There was a dramatic end to the Plains Rally at the weekend.
Defending Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally champion Matthew Hirst celebrated a third straight maximum points score of the 2023 season on the Plains Rally in his Pirelli-shod Delta Salvage/Witham Group Ford Fiesta R5 – although it was far from straightforward, as both he and arch-rival Perry Gardener hit problems in the afternoon, which saw them swap positions on the eighth and final stage.
The frontrunning duo were tied for the lead after the opening 2.78 mile test through Alwen South – before Hirst, who was partnered for the first time by Mark Glennerster, took the smallest of leads (above) after the next 6.55 miler through Alwen North.
With the top cars having to drive non-competitively through the longest 8.78 mile Aberhirnant test (one of the highest stages in Wales), just 0.01 seconds still separated them as they came to the final stage of the morning loop, the 3.3 mile blast through Llangower – with Hirst setting fastest time again to reach midday service in Bala with a slender nine second advantage.
All four stages were repeated in the afternoon, which began with Hirst increasing his lead to 12 seconds – only for him to lose 35 seconds and the lead when the power-steering failed on SS6.
With only two stages remaining, Hirst regained 13 seconds on the penultimate stage after Gardener spun to leave him 10 seconds behind entering the final stage.
In his first rally for seven months, Gardener (above) had driven brilliantly and looked set to score a memorable comeback win. But it wasn’t to be, as an alarm on the dashboard came on during the final stage, forcing the Ludlow driver to stop his Davanti Tyres-backed Ford Fiesta R5, turn the engine off, reboot the system, restart the engine and get going again. The delay cost him and co-driver Jack Bowen almost 30 seconds and the Pirelli Welsh top spot, as Hirst – who had to reboot his power-steering system a few road sections before – finished 18 seconds ahead.
“I’m very pleased to take home my third set of Pirelli Welsh points in a row, as it’s obviously very good for the championship,” said Hirst.
“We started off steadily on the first two stages, as it was the first time that Mark [Glennerster] had co-driven for me. We quickly got into a nice rhythm, before our power-steering issue. Forget lifting weights at the gym, six miles of wrestling an R5 car through Alwen is quite the workout!
“We were able to reboot the system on the next road section, as it’s happened before and I know what to do, and we were intent on a big push through the last two stages. It was a good battle with Perry [Gardener] and whilst it’s a shame he had problems himself in the afternoon, it all came good for us in the end.”
Simon Rogers has moved up to second in the overall drivers’ standings after another great run in his MacWhirter Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 6 – despite hitting a big rock on SS5 and breaking a front wheel.
Reunited with regular co-driver James How, he was having another close battle with Martyn Andrews/Steve Greenhill (Opie Oils Subaru Impreza STi N12) – so close in fact that they were tied on time at the midday service.
A big push in the afternoon saw Rogers take home fourth placed Pirelli Welsh points, while Andrews slipped to sixth when the centre differential failed on the penultimate stage, leaving him limping to the finish.
Greenhill takes over the lead in the overall co-drivers’ standings, while he and Andrews maintains their lead in the Welsh Challenge.
Peter Baylis/Paul Godden finished between the battling Rogers and Andrews after another excellent run in their Artificial Lawn Company Mitsubishi Evo 9.
Daniel Moss/Samuel Davies had been fifth fastest on the opening test but lost over a minute and a half when their pink Hurst Haylage Mitsubishi Evo 10 picked up a rear puncture on SS2. They nevertheless had a great run in the afternoon to bag eighth placed overall points.
Steve Hollis/Tim Currie did well to take home ninth placed overall points after a troublesome day which saw them having to drive around a dragging clutch issue in the morning, before completing the final two stages with hardly any brakes in their Volkswagen Golf V R32.
Other notable 4WD finishers included Paul Walker/Geraint Thomas, who enjoyed a textbook run in their Green Paw Subaru Impreza STi N11, Richard Ceen/Alun Hayward in their MSL Motorsport-prepared Fiesta R5 and Colin Minton/Bonnie Papper who, apart from catching a few cars and getting delayed in the dust, were the top mixed crew home in their Ignition Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 – which ran faultlessly all day. Papper also leads the Welsh Junior co-drivers’ category.
The event didn’t start well for Tom McKeown/Neil Thomas after a turbo boost pipe came off their Subaru Impreza on the opening stage. They never gave up, and their rally ended with the 4WD Witham Group special award (a voucher for £50) which was presented by Witham Group Sales Director Richard Scarbrough.
Colin Griffiths/Sion Rowlands reached the finish in their ex-Mikko Hirvonen/Alister McRae Subaru Impreza STi N9, although a few technical issues and two punctures cost them dear.
Bob Morgan was flying on his return to rallying after a shoulder injury and was third in the Pirelli Welsh standings after the morning loop. Unfortunately, he and co-driver Ade Williams were to retire their Winner Garage Škoda Fabia R5 on the penultimate stage.
Wug Utting/Bob Stokoe hit a rock on SS2 and despite trying hard to carry on retired their Subaru Impreza N12b with bent steering, while Charles Campbell (co-driven this time by John Hawkins, as Sam Weller is sitting his GCSEs) left the road on SS4.
Richard Jordan/James Gratton-Smith were the top two-wheel drive crew home after a magnificent run in their Ford Escort Mk2. Jordan has moved up to third in the Restruct Welsh Historic class W9 – which is now being led by Lyn Davies/Aled Richards in their Wales Motorsport-prepared Escort Mk2, after early class leader Robert Gough (co-driven by Paul Morris) retired his Escort RS1800 Mk2 with engine problems on the opening stage.
The reigning Historic class champions Michael McDaid/Declan Casey returned to the series and finished second in W9 in their McDaid Pharmacy Escort RS1800 Mk2.
It wasn’t Rudi Lancaster’s day. Partnered by Guy Weaver, he was delayed in dust on SS2 when a car re-joined the stage in front of him and then lost time on SS7 when his Woolacombe Holiday Parks Escort RS1800 Mk2 picked up a puncture. Despite the two big time consuming issues, the Devon driver finished third in class.
Andrew Stokes/Jonny Tad Evans have taken the lead in class W8 after a great performance in their Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1. They also won the Historic 4WD Witham Group special award.
Jeremy Wells/Martin Saunders scored another good result with a trouble-free run in their Wells Masonry Solutions Escort RS1600 Mk1.
Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner, who had led the class going into the Plains, retired their Brace’s Bakery Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1 after putting the car on its side on SS3, with an old tree stump preventing a full roll.
Graham Palmer has taken the lead in class W7 after a good run in his PGM Caterham Specialist Escort RS2000 Mk1. Co-driven by Mike Webb, the Hove driver overcame alternator, intercom and overheating problems to get the gorgeous yellow car to a well-deserved finish.
Ian Beveridge/Paul Price hold onto a slender five point lead in class W5 in their Toyota Corolla Levin TE27, after finishing second to Mark and Debora Tugwell (Metalways Escort Mk1 Twin Cam).
Julian Birley/Emyr Hall finished third in class in their Talbot Sunbeam – the local driver summing up the event perfectly by saying, “Aberhirnant is the reason why rallying is the number one sport in North Wales!”
Gareth Lewis missed the chance of taking the class W6 lead when he and co-driver Ryland James lost the brakes on the penultimate stage and were forced to retire their Ford Escort RS2000 Mk1.
All the registered crews that finish in the top three of each Restruct Welsh 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.
Despite driving two-thirds of SS5 on a rear puncture and losing over a minute, Iwan Roberts Jnr/Daniel Jones came out on top in the Hockly Motorsport-supported Welsh 2WD battle to take the class lead in their Roberts of Ffestiniog Ford Escort G3.
David and Douglas Young finished second in their Escort Mk2, ahead of class W4 leader Tony Simpson (who was co-driven this time by Glyn Thomas) in his Seacon UK Ford Fiesta, and who is a magnificent second in the 2WD section – despite the car refusing to go into stage mode for the opening test.
Defending class W12 champions Andrew Fox/Jaime-Lee Fox had a great afternoon run in their Xwatch Safety Solutions BMW 325 and took home the 2WD Witham Group special award (above).
Dan Chester/Paul Barbet were delighted with a finish in their BMW E30, as where Ricky Crone/Ifan Devine after a day of electrical misfires in their MS Textiles Ford Escort Mk2). Also scoring a very good finish were Geoff Phelps/Colin Jenkins (Hartpury Farms Escort Mk2) and Tim Phelps/Elwyn Manuel (Britpart Ford Escort Mk2).
Two victories from two starts had seen Boyd Kershaw/Keegan Rees lead the Welsh 2WD section, but a broken propshaft in their Flying Kiwi Ford Escort Mk2 forced them out on the morning loop.
On his rally debut, Sam Mason took maximum points in the OnThePaceNote-supported Welsh Junior Championship after a great run in his Samuel Mason Rallysport Fiesta R2T. He was slowed all through the afternoon loop of stages when the car’s turbo boost pipe came off, but he and co-driver James Seymour did extremely well to finish.
Gethin Price has re-taken the lead in the Hockly Motorsport-supported 1400cc class W2 after scoring his second class win of the season in his RKP Haulage Nissan Micra. Co-driven by Steven Brown, the car handled a lot better in the afternoon, after he’d lower it by 5mm and reduced the tyre pressures. Kelvin Evans/Ifan Rowlands finished second in class in their CWL Hire Nissan Micra.
Alex Cannon remains second in class W4 (behind Simpson) after another second place finish in his Rallyworld-backed Ford Fiesta R2, while his navigator Alan Carfree takes the lead of the co-drivers’ section.
Defending champions Martin Walters/Marie Fletcher lead class W10 after their third straight second place finish in their Digger Parts Direct Honda Civic. Son and father duo Dan and Cyril Jones won the class this time in their Howard Price Rallying/North Wales Joinery Vauxhall Nova.
Alan Desbois/Peter Littlefield conquered what in places were very loose road surface conditions to score another excellent result in their smart Peugeot 306 RWD and maintain their class W10 title challenge.
Round 4 of the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship is the Nicky Grist Stages on Saturday 8 July. Organised by Quinton Motor Club, the event is based in Builth Wells and contains 44 stage miles in Llyn Login, Monument, Halfway and Crychan.
2023 Plains Rally – top 10 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship finishers:
1. Matthew Hirst/Mark Glennerster (Ford Fiesta R5+)….42mins 00secs
2. Perry Gardener/Jack Bowen (Ford Fiesta R5+)….42mins 18secs
3. Richard Jordan/James Gratton-Smith (Ford Escort Mk2)….44mins 55secs
4. Simon Rogers/James How (Mitsubishi Evo 6)….45mins 18secs
5. Peter Baylis/Paul Godden (Mitsubishi Evo 9)….45mins 37secs
6. Martyn Andrews/Steve Greenhill (Subaru Impreza)….45mins 53secs
7. Michael McDaid/Declan Casey (Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2)….45mins 57secs
8. Daniel Moss/Samuel Davies (Mitsubishi Evo 10)….46mins 08secs
9. Steve Hollis/Tim Currie (Volkswagen Golf R)….46mins 14secs
10. Rudi Lancaster/Guy Weaver (Ford Escort Mk2)….46mins 25secs
2023 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship
Overall drivers’ points after Round 3:
1. Matthew Hirst….90pts
2. Simon Rogers….68pts
3. Martyn Andrews….63pts
4. Robert Gough….55pts
5. Peter Bayliss….55pts
6. Dan Moss….51pts