Matt Hirst and Declan Dear took the 2019 Pirelli Motorsport UK Welsh Forest Rally Championship in style on Saturday with outright victory on the final round, writes Peter Hughes.
It was Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy who led the series going into the Winner Garage Wyedean Stages Rally, needing just a solid finish to take the title. When they retired on the very first stage of the rally, however, with mechanical problems that opened the door for Hirst and Dear in the similar Mitsubishi Evo 9.
It would be no easy task for 2018 Welsh Junior Champion Hirst and his co-driver with only an outright victory allowing them to claim the crown. With the heavy rain in the days leading up to the rally leaving conditions in the stages treacherously slippery, the slightest driving error could be heavily penalised. While those conditions suggested it would be a day to favour four-wheel drive machinery, at the finish eight out of the top 10 cars were Ford Escorts.
Lying third overall after the opening stage, Hirst and Dear moved up to second place on Stage 2 before taking a lead on the next stage which they retained all the way to the finish of the event in Mitcheldean.
That enabled them to snatch the title from the unfortunate Thompson and Murphy by just two points.
Following the event, Matt admitted they had written of their chances of winning the Championship three events ago. He sympathised with their rivals who lost out so narrowly following a great season-long battle, but he said the win was a great follow up for him and Declan to their victory in the RAVENOL Welsh Challenge last season.
Second place points from the event sealed third place overall for Tom Llewellin, the Historic specification Ford Escort driver adding this to his already settled Junior and Two-wheel drive victories. The young Pembrokeshire driver had to survive a first stage spin and a trip into a ditch on Stage 3 and described the achievement as a great finish to the year adding that the Welsh series is a great championship with great competition.
Third place on the rally went to Richard Ceen and Hamish Campbell. On only his second rally in the R5 Fiesta, Richard took a slightly cautious approach for the first run through the stages, upping his pace second time through.
Josh Taylor and Heather Merrison went into the event leading class B13 and were looking for a finish to take the Championship class honours. Electrical problems cost them four minutes on the opening stage but they bounced back to take seventh quickest time on Stage 2.
Josh later described what happened on the very next stage, “We went a little fast into a slippery downhill square right. We avoided the tree but then ended up crashing into a rock face which almost sent us down into the River Wye which meant rally over. I guess after a year without an off we were due one.” Despite that they still take the Championship Class award ahead of Richard Hill and Keith Gapper.
Keith Gapper and Jordan Wilkinson tackled the first three stages without a heated screen leaving them with limited visibility. They then suffered a spin on stage 5 before completing the final stage without an intercom.
With Tom Llewellin having already secured the drivers’ category in the RAVENOL Welsh Challenge, co-driver honours went to Tom Murphy. A strong run by BMW pairing Andy Fox and Jaime Lee-Fox secured second place for them with third place amongst the drivers going to Josh Taylor while Simon Jones finished third amongst the co-driver.
Over 130 competitors registered for the 2019 Pirelli Motorsport UK Welsh Forest Rally Championship and it is reflection of the competitive nature of the series that after eight rallies and more than three hundred stage miles just two points separated the top two crews.
All the award winners will receive their trophies at the annual WAMC dinner at The Hotel Metropole, Llandrindod Wells on 25 January.