Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear extended their lead in the 2023 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship after scoring maximum points on the second round of the series, the Rallynuts Stages Rally on Saturday 15 April.
It was a perfect day for rallying, with glorious sunshine and some of the best stages Wales has to offer in excellent condition – although the event ran in a somewhat sombre and reflective mood, following the tragic death of WRC star Craig Breen in pre-Rally Croatia testing.
As a mark of respect, the event began with an impeccably observed minute silence and there were no Pirelli Welsh champagne celebrations at the finish.
Hirst set the fastest time on all four of the morning’s loop of stages through Myherin West, Myherin East, Hafren Sweet Lamb and Cwmysgawen in his Pirelli-shod Delta Salvage Ford Fiesta R5 to reach midday service at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd with a 20 second lead overall.
But four corners into the first stage in the afternoon, the Doncaster driver hit a rock that was directly on the racing line. The tyre deflated midday through the stages, ripping part of the bodywork off and costing him around 40 seconds and dropping him to second overall.
He reduced the gap to the new leader from 16 to four-seconds on the next stage, but when a tyre rolled off the rim at a hairpin on the seventh and final stage, it cost him another 35 seconds, dropping him to third overall. However, Hirst and Dear were still the top placed Pirelli Welsh registered crew, giving them maximum points for the second time in two rounds.
“It was a challenging day,” admitted Hirst. “The morning loop couldn’t have gone better, but the afternoon tested us. A puncture in Myherin was doing a lot of damage to the car and we had to decide whether to stop and change it. We had a bit of a push in Sweet Lamb to try and get the time back, but then we had another puncture on the last stage.
“But hey-ho, that’s rallying, isn’t it? But we’re very happy to score maximum points again in the Welsh Championship, which puts us in a strong position for the rest of the season.”
Russ Thompson was flying in his Dunnow Plant-backed Mitsubishi Evo 9, especially in Myherin where the fast and flowing roads best suited the car. His plan of avoiding mistakes paid dividends, as he and co-driver Stephen Link picked up second placed Pirelli Welsh points.
Rob Wilson dropped to fourth with fuel related problems towards the end of SS4. The reigning Welsh Junior and Challenge champion immediately got the position back on the next stage, as he and co-driver Richard Crozier secured the final place on the Pirelli Welsh podium in their Ravenol-backed Mitsubishi Evo 7 – having set a very impressive joint second fastest overall time on the final stage.
Steve Black enjoyed a great day in only his second outing in the 586 Sports-prepared Pallas Connections Ford Fiesta Rally2. After a sensible start in the slippery morning conditions, the 2021 Welsh class W3 champion was confident enough to stretch his legs on the drier afternoon stages, and together with co-driver Jack Morton he took home fourth place Pirelli Welsh points.
Eddie Lewis survived a “disastrous” morning loop, which included a turbo pipe coming off, a bottom arm joint coming loose and a tyre delaminating on a road section, which put him within four minutes of going OTL by the time he’d reached SS4.
He and co-driver Sion Cunniff enjoyed a much better “steady, neat and tidy” afternoon, picking up sixth placed Pirelli Welsh points in their Mechanical Solutions-backed Ford Fiesta R5. Lewis also took maximum points in the OnThePaceNote-supported Welsh Junior section.
Once again Simon Rogers had a late change of co-driver, with Ade Williams stepping into the MacWhirter Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 6 hot seat this time.
The day started with a huge spin on the opening stage, and thereafter he was embroiled in another close battle with Martyn Andrews – who Rogers ended up beating by just four seconds to maintain his class W13 lead and move up to third in the overall points standings.
In recognition of his outstanding performance, Rogers collected the Witham Group special award – a voucher for £50 – from Witham Group Sales Director Richard Scarbrough.
Andrews echoed all drivers who said how “awesome” the stages were, as he had another great run in his Opie Oils Subaru Impreza. He and co-driver Steve Greenhill have extended their lead in the Welsh Challenge, while Andrews jumps from sixth to fourth in the overall drivers’ standings.
Daniel Moss said these were the best stages he’d ever competed on, as he put in another excellent performance in his unmissable pink Hurst Haylage Mitsubishi Evo 10. After a faultless run, he and co-driver Samuel Davies completed the Pirelli Welsh top 10 finishers.
It was another strong performance too from Wug Utting/Bob Stokoe, who put all their experience of the Welsh woods to good effect in their Subaru Impreza N12b.
Having started on the same Pirelli tyres that they had contested the opening round on, the Surrey driver put on fresh rubber in the afternoon and went on to beat Peter Baylis/Paul Godden (Artificial Lawn Company Mitsubishi Evo 9) by just two seconds.
David Tomlin enjoyed a “sensible and steady” run in his Axon Ford Fiesta R5, this time partnered by Ian Beamond – while Richard Ceen had a clean run having swapped his Focus WRC for an MSL Motorsport-prepared Fiesta R5, ably guided by Alun Hayward.
Colin Minton/Bonnie Papper overheated the brakes on their Ignition Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 on the opening stage, leaving them with no brakes and a big time loss through SS2. They were delighted to complete their first event of 2023 without a slipping clutch, with their afternoon stage times suggesting much more to come from the pair in the upcoming rounds.
Charles Campbell/Sam Weller survived two spins (which cost them 1min 20secs) on the opening stage to bring home their Subaru Impreza. Rob and Ashley Aslett enjoyed a trouble-free run in their Rigfone Electric Contractors Subaru, as did Geoff Cottrill/Nathan Crewe in their Mitsubishi Evo 9.
Paul Walker/Geraint Thomas retired their Green Paw Subaru Impreza with gearbox problems, while Colin Griffiths/Sion Rowlands also failed to complete the morning loop in their ex-Mikko Hirvonen/Alister McRae Subaru Impreza STI.
Robert Gough was once again the top two-wheel drive finisher, scoring a magnificent Pirelli Welsh fifth (and ninth overall). Co-driven by Paul Morris in his Ford Escort Mk2, the Ludlow driver was kicking himself after losing out of the event’s historic class win by just one second having put the car briefly down a bank in the opening stage and overshooting a hairpin – although he did score maximum Restruct Welsh Historic W9 class points to extend his category lead.
On his very first rally, Steven John Chaplin finished second in class W9 in a new Dave Jenkins Motorsport-built Escort Mk2, co-driven by Richard Suter.
Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner (below) made it two class W8 wins from two starts in their Brace’s Bakery Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1. They almost went off at a hairpin on the final stage, with a quick yank of the handbrake saving the day – while the marshals were very appreciative of the Brace’s Welsh Cakes that the driver had very kindly supplied fresh from the bakery.
Andrew Stokes/Jonny Tad Evans went off near the start of SS1 and having regained the road picked up a puncture. Having dropped a minute, it was a safe and steady drive after that, collecting second place points and remaining second in the class W8 table.
Jeremy Wells had taken four and a half years to rebuild his immaculate Wells Masonary Solutions Escort Mk1. Co-driven by Martin Saunders, his first appearance in the car was rewarded with third in class W8 and the Witham Group historic class reward (below).
Lyn Davies/Aled Richards picked up fourth place class W8 points after a good run in their Wales Motorsport-prepared Escort Mk2, while Peter Jones/Gareth Davies retired their Ford with broken suspension on SS2.
Ben Smith (co-driven by his father Steven) leads the Historic class W6 after a second maximum points winning performance in his Amigos Ford Escort RS2000 Mk1.
Gareth Lewis had intercom issues all day in his Escort Mk1. It turned out to be a helmet issue, and with no intercom at all on the final stage, he was only one second slower through the second pass of Cwmysgawen than he was on the first, thanks to some gifted hand signals by co-driver Ryland James.
As well as the Historic category trophies, the registered crews that finish in the top three of each Historic class at the end of the season will be put forward for the David Stokes Historic Challenge award for drivers and the Guy Weaver award for co-drivers.
Boyd Kershaw/Keegan Rees took their second straight victory in the Hockly Motorsport-supported Welsh 2WD section after another magnificent performance in their Flying Kiwi Ford Escort Mk2, despite spinning on SS5 and having to reverse. The defending 2WD champions were in superb form, finishing 19th overall, while they also extend their lead in class W11.
Kevin Metcalfe struggled to find a rhythm in the morning, but with Ian Jones co-driving the Horsham pilot came good in the afternoon to take home second place 2WD points in his rapid 3-litre BMW E30.
Iwan Roberts Jnr/Daniel Jones lost a lot of time with a puncture on SS1. They fought back from 62nd overall to finish 24th in their Roberts of Ffestiniog Ford Escort G3 and maintain their second position in class W11.
Geoff Phelps/Colin Jenkins had a bit of a sixth gear pinball moment on SS4 when they put their Hartpury Farms Escort Mk2 up and down the banks on either side of the road. Having got away that that almighty tank slapper, they went on to record another excellent Pirelli Welsh points score.
Dan Chester/Paul Barbet were playing catch up all day after collecting a puncture in their BMW E30 on the opening stage, while Tim Phelps/Elwyn Manuel had a good run in their Britpart Escort Mk2, as did Richard Warne/Chris Deal in their CarSpares Escort Mk1.
Ben Smith also leads the Welsh Junior Championship after two second place finishes in his Escort Mk1, despite stalling the car on the final stage.
Callum Griffiths had only ever driven the Hafren Sweet Lamb stage with a broken driveshaft, so he particularly enjoyed his first clean run through this classic Rally GB stage. Co-driven by William Lewis, he also beat his brother Liam (co-driven by Daniel James) in their pair of Presteigne Tyre Services-backed Ford Fiesta STs, although Liam did win the Witham Group 2WD category prize.
Nigel and Kaz Jenkins scored maximum Hockly Motorsport-supported 1400cc class W2 points to share the category lead, despite a problematic start to the event, which saw their NJ Auto Repairs Vauxhall Nova reduced to 1000rpm after alternator belt and coil lead problems. They were also on three cylinders for most of the afternoon!
In only his second gravel rally, Dylan Fowler Bishop (co-driven by Dan Evans) finished second in class W2 in his Restruct-backed Nissan Micra.
Chris Bush/Kev Papper finished third in class in their Bushtec Recycling Opel Corsa, despite the windscreen misting up in the morning, whilst Ashley Francis-Adams regretted a lack of sleep the night before and lost time with a sluggish start in his T2 Fabrication-backed Nissan Micra, although together with Lucy Wilding he finished fourth in class.
James Dunkley/Jack Morris came home fifth in class in their Vauxhall Corsa, one place ahead of defending class W2 champions Adrian and Matthew Walk who were contesting their first event since crashing out of last year’s Cambrian Rally. Getting settled back into it, they were going well and finished, despite putting their PartBOX Ford Ka into a ditch on the final stage.
Luke Watts/Matt Rogers also finished the event, despite the starter motor failing in the morning in their MG ZR.
Tony Simpson was reunited with former co-driver Stefan Arndt and, for the second event running, dominated class W4 in his Seacon UK Ford Fiesta R2T. After two rounds, he has already opened an impressive 33-point lead and is second in the main 2WD drivers’ standings.
Lucy Wigley/Emma Cooper took maximum class W10 points, despite a few brake issues in their Redware Citroën C2 (above).
Defending champions Martin Walters/Marie Fletcher have taken the class lead after a solid run in their Digger Parts Direct Honda Civic, replacing Wrexham’s Dan and Cyril Jones at the top of the W10 points table after they broke a driveshaft on their Jones Brothers/North Wales Joinery Vauxhall Nova on SS3 and went OTL.
On his first event for six months, Alan Desbois was unlucky to collect a rear left puncture towards the end of SS1 and, with no spare remaining, had to be cautious. He and co-driver Peter Littlefield were delighted to reach midday service (a feat that they’d failed to do on the Rallynuts since 2019) and had a good afternoon to finish third in class in their Peugeot 306 RWD.
2023 Rallynuts Stages Rally – top 10 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship finishers:
1. Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Ford Fiesta R5)….44mins 25secs
2. Russ Thompson/Stephen Link (Mitsubishi Evo 9)….44mins 53secs
3. Rob Wilson/Richard Crozier (Mitsubishi Evo 7)….45mins 51secs
4. Steve Black/Jack Morton (Ford Fiesta Rally2)…. 46mins 31secs
5. Robert Gough/Paul Morris (Ford Escort Mk2)….46mins 57secs
6. Eddie Lewis/Sion Cunniff (Ford Fiesta R5)…. 47mins 03secs
7. Boyd Kershaw/Keegan Rees (Ford Escort Mk2)….47mins 59secs
8. Simon Rogers/Ade Williams (Mitsubishi Evo 6)….47mins 59secs
9. Martyn Andrews/Steve Greenhill (Subaru Impreza)….48mins 03secs
10. Daniel Moss/Samuel Davies (Mitsubishi Evo 10)….48mins 09secs
Round 3 of the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship is the Plains Rally on Saturday 20 May, organised by Knutsford & District Motor Club, based in Bala and contains a compact route of approximately 100 road and 44 stage miles.
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