Matthew Hirst has moved one step closer to retaining his Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship title after scoring maximum points for the fourth time in four rounds on the Nicky Grist Stages last Saturday.
Co-driven by Declan Dear, the Doncaster driver was the class of the Welsh field – finishing over a minute and a half ahead of his nearest championship rival in his Pirelli-shod Delta Salvage/Witham Group Ford Fiesta R5.
Hirst’s lead at the top of the drivers’ standings has increased to 36 points.
“I’m thrilled to keep my run of Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship maximum scores going on what is one of the most enjoyable events of the season,” said Hirst.
“Even though it’s enjoyable, the Nicky Grist Stages is one of those events where you have to take risks if you want to be at the front. It rewards commitment, but the consequences if it goes wrong are huge.
“We’ve scored four wins out of four, but we’ll just keep going as we are and try not to think about the championship too much and just focus on the next event.”
Russ Thompson/Stephen Link took home second placed points in their Dunnow Plant Mitsubishi Evo 9, using the top-end speed to their advantage in a fast and controlled drive.
Rob Wilson lost a considerable amount of time during the day, including a spin and stall on SS4 and then his Ravenol Mitsubishi Evo 7’s engine intermittently cutting out in the afternoon. Despite this, he and co-driver Richard Crozier completed the Pirelli Welsh podium.
Bob Morgan/Ade Williams enjoyed a great run in their Winner Garage Škoda Fabia R5. A fast and trouble-free performance saw them take home fourth placed Pirelli Welsh points, ahead of Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson – who achieved their aim of getting to the finish in their Vaynol Heating Ford Fiesta R5.
Wug Utting, co-driven by his son Max, came home a trouble-free sixth in their Subaru Impreza N12b, while Martyn Andrews/Steve Greenhill almost put their Opie Oils Subaru Impreza STi N12 off the road several times in the morning, getting away with it ‘by the skin of their teeth’ to finish an impressive seventh. The result moves the Welwyn Garden City driver up to second in the overall points standings and extends his lead in the Welsh Challenge.
David Tomlin/Keith Ashley survived a couple of lock ups and stalls in the morning and had to reverse out of a hedge at one point, but survived to finish a season best Pirelli Welsh ninth in their Axon Ford Fiesta R5.
Paul Walker/Geraint Thomas flew the flag for the event organisers and were the top Quinton Motor Club crew home, completing the Pirelli Welsh top 10 in their Green Paw Subaru Impreza STI N11.
Nik Elsmore/Rob Fagg were slowed on the morning loop with a throttle sensor problem with their CDS Taxis & Private Hire Mitsubishi Evo 9, and after losing so much time the afternoon loop turned into a test session. They nevertheless still finished just outside the Pirelli Welsh top 10, suggesting they’d have battled for a place on the podium without their issues.
Richard Ceen/Dylan Thomas profited from some pre-event testing and a change of driving style to pick up 13th place Pirelli Welsh points in their MSL Motorsport-prepared Ford Fiesta R5.
Peter Baylis had a new radiator installed in his Artificial Lawn Company Mitsubishi Evo 9 but nonetheless had overheating issues on the morning loop. Co-driven by Paul Godden, the Gravesend driver survived to take 14th, just 10.6 seconds ahead of Colin Minton/Bonnie Papper in their Ignition Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5.
Simon Rogers arrived at the Nicky Grist Stages lying second in the overall drivers’ standings after three excellent results. Unfortunately, his 100% finishing record came to an end when the prop shaft failed on his MacWhirter Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 6, putting him and co-driver James How out and dropping Rogers to fourth in the overall drivers’ points and third (behind Andrews and Baylis) in the close battle for the class W13 title.
Rob and Ashley Aslett retired in the afternoon loop of stages when their Rigfone Electric Contractors Subaru Impreza’s turbo blew, while Colin Griffiths/Sion Rowlands were having a good run before their Subaru Impreza STI’s gearbox failed on the eighth and final stage.
Robert Gough (above) has moved to within five points of the Restruct Welsh Historic class W9 lead after winning the category in his Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2. Co-driven by Paul Morris, he took home eighth place points to move up to third in the overall drivers’ standings.
Upon his return to the series, Ron Morgan (co-driven by Sion Jones) finished a magnificent second in class W9 in his Restruct Escort Mk2, with Peter Jones/Gareth Davies third in another Escort. Lyn Davies/Aled Richards still lead the class, having finished fourth in their Wales Motorsport-prepared Escort Mk2.
Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner won a very close Historic class W8 battle, despite having no working windscreen wipers in the rain and a day-long engine misfire in their Brace’s Bakery Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1 (above).
Andrew Stokes/Jonny Tad Evans still lead the Historic class W8 after a good run in their similar RS1600 Mk1, despite a few moments along the way – including an off into a ditch on the final stage, which Stokes said he’d “got away lightly” with.
Jeremy Wells (co-driven this time by Steve Suckling) had a good run to third in class in his Wells Masonary Solutions Escort Mk1. Gary Smith/Emma Clarke crashed their Escort Mk1 out of the event on SS3.
Julian Birley/Emyr Hall have extended their Historic class W5 lead by scoring their first win of the season in their Talbot Sunbeam.
Boyd Kershaw/Keegan Rees have retaken the lead in the ultra-competitive Hockly Motorsport-supported Welsh 2WD class after a magnificent win in their Flying Kiwi Ford Escort Mk2. They lost time in the morning with visibility issues and then they overshot a junction after taking a jump flat-out, but a great afternoon saw them score a well-deserved 2WD class victory – with Kershaw moving up to seventh in the overall drivers’ standings.
David and Douglas Young followed up their second place 2WD finish on the Plains Rally with second again in their Escort Mk2, finishing one place ahead of Ricky Crone/Ifan Devine, who regretting not replacing their rear tyres for SS3 as they struggled for grip through Halfway in their MS Textiles Ford Escort Mk2.
Geoff Phelps/Colin Jenkins (Hartpury Farms Escort Mk2), Tim Phelps/Elwyn Manuel (Britpart Escort Mk2) and defending class W12 champions Andrew Fox/Jaime-Lee Fox (Xwatch Safety Solutions BMW 325) all enjoyed good runs – although that wasn’t the case for every 2WD contender.
Iwan Roberts Jnr/Daniel Jones have dropped to third in class after breaking the steering on SS6 – quite possibly a consequence of landing their Roberts of Ffestiniog Ford Escort G3 hard on its nose after a big flat out jump on SS4.
Damage after big landings on the same stage also saw Dan Chester/Paul Barbet retire their BMW E30, Kevin Metcalfe/Ian Jones damage the rear suspension on their BMW E30 and retire in midday service and Mike Brown/Aled Davies who broke a wishbone on their BMW Compact M3.
Sam Mason/James Seymour won class W4 for the first time this season in their Samuel Mason Rallysport Fiesta R2T and have jumped up to third in the standings. Tony Simpson still leads the class, although he and co-driver Stefan Arndt retired their Seacon UK Ford Fiesta Rally4 after turbo failure. Alex Cannon is still second in class (and his co-driver Alan Carfree still leads the navigators’ section) despite retiring his Rallyworld Ford Fiesta R2 with a broken driveshaft on SS1.
Machynlleth’s Gethin Price (co-driven this time by Brynmore Price) continues to lead the Hockly Motorsport-supported class W2 after prioritising a finish in his RKP Haulage Nissan Micra.
Nigel and Kaz Jenkins won the 1400cc class in their NJ Auto Repairs Vauxhall Nova, which sees them second and first in the drivers’ and co-drivers’ sections respectively.
Dylan Fowler Bishop (co-driven by Dan Evans) had a big push in the afternoon to finish second in class W2 in his Restruct-backed Nissan Micra, while Ashley Francis-Adams/Lucy Wilding were third in their T2 Fabrication-backed Nissan Micra, despite losing time in the morning when a stage was red flagged.
Edward James/Charlie Mason hadn’t rallied since April, and they were initially delayed by intercom problems and their Nissan Micra’s windscreen misting up but came home fourth in class, one place ahead of Price.
Kelvin Evans was partnered by Lucie Gutteridge, who was contesting her first gravel rally. They did exceptionally well, finishing fifth in their CWL Hire Nissan Micra – one place ahead of Luke Watts/Matt Rogers, who survived the windscreen misting up on SS1 in their NJ Auto Repairs MG ZR.
Chris Bush (co-driven for the first time by Robert Bryn ‘Chicken’ Jones) had a new gearbox in his Bushtec Recycling Opel Corsa, although it was a sticking throttle that caused him problems earlier in the event and saw him finish down the order.
Defending class champions Adrian and Matthew Walk retired on SS1 with engine problems in their PartBOX Ford Ka, while last year’s Nicky Grist Stages class winner James Dunkley (co-driven by Jack Morris) retired his Vauxhall Corsa on SS4.
Will Banks/Matthew Baddeley had a new engine in their BTS Motorsport/Lorry-Insurance Vauxhall Nova, which successfully powered them to class W1 victory.
Lucy Wigley/Emma Cooper won class W10 in their Redware Citroën C2 R2 Max, although defending champions Martin Walters/Marie Fletcher hang on to the class lead after finishing second in their Digger Parts Direct Honda Civic. Alan Desbois/Peter Littlefield were third in their Peugeot 306 RWD, with Damian Thomas/Gavin Haycock fourth in their Peugeot 206 S1600.
Dan and Cyril Jones had a nightmare of an event in their Howard Price Rallying/North Wales Joinery Vauxhall Nova. A coil wire broke on SS1 and having fixed that, they landed the car on its nose after a jump on SS4, finishing the morning leg with gear selection problems. Things didn’t improve in the afternoon, as engine problems put the son and father duo out on SS7. Michael Jenkins/Jordan Joines also failed to finish in their Ford Fiesta.
Callum Griffiths has taken the lead in the OnThePaceNote-supported Welsh Junior Championship after scoring his first victory of the year on the Nicky Grist Stages. Co-driven by William Lewis, the Presteigne Tyre Services-supported Fiesta ST driver started at a blistering pace before a heavy landing on SS4 damaged the car’s radiator. Luckily midday service followed, and they were able to continue unabated to score a fine Junior win.
His brother Liam finished second in a similar Ford. He and co-driver Daniel James put new tyres on for a big push in the afternoon and scored a great result despite a rear brake pipe coming off three miles from the end of the last stage.
Sam Mason added third Junior to his class W4 win, while Dylan Fowler Bishop was fourth, Gethin Price fifth, Luke Watts sixth and Will Banks seventh.
Ben Smith had led the Welsh Junior coming into the Nicky Grist Stages. Partnered by his father Steven, he retired on the opening stage after damaging the steering on his Amigos Escort RS2000 Mk1.
Eddie Lewis (co-driven by Sion Cunniff) retired his Mechanical Solutions Ford Fiesta R5 on SS4 with suspension damage.
Bonnie Papper leads the Welsh Junior co-drivers’ section, ahead of Ifan Devine, Jack Morris, Jack Bowen, Sam Weller and James Seymour.
Round 5 of the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship is the Phil Price Memorial Woodpecker Stages on Saturday 9 September.
2023 Nicky Grist Stages – top 10 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship finishers:
1. Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Ford Fiesta R5)….43mins 12.3secs
2. Russ Thompson/Stephen Link (Mitsubishi Evo 9)….44mins 46.1secs
3. Rob Wilson/Richard Crozier (Mitsubishi Evo 7)….45mins 18.3secs
4. Bob Morgan/Ade Williams (Škoda Fabia R5)….45mins 59.6secs
5. Gavin Edwards/Caron Tomlinson (Ford Fiesta R5)….46mins 19.7secs
6. Wug Utting/Max Utting (Subaru Impreza)….48mins 05.4secs
7. Martyn Andrews/Steve Greenhill (Subaru Impreza)….48mins 14.2secs
8. Robert Gough/Paul Morris (Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2)….48mins 14.6secs
9. David Tomlin/Keith Ashley (Ford Fiesta R5)….48mins 15.4secs
10. Paul Walker/Geraint Thomas (Subaru Impreza)….48mins 16.8secs
2023 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship
Overall drivers’ points after Round 4:
1. Matthew Hirst….120pts
2. Martyn Andrews….84pts
3. Robert Gough….75pts
4. Simon Rogers….73pts
5. Peter Baylis….69pts
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