Ollie Mellors gave the Proton Iriz R5 its fourth UK gravel rally win in a row last weekend, snatching victory on the final stage of the Grizedale Forest Rally (7th December) after a gutsy drive, despite suffering significant time loss in the early stages of the event.
Mellors and co-driver Ian Windress went an impressive 46 seconds faster than anyone else on the final test of the rally to secure a winning margin of 45 seconds in treacherous conditions in the notorious Grizedale forest. Mellors’ victory in Cumbria boosted the Proton’s winning streak to four, adding to its Woodpecker, Trackrod and Malton Forest Rally wins in 2019.
Backed once again by Thornbridge Brewery, Mellors would wear the coveted number one on the door of the Iriz R5 thanks to winning the event in 2017 behind the wheel of the then non-homologated Proton. Now, fully ratified by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l ‘Automobile), the Iriz R5 is homologated in both right- and left-hand drive and made its return to the event with the aim of retaining its name on the winner’s trophy.
A quality entry headed to the traditional end of season blast, but recent heavy rain would make the tricky stages even more of a challenge for the 60 starters. The nimble Proton would make light work of the opening stage however, as Mellors took the Iriz to a storming lead of 23 seconds over the eight-mile Grizedale North test.
With just five stages on offer during the day, every mile would count with little margin for error on the narrow yet ditch lined tests. But the following Grizedale South test would spell disaster for Mellors, as a puncture at the mid-way point of the stage meant time loss was inevitable. Worse was to come when the flailing rubber damaged a brake line, leaving the Iriz with just rear brakes over the closing miles of the test.
A roadside temporary repair by the Mellors Elliot Motorsport team saw the Proton complete the following two tests with minimal time loss, but Mellors would be faced with the final 18-mile Grizedale stage with a significant 14-second deficit to first.
Thankfully the service halt offered the opportunity to fully rectify the damaged brake line and with a harder compound Michelin tyre bolted to the Iriz R5 for the final blast, Mellors would set out to recover as much time as he could.
It would be a tall order and he would have to be on-form if he was to resume his place at the top of the standings by the end of the day. But the Proton would revel in the harsh conditions.
Mellors emerged from the stage 46 seconds faster than any other crew, securing the Iriz R5 its fourth UK victory this season.
“It’s certainly been a roller coaster of a rally for us but to have won by a margin like that is pretty special,” said Mellors.
“I can’t emphasise enough how well the Iriz performed today, it coped perfectly with the difficult conditions and was very much at home on the technical stuff as it was when we could really get it wound up. Everything just clicked and it was more than up to whatever I was throwing at it in the last stage”.
But it wasn’t without its dramas for Mellors.
“I really don’t know where the puncture came from it was just one of those things, I guess but we had to drive on as stopping would have cost several minutes. Sadly, that ultimately damaged the brake union, but the team did a great job sorting it. I had a last-minute scare in the last one when the wiper blade rubber came off and had to just drive through it as best I could, a win was important for us.”
Mellors will now help the team undertake more development work on the Proton Iriz R5 during the closed season in preparation for 2020.
“You never stop learning and seat time is vital for us as a team to continue to make improvements to the car. We have a very busy period ahead with some very exciting opportunities so we need to make the most of these and continue to push ourselves as much as we can. Rest assured, we are not staying still, and the Proton will continue to grow from strength to strength.”