18/11/2023 Off By admin

The MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series would conclude its 2023 season on the stages of North Wales at the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally. With a planned 5 stages covering 40 competitive miles on offer, this North Wales Car Club organised event would also see the return of the main part of the Clocaenog Forest Complex. Although the eastern side of the Forest has been used in recent years, this main part has not seen any action for a good 10+ years whilst a Wind Farm was developed. But as with everything, a big plus was followed by a slight downer; due to issues outside of the control of the club, the Alwen Forest complex had to be forfeited which limited the route to the Elsi, Clocaenog and Brenig Stages.

Photos By Andy Cook | Xlerate.Media

Last time out in Yorkshire, Elliot Payne & Tom Woodburn secured their second and consecutive BTRDA GoldStar title, Nigel & Karen Jenkins also finally picked up the BronzeStar title. However, the SilverStar honors was still up for debate as the crews arrived in Llandudno for one final battle of the year.

Despite the Cambrian being a fantastic event with quality gravel stages, those which were typically used on Wales Rally GB when Britain featured in the FIA World Rally Championship, it does hold the spot as the final round of the season where titles have already been wrapped up by. This can naturally result in thin entries, which in the past hasn’t really been too noticeable, however, this year’s numbers did seem to be a bit on the low side.


Matthew Hirst & Declan Dear lined up as the No. 1 seed in their Ford Fiesta R5, hoping to put their woes from the previous rounds, the Woodpecker and TrackRod behind them. The pair would set off into the opening 8.93 miles stage in Elsi at a good pace and recorded the fastest time in the InterClub event.

After stopping the clocks some 10 seconds quicker than the Mitsubishi EVO 9 of Russ Thompson & Stephen Link, Hirst & Dear were to have a promising start to their event over the first two tests. They followed it up in the second stage through Clocaenog Forest with another fastest time and improved their lead by a further 4 seconds, this time over Ian Bainbridge & Will Atkins in the VW Polo.

Photo: Matthew Hirst & Declan Dear | By Andrew Scott

However, through the shortest stage of that morning loop, 4.73 miles of Brenig, Hirst & Dear would suffer yet another blow to their 2023 season scorecard. The Fiesta picked up some damage to its radiator and the pair would eventually retire from the event scoring yet another DNF.

With Hirst & Dear out of the picture, the scrap for the GoldStar honors would fall to the likes of Thompson, Bainbridge and Daniel Sigurðarson, however, Bainbridge was then forced to retire the VW Polo at the refuel before checking into service back at Llandudno.

Photo: Russ Thompson & Stephen Link | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

The afternoon loop was impacted by localised traffic issues, and the repeated run through Elsi (SS4) was canned which left just the final 13.11-mile blast through the Clocaenog to Brenig stage left. Thompson and Co-Driver Link had a lead of well over a minute to Norwegians, Daniel Sigurðarson & Ásta Sigurdardóttir who were out in a Ford Fiesta.

Photo: Daniel Sigurðarson & Ásta Sigurdardóttir | By Andrew Scott

Russ Thompson & Stephen Link were able to bring their Mitsubishi EVO 9 home to secure their maiden BTRDA GoldStar win and according to the BTRDA folks, their records show that the last time a B13 class car won a round was way back in 2016.

Photo: Russ Thompson & Stephen Link | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media


The SilverStar award would be where the main focus of attention would be at the final round and it was all eyes on the race to the title between a pair of MK2 Escorts being driven by Ben Friend and Boyd Kershaw. Friend and Co-Driver Cliffy Simmons picked up their third victory of the season last time out in Yorkshire but once dropped scores were taken into account, it was Kershaw & Keegan Rees who would lead the standings coming into the final round in North Wales.

Friend & Simmons drew first blood on the opener in Elsi, posting a time that was over 10 seconds quicker than the Opel Adam of Robert Proudlock & Steven Brown. Callum Griffiths in the Fiesta ST rounded out the top three fastest SilverStar crews on the opener but Kershaw was a little slower off the mark in his MK2 Escort, being another 10-odd seconds down on Griffiths.

Photo: Ben Friend & Cliffy Simmons | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

Friend & Simmons clearly wanted the SilverStar title and went on a bit of a charge, securing the next two stage wins in Clocaenog Forest and Brenig, which earned the pair a lead of some 20 odd seconds over Proudlock & Brown; but what about Friends’ main Championship concern?

Well, Kershaw was cumulatively some 30+ seconds off the pace of Friend over the morning loop of stages. At the service halt back in Llandudno, Proudlock & Brown had to retire their Opel Adam, which promoted Callum Griffiths into second and Kershaw into 3rd but where on earth was Kershaw going to find the time over the two remaining stages?

Photo: Boyd Kershaw & Keegan Rees | By Andrew Scott

The second pass of Elsi was dropped making the challenge even more unobtainable for Kershaw; to find 34.9 seconds over the final 13.11 miles was out of the question really. But hang on caller, that final stage of the year would see last-minute drama for Friend and Simmons, the pair picked up a puncture but were able to continue on to the finish. They had not only lost the rally win but had lost a chunk of time, dropping to 5th and had all but assumed had lost the fight for the title.

Photo: Boyd Kershaw & Keegan Rees | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

Although Boyd Kershaw & Keegan Rees had inherited the win of the rally on the final stage with Callum Griffiths & William Lewis also bringing the Fiesta ST home in second; following some number crunching back at Rally HQ, it emerged that actually Ben Friend and Cliffy Simmons had pipped them to the title by a single point.

Photo: Ben Friend & Cliffy Simmons | By Andrew Scott

After 8 events, covering some 50+ stages and approx. 340 competitive miles, the SilverStar title would be won by a single point on the final stage of the final rally of the year! now this is the kind of end to a Championship title battle we like to see!


Like the GoldStar, the BronzeStar title had also been wrapped up at the previous outing in Yorkshire by Nigel & Karen Jenkins, but that did not stop them from putting in an appearance in their Vauxhall Nova on these World Class Welsh tests.

The newly crowned champs, like the majority of the season, would line up against a pair of Nissan Micra’s driven by the likes of Dylan Fowler-Bishop and Ashley Francis-Adams.

Francis-Adams alongside Co-Driver Mark Ammonds were the ones to be the quickest off the mark in the opening 9 mile stage in Elsi. However, that was just 0.4 seconds quicker than Jenkins, to add to that, Fowler-Bishop & Dan Evans were only another half a second down in third.

Photo: Ashley Francis-Adams & Mark Ammonds | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

With less than a second separating the top three on that opener, the initial sign was that the final round of the year could potentially deliver a bit of a scrap.

However, Jenkins was clearly lulling everyone into false hopes here as at the stop line of the very next stage in Clocaenog Forest, he put that idea well and truly to bed having taken some 20-odd seconds out of two Micra’s.

Photo: Nigel & Karen Jenkins | By Andrew Scott

A short 4.7-mile blast in Brenig delivered the Jenkins pairing around another 8 seconds and they were heading back to the Llandudno Service with a lead of around 30 seconds over Fowler-Bishop & Evans, with Francis-Adams & Ammonds a further 12 seconds down in third.

With SS4 the second’s pass of Elsi cancelled, Nigel & Karen Jenkins had an ample buffer of time so they could ease off a tad in the final 13-mile Cloc-Brenig test. The pair would take to the top step of the BronzeStar podium for their sixth and final time this season, which rounded out their successful BTRDA season in style.

Photo: Nigel & Karen Jenkins | By Andrew Scott

It was of little consolation to Dylan Fowler-Bishop & Dan Evans that they picked up that final stage win, which would also sure up their runners-up spot on the podium ahead of Ashley Francis-Adams & Mark Ammonds in third.

Photo: Dylan Fowler Bishop & Dan Evans | By Andrew Scott

But there was other news which came from Fowler-Bishop’s second place here, and that was that this was not enough to secure second in the overall Championship.

Behind, Lewis Hooper alongside Co-Driver Rhys Edwards in the RF Nissan Micra came home in 5th which was enough to pick up second in the BronzeStar by just two points.

Photo: Lewis Hooper & Rhys Edwards | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media


On the Historic front, there was a bit of a poor showing in numbers, Ben Friend & Cliffy Simmons would be up against Ernie & Karen Graham in the hunt for the Historic Cup title.

However, due to the fact that there were no other registered competitors in the Historic field on the event to potentially influence the outcome, a win for Friend & Simmons would still not mathematically be enough to secure the Historic Cup title. Unless some misfortune were to strike Graham in the H1/2 Class MK1 Ford Escort which would prevent him from finishing the event, it would therefore be an unlikely outcome.

Photo: Ben Friend & Cliffy Simmons | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

Friend & Simmons in their H3/4 Class MK2 Escort would top the timings on all three of the morning’s stages and with the cancellation of the penultimate stage, SS4 Elsi2, they were at least looking likely to take the final rally win of the seasons as a consolation prize.

However, through that final stage, the pair picked up a puncture which on this long stage lost them a chunk of time. The rally win was lost as was the 2023 Historic Cup title which was indeed scooped up by Ernie and Karen Graham.

Photo: Ernie & Karen Graham | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

Final Thoughts

The 2023 MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series had once again delivered, every event had rightfully fulfilled its worthiness in the Championship. There were ample battles across the field of classes, with the full scale of emotions from triumph to heartbreak, which reassures that this series still remains one of the nation’s favorite’s to go out and compete in.

Words & Feature Photo By Andy Cook | Xlerate.Media