rally Championship.

In the forces championship Sgt De Ronde needed just three points to win the title and with LCpl Alice Bancroft on pace notes, he drove a sensible event.

Cpl Hazelby, in his last ever drive for the team, would finish second in the forces event, confirming co-driver Cpl John Gage as Co-Driver of the Year.

But burning up the rally and getting to a remarkable 40th overall out of 76 entrants was the original galloping Major, Alan Paramore, with Colonel James Sunderland in the co driver's seat.

The other teams comfortably completed the rally, testament to the drivers and service team, in one of their most competitive seasons.

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