The driver that did two rallies in one day

Elliot Payne took part in both Rali Ceredigion and Woodpecker Rally, all in the space of 24 hours

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Last Saturday was a bit of a slow burner for those taking on Rali Ceredigion in mid Wales. With the first stage not starting until 7pm, there was plenty of time to check the pacenotes, fine-tune the setup and discuss the plan of attack.

But car #9 sat there, parked up in the service area, all alone. Not a driver, co-driver or crew to be seen.

That’s because Elliot Payne and Patrick Walsh were 75 miles east, strapped into a different Ford Fiesta Rally2, taking on a different rally, on a different surface.

A matter of hours after finishing third overall on the Woodpecker Rally, they were back in their own Fiesta, pounding round the streets of Aberystwyth for their second rally start that very same day.

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Taking on two rallies across a weekend is nothing new – plenty of drivers and co-drivers have done one event on the Saturday, travelled overnight and taken on a new challenge on the Sunday.

But two events in one day? It was ambitious. It was crazy. It certainly got everyone talking. And best of all, they managed to pull it off.

Payne is taking on both the British Rally Championship and the BTRDA series this year in the UK for his second full season in a four-wheel-drive car.

Both championships offer competitors the chance to drop scores, so feasibly Payne could’ve sat out either the BTRDA-scoring Woodpecker or BRC-counting Rali Ceredigion.

Perhaps skipping the Woodpecker would have been the play, as he’d done the rally before. But Payne’s priority this year is the BTRDA as he’s got a very real chance of winning it, so missing the Woodpecker became undesirable.

However Rali Ceredigion is a demanding asphalt rally where experience of the stages would be key for future years. A dilemma indeed.

But at 19 years old, no challenge is too daunting. So after sitting down and considering the logistics, the zealous plan was hatched to simply take them both on.

“Originally, it was depending on which championship we were doing better in as to which rally we’d enter,” Payne tells DirtFish, “but we were joint first in BTRDA so we chose to take the BTRDA route.

“But then we thought ‘well, we might be able to make this work. So Patrick did a lot of logistics and it came together quite well.”

The first step was a major favor from dad – 2016 BTRDA champion Charlie Payne. Charlie has slimmed his own rallying career as his son continues to emerge onto the scene, but had originally wanted to do the Woodpecker.

“Yeah he was,” says Elliot, “but then when we realized we weren’t going to have the time to change the car over from gravel to Tarmac, he stepped back and let us concentrate on getting the BTRDA in using his car.”

So Elliot’s own Fiesta was taken to Aberystwyth by a separate team of mechanics, while the C was changed to an E on the side of Charlie’s car for Elliot to drive in the forests.

But there was another problem. While the Woodpecker was solely on organizer’s pacenotes, Rali Ceredigion offered all crews the chance to recce – something that was vital for Payne to do as the whole point of going to Ceredigion was for experience.

So after a short gravel test on Thursday, Payne and Walsh made notes for Rali Ceredigion on Friday before travelling back to Ludlow to start the Woodpecker Rally the following morning.

Surely it can’t have been easy to look over one set of stages, and then have to forget them for a while with six gravel tests to come first?

“It wasn’t really a problem for me,” Payne says, coolly. “Obviously on Tarmac you can take your right 3 seconds and 4s a lot faster and then you’re overthinking it a bit on gravel, you’re braking a bit early but we were just a little bit off the pace in Woodpecker, it didn’t gel straightaway.

“Looking back on the DVD we weren’t backing it in everywhere or getting angry with the car, we were just sort of driving it as it went.

“Obviously I was in my dad’s car so that was a little bit different. It’s just a newer car so it’s got the different handbrake and shorter gearbox ratio and just bits and bobs like that.

“It’s not a massive difference but when you’re driving and you get used to my car compared to his it makes a little bit of difference.”

All things considered, third overall and second among the championship runners was a very positive result that keeps Payne well in the hunt for this year’s title. But there was no time to think about that, as as soon as they’d arrived at the final time control they were off, heading for Aberystywth.


“Me, Patrick and our chief mechanic Alan Causey jumped in with my dad, and I had a bit more of a sweat on getting in with my dad than what I did in the rally car all day!” Payne laughs.

“He was so determined to get us there.”

There had been a delay on the last stage of the Woodpecker too so that made things even tighter, but the team managed it. Payne and Walsh had made it to Aberystwyth on time, although took on Saturday’s four stages 88th on the road instead of their seeded ninth.

“At first, phwoar, the first two stages were on the seafront and you can’t get into any sort of rhythm onto them at all really, it’s sandy and it’s slippy – just get round them and don’t make a mess of it really, that was all that we had to do on them,” Payne says, describing the challenge of taking on an entirely different rally less than 12 hours after starting another.

“Because we were in a gravel mindset if you want to call it that, we were braking early and expecting the car to step out but we were just backing off a bit.

When you're driving, no matter how tired you are you've got the adrenalin rush Elliot Payne

“I think it would’ve been easier to go from Tarmac to gravel than gravel to Tarmac because your braking points are bang on, whereas from gravel to Tarmac it’s just a little bit harder I think.”

Despite the challenge, Payne made it safely through the evening but didn’t get back to the hotel until 1am on Sunday morning, having left a different hotel earlier that morning at around 6.30am.

But there would be no respite, as eight punishing Rali Ceredigion stages still lay in wait on Sunday. And lying 16th overall overnight, Payne would be back towards the front of the running order again – perhaps the last thing he wanted after such a tiring day.

“When you’re driving, no matter how tired you are you’ve got the adrenalin rush, I think it’s just afterwards when you’re sat around and dozing about, that’s what gets you tired,” he says.

“The four-hour drive back [home] was the worst bit!”

Elliot Payne / Patrick Walsh - Ford Fiesta Rally2

It was a truly groundbreaking and mesmerising achievement to take on two rallies in one day, especially two events with such different characteristics. But all of that talk about what Payne did to get there overshadowed what he actually managed to produce on the stages.

Seventh overall, and fifth in BRC, against a field that included 2019 Rali Ceredigion winner and BRC points leader Osian Pryce – and of course World Rally Championship winner Hayden Paddon – was no mean feat.

“Yeah we were getting there with it. With Rali Ceredigion I had it in the back of my head there’s no point in going all balls out and having a big accident when there’s no need to.

“Yeah we were pushing a bit but we weren’t taking risks, we just had it in the back of our head there’s no point having a big smash up for no points if you get what I mean.”

It was very much job done. Points scored. Experience gained. History made. And Payne would quite happily do it all again.

“Yeah without a doubt,” he says.

“It’s one of those things you’ve got to get on and do, it’s the only way you’re going to move forward with anything. At least next year if they do put it in the calendar again we have notes for it and a good DVD to look back on.

“Just a massive thanks to my dad and the mechanics getting it all sorted and done so that we could pull it off.”