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Dewi targeting 6th consecutive Welsh cross country title

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THE 113TH  Welsh Cross Country Championships takes place in Swansea on Saturday 25th February. The undulating and scenic course at Singleton Park has a great history of holding the championships.

Dewi Griffiths (Swansea Harriers) will aim to take a record sixth consecutive Welsh Cross Country title in the senior men’s race.

The Swansea Harrier equalled Steve Jones’ record in 2016 and will now hope to move a step closer to Jones’ record total of nine titles.

Griffiths closest competition is likely to come from his clubmate Kristian Jones. Griffiths however beat Jones recently at the Armagh Road Races where the pair were 3rd and 5th respectively. He also beat Jones at the British Athletics Cardiff Cross Challenge in January and is the current UK Inter-Counties Champion.

Iolo Hughes (Sale Harriers), Carwyn Jones (Cardiff AAC) and Swansea Harriers trio Marc Hobbs, Guy Smith and Jon Tobin will all also hope to contest the podium places.

Swansea Harriers are similarly unlikely to be stopped from retaining their team title with rivals Cardiff AAC not likely to match them despite being the current National Six Stage Road Relay Champions.

The senior women’s race is likely to see a battle between the Welsh 10km champion, Clara Evans (Pontypridd Roadents) and Natasha Cockram (Cwmbran Harriers) who returns to competition in Wales following an athletics scholarship at Tulsa University.

Alaw Beynon-Thomas and Kate Roberts will lead the Swansea Harriers team with Carys Hughes and Lucy Marland heading the Cardiff AAC team. The two are likely to contest for the club title here with Swansea starting as the defending champions.

Cardiff man Jake Heyward will start as favourite in the U20 men’s race, backed up by club mate Ciaran Lewis. Heyward won the U17 men’s crown 12 months ago and in July 2016 became the European Youth 1500m Champion. Oliver Dickinson of Wells City is also likely to feature.

Cari Hughes is another UK Inter-Counties Champion set to compete in Swansea. Her title last February came at U17 level but this time she will contest the U20 race. Heidi Davies of Brecon AC should be the closest match for the athlete who made her Great Britain & Northern Ireland debut at Edinburgh in January.

The U17 men’s race should be highly competitive, featuring the top three athletes from the British Athletics Cross Challenge standings. Dominic Smith of Swansea Harriers leads, with the 2016 English Schools Champion, Matthew Willis of Wrexham in second and Oliver Barbaresi of Menai Track & Field third.

The U17 women’s race will also feature a large number of athletes that are used to competing against each other. The Cardiff contingent is particularly strong here and will include; Carys Bill, Abi Fisher and Kiara Frizelle.

Mia Roberts (Deeside AAC) will start the U15 girls race as a large favourite. Roberts will toe the line on Saturday as the current Welsh Cross Country, Welsh Schools, Welsh Inter-Regional and Cardiff Cross Challenge Champion. Caitlin Gwyther (Swansea Harriers) should also feature here.

James Penrose (Cardiff Archers) will hope to retain the U15 boys title. Osian Perrin won the U13 boys title last time but will contest the U15 boys race this time.

Jacob Reynolds (Cardiff AAC) is the highest place athlete from last year’s championships that remains in the U13 boys age-group. He is the Welsh Schools and Welsh Inter-Regional Champion.

Samia Jones (Menai Track & Field) will lead her clubs chances in the U13 girls race. Daisy Thompson will head a large Carmarthen Harriers team. Neisha Roberts (Deeside AAC) will try to emulate her sister Mia’s recent Championship successes with victory here. The younger athlete lies third in the British Athletics Cross Challenge Series.

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Elfyn Evans raises the stakes in Monte Carlo

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ELFYN EVANS’ bid to add further success to his history-making win on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB blasts off with next week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo (25-28 January).

As tradition dictates, the FIA World Rally Championship commences with the notoriously challenging Alpine classic – a wintry event that always throws up an ultra-testing cocktail of ice, snow and slush making the already demanding mountain roads among the trickiest on the 13-round WRC calendar, which reaches Wales in early October.

Evans has contested Rallye Monte-Carlo four times previously and has never finished outside the top eight. His best result to date is sixth place on his debut in 2014 and again last year.

“It’s never an easy event,” admits the 29-year-old from Dolgellau. “There are so many factors that come into play that you don’t generally get on a more normal round of the championship but it’s an iconic way to start the year. The stages themselves – if you take away all the snow and ice – are absolutely fantastic.”

Since taking his maiden WRC win in Wales – the first for a Welsh driver, and the first for a British driver on home soil since the late Richard Burns in 2000 – Evans has been promoted by his title-winning M-Sport team. For 2018, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt line up alongside five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier in one of the Cumbrian outfit’s pair of front-line Red Bull-liveried Ford Fiesta WRCs.

“It’s a good place to be alongside Seb again this year,” he enthused. “We worked together well last year – albeit on different tyres – so to continue that on now with identical equipment is a fantastic opportunity.”

While clearly keen to make the most of his coveted seat alongside the French maestro, Evans is by no means overawed by his illustrious team-team. “He’s a fantastic benchmark to have in the team, has a lot of experience and is the best in the world at the moment, so you’d be a fool not to capitalise on that and learn from him. My aim, though, is always to try to beat him if we can.”

And the Welshman is certainly brimming with confidence after his break-through season in 2017 when he not only posted his first WRC victory but also two impressive second place finishes en route to fifth place in the final WRC championship standings.

“We made some good steps forward and found a happy place with the car – hopefully we can continue improving from there,” he disclosed.

Evans, though, will need to be at his brilliant best not just to beat Ogier but also to fend off some world class opposition in what promises to be another thrilling world championship series. Last year’s introduction of new technical rules not only introduced faster, more exciting cars but also created renewed rivalry between the top teams.

M-Sport might have won both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ crowns in 2017 but the opposition from Citroën, Hyundai and Toyota will be even stronger in 2018. Evans, however, believes the M-Sport technicians – now benefiting from increased support from Ford – will keep the Fiesta in front.

“There are small improvements but ultimately, with the regulations as they are, it doesn’t give anyone the scope to make massive changes. More a case of tweaking here and there,” he explained.

“We already had a strong platform, we just need to keep nibbling away to find gains in performance. Hopefully, the guys have been doing that over the winter and we all will continue pushing hard with the support of Ford this year. There’s always been a Ford connection with some engineering support but that’s now stepped up a level – that should help us to improve and stay at the top.”

While next week’s famous Rallye Monte-Carlo will provide a stern opening test, the WRC calendar throws up numerous challenges before the intrepid teams encounter the legendary Welsh forests in early October. As ever, the calendar is an epic adventure ranging from the snow packed tracks of Sweden to the rock-strewn mountain passes of Mexico and Argentina.

“To be honest, there are no rounds that I’m not looking forward to,” continued Evans. “I now have fond memories of just about all of the events. My focus this year will be to enjoy them all and to get the most out of each one, rather just targeting a handful.

“It will, of course, be special to be back in Wales,” he grinned. “The DMACK tyres obviously helped to put us in good position last year, now we’re equal Michelins to everyone else. Let’s wait and see. It’s a few months away but, obviously, we will be looking for another great result.”

In the meantime, all those wanting to follow Evans’ fortunes on television are spoilt for choice with both live and highlights coverage of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship on Channel 5, BT Sport, S4C and Red Bull TV.

Tickets for the 2018 Dayinsure Wales Rally GB (4-7 October) will go on sale when the competitive route is revealed in April.

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Swans disappointed with Etihad defeat

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SWANSEA CITY yet again faced an embarrassing defeat against Manchester City on Sunday, February 5, after losing 2-1 at the home of their opposition at the Etihad.

Manchester City started fast, with Leroy Sane surging down the left, with Gabriel Jesus attempting an early shot at the goal after just two minutes of game play. At this stage, Jesus didn’t manage to sail the ball into the net, and instead clipped his first-time shot over the bar.

This wasn’t enough to phase him or his teammates, and they continued to attack Swansea’s defence, and another goal-attempt was made by Kolarov after eight minues of game play, but this wasn’t the time for City to score just yet.

City seemed relentless, and after just 11 minutes it paid off. After putting Swansea under pressure from the moment the whistle blew, Gabriel Jesus managed to drive through and scissor in a low ball past Fabiansky and into the net.

Swansea seemed to pick up the pace a short while later and tried to attack, however it was short lived, and almost half hour into the game, another goal seemed to linger in the air for City. The Swans seemed to find it difficult to keep up with City’s pace, but managed to prevent any more goals being scored up until half time.

Fans crossed their fingers and hoped that Swansea would come out for the second half with their heads held high and fire in their hearts, in the hope to come home with at least a draw in order to bag a few points. At 17th in the table, they could do with a push to be saved from relegation

The second half commenced, and the Swans made a positive start with a great run from Olsson. However, it was brought to an end when Fernandinho brought him down the the left of City’s area.

Sigurdsson’s attempt for a goal seemed to take everyone by surprise, which unfortunately was trumped by goal keeper, Willy Cabellero, but it seems he was the only one who was really keeping his eye on the ball. City seemed to have slipped back for a short while, and certainly weren’t the team we had seem in the first half, as the Swans began to dominate the pitch.

As the game was coming to a close, it seemed as though it would be a match where people spent the majority of their time on their backsides. That was, until the brilliant Gylfi Sigurdsson managed to score an equaliser, that had been in the air since the beginning on the second half.

Caballero was close, but he was unsighted and couldn’t keep it out. The Swans rejoyed and hoped to be able to stay on the defense and manage to stay away from losing any points. City weren’t all that aggressive in trying to get a second goal, and it was down to Gabriel Jesus once again to bag the win for City.

Fabiansky managed to save a great downward header by Jesus after David Silva’s assist, and managed to ake full advantage of the rebound after 90+2 minutes.

The Swans left the stadium filled with disappointment and despair, after coming so close to picking up a few points. Luckily, it’s not enough to put Swansea in the bottom three, but they need to be careful if they want to avoid relegation.

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Engineer wins another World Championship

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screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-11-35-34PEMBROKESHIRE-BORN engineer Owen Jones has won his third consecutive World Championship as an integral member of the Mercedes Formula One Team, in which he is the Director of Performance and a key member of company’s Engine Factory at Brixworth, near Northampton.

For the third year running, the fantastic Mercedes engine has outpaced its competitors at Ferrari, Renault and Honda to propel another Mercedes car to the summit of the Formula One World Championship – this time in the hands of German driver Nico Rosberg.

The extremely complicated V6 1.6 litre turbocharged Mercedes engine has over 3,000 components and is, of course, at the cutting edge of Formula One power unit technology and is acknowledged to be the best in Formula One.

It has helped Mercedes (whose headquarters is based at Brackley in the UK) achieve an incredible record of success in the V6 hybrid-turbo era of Formula One. Mercedes has won the drivers’ Formula One World Championship for the last three years – with Lewis Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 and this year with Nico Rosberg.

During that time, it has won 51 out of the 59 Grands Prix held, taking 56 out of 59 pole positions and has led in 84% of the laps raced. It has won the last three constructors championships by nearly 300 points each time.

This years WO7 has been even more impressive, winning 19 out of 21 Grands Prix and missing pole position just once.

Last week, Owen and his wife, Amanda, attended the prestigious annual presentation evening at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London, where Owen, together with five of his Mercedes colleagues, was presented with the Autosport Racing Car of the Year Award by World Champion Nico Rosberg.

Originally from Letterston and a former pupil at Fishguard Secondary School, Owen gained a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, London before joining Cosworth Racing as a Senior Engineer designing Formula One Engines for Jaguar and Stewart cars.

He was later headhunted by Mercedes to be Head of Performance Engineering and has since gained considerable success in the world of Formula One. This is the fifth World Title to come Owen’s way with a Mercedes engine.

The first was with Lewis Hamilton driving a McClaren in 2008, and then with Jenson Button’s Brawn car in 2009.

These were followed by Lewis Hamilton’s double success in 2014 and 2015 and now Owen has a fifth World Championship win with this year’s Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid World Championship car driven by Nico Rosberg (following in the footsteps of his father, Keke Rosberg, who won the 1982 World Championship).

Owen believes next year will be even harder with Red Bull, particularly, threatening to catch up. The mighty Ferrari is not far behind.

Owen lives near Towcester with his wife, Amanda, and children, Elena and Alice. His parents, Patrick and Valerie Jones, formerly of Letterston, now live at Loveston near Kilgetty.

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