WELSH / RD1 / RALLY NORTH WALES 202307/04/2023
The 2023 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship season got underway at the Get Jerky Rally North Wales (March 25), where a World Class lineup of Welsh Gravel tests awaited the crews to begin the first of this seven-round Championship calendar.
Organised by the Wolverhampton & South Staffordshire Car Club, Rally North Wales welcolmed Get Jerky as the title sponsor to the event this year and Welshpool welcomed the event itself with open arms into its town centre. 8 Stages (4 of repeated) were laid on, covering some 44 competitive miles which offered up an ideal challenge for the Welsh crews to begin their 2023 Championship campaign with.
The morning began in somewhat stark contrasting conditions to what was experienced on this very event last year, where the sun shone. This time around it was a wet and it would be mud and not dust that would be the issue; however, the opening stage was well rested having not been used in competition for over a year.
Two times Welsh National Rally Champions, Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear would be lining up in their Ford Fiesta R5 car to begin their title defence and would also be aiming to secure their hat-trick of Rally North Wales wins. However, the Champs would struggle with the grip levels early on and were beating off the mark on the opening stage of the rally through Dyfnant Forest.
Irish brothers Jordan & Paul Hone were the fastest crew over the first 8 miles through Dyfnant in their Ford Fiesta R5 car, stopping the clocks just 2 seconds quicker than Hirst. Historic crew, Robert Gough & Paul Morris were the third quickest of the Welsh registered crews in their rear-wheel drive MK2 Ford Escort.
Photo: Jordan & Paul Hone | By Andrew Scott
The crews headed west to the Dyfi Forest complex for a group of three stages, beginning with a 5.5-mile stage in the eastern side of Gartheiniog and here is where Hirst & Dear switched things up a notch to take charge of the rally. After having that rude awakening from the Hone brothers on that first stage, Hirst reacted straight away by securing his first-stage win of the day, which was 10 seconds quicker than Hone.
Photo: Matthew Hirst & Declan Dear | By GF Rally Images
That initial pace of the Hone brothers on the first two tests of the day would all amount to nothing in Stage 3, Big Ray as they were forced to retire from the rally. Gough now found himself the best of the rest in his Historic Spec Escort from the 1980s and was more than a minute and a half behind the rally leaders Hirst & Dear. A further 16 seconds back from Gough, was a similar spec MK2 Escort that was being piloted by Richard Jordan.
Photo: Robert Gough & Paul Morris | By Andrew Scott
Three stages down and our reigning Champs had already built up a sizable lead with the nearest 4WD competitor (Martyn Andrews & Steve Greenhill) nearly two minutes adrift in their Subaru Impreza. It was looking like the overall podium would likely include a couple of rear-wheel drive Historic MK2 Escorts before the halfway point in the rally had even been reached.
Photo: Matthew Hirst & Declan Dear | By Andrew Scott
The final stage before the mid-day service through Dyfi Forest delivered Hirst and Dear their third stage win of the morning and the pair were heading back to service in Welshpool with a 26-second advantage over Martyn Andrews & Steve Greenhill in the Subaru Impreza. Rounding off the top three of the Welsh crews were Robert Gough & Paul Morris, a further 1 minute 40 down in their MK2 Escort.
Back out after service and the repeated run through Gartheiniog was canned due to an accident, nominal times were awarded and the crews re-routed onto SS6 Big Ray 2. With just three stages to undertake in the afternoon loop, Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear got the hammer down to take a string of stage wins, the pair were on course for thier Rally North Wales Hatrick. They entered the final 8-mile stage in Dyfnant Forest with more than 3 minutes to the nearest Welsh registered competitor, which was still Gough in the MK2 Escort.
Photo: Matthew Hirst & Declan Dear | By Andrew Scott
Matthew Hirst alongside Co-Driver Declan Dear successfully navigated that final stage in their Ford Fiesta R5 to secure their third consecutive Rally North Wales victory, crossing the finish line with well over three and half minutes in their back pockets. With such a convincing win at the opening round of the Welsh Championship, where the rest of the 4WD field was simply outgunned; Hirst and Dear had made the perfect start to their 2023 Welsh Rally Championship campaign.
Crossing the finish line back in Welshpool town centre in second were Robert Gough & Paul Morris. The pair, although had a troubled morning in their Ford Escort MK2 fighting with a number of gremlins, they ploughed on and were rewarded with second overall in the Welsh Championship; bringing it home just 12 seconds ahead of Richard Jordan in his similar spec MK2 Escort.
Jordan alongside Co-Driver James Gratton-Smith had a strong afternoon loop and was able to get the better of the more modern spec 4WD Mitsubishi EVO6 of Simon Rogers & Jack Bowen by 15 seconds to take up the third spot on the overall Welsh podium. Rounding off the top 5 was another of the Historic crews, Rudi Lancaster & Guy Weaver in their MK2 Escort RS1800, after losing time in the morning loop with a puncture in SS4 they had a much better afternoon.
Kiwi Boyd Kershaw kicked off his 2023 Welsh Rally Championship season with a strong performance at the opening round. In the wet and muddy conditions of the morning loop, Kershaw alongside Co-Driver Keegan Rees racked up a full house of 2WD category fastest stage times in their rear-wheel drive MK2 Ford Escort.
Photo: Boyd Kershaw & Keegan Rees | By Andrew Scott
The 2022 Welsh Two Wheel Drive Champs was leading the front-wheel drive Ford Fiesta R2T of Tony Simpson & Glyn Thomas by well over a minute by the time they had reached the mid-day service halt back in Welshpool. Iwan Roberts & Daniel Jones were third in the 2WD field and were a further 12 seconds off the pace at the midpoint after having a troubled morning in their G3 Ford Escort. With Brake issues in the opening stage and then oil pressure concerns in the second, they would be lucky just to make it back to service.
Photo: Iwan Roberts & Daniel Jones | By Andrew Scott
However, Roberts & Jones battled on and were able to pick up just the one fastest stage time in SS6, the second pass of Big Ray in the afternoon’s loop. Normal service was resumed soon after, with Kershaw and Rees picking up the remaining three stages to romp home with their first Welsh National two-wheel drive victory of the year. Crossing the finish line back in Welshpool with 1 minute 24 seconds in hand, Boyd Kershaw and Keegan Rees had picked things up exactly where they had left them at the end of last year.
Photo: Tony Simpson & Gyn Thomas | By GF Rally Images
Tony Simpson alongside last-minute stand-in Co-Driver Glyn Thomas had a good day in the office in their Ford Fiesta R2T, despite leaving their third gear behind somewhere in the final Dyfnant Forest stage. A second place in the Welsh 2WDs + top W4 crew honours at only the opening round was a great way to kick off their year. They were able to fend off the G3 Escort of Iwan Roberts & Daniel Jones who rounded off the Welsh 2WD podium a further 15 seconds down.
Photo: James Lepley & Simon Jones | By Andrew Scott
Elsewhere James Lepley picked up the fastest Junior honours, despite this event being his first time competing on these stages. The young MK2 Ford Escort pilot “gave it a good go” and was quicker than the Griffiths brothers, Callum and Liam who finished second and third respectively in their MK1 Ford RS2000 & Ford Fiesta ST machines.
The opening round of the Welsh Championship proved to be a good day to be driving a Historic spec MK2 Ford Escort. Robert Gough began his day in Dyfnant forest finding good grip, whilst others struggled to find traction in the wet and muddy conditions. Gough and Co-Driver Paul Morris opened up the proceedings 6 seconds quicker than the MK2 Escort of Richard Jordan & James Gratton-Smith.
Photo: Robert Gough & Paul Morris | By GF Rally Images
Gough followed that up in the next one through Gartheiniog but in the following stage in Big Ray, Rudi Lancaster and Alan Walker both managed to get the better of him. Fear not, Gough and Morris kept their heads down and returned fire in the final stage of the morning loop, Dyfi Main to lead the Welsh Historics field by 19 seconds at the halfway point. Richard Jordon was 10 seconds ahead of Adam Walker who was rounding out the top three heading in the service back at Welshpool.
Jordan and Gratton-Smith came out fighting after service, and although the second pass of Gartheiniog was cancelled, the pair secured the fastest times of the Welsh Historic crews in SS6 Big Ray2 and SS7 Dyfi Main. However, Gough still had a lead of some 7 seconds heading into the final stage of the event, Dyfnant 2.
Photo: Robert Hough & Paul Morris | By Andrew Scott
Robert Gough and Co-Driver Paul Morris held their nerve and signed off with the fastest Welsh Historics stage time in the final stage of the rally to secure the top spot on the Welsh Rally Championships Historic podium (+W9 Class honours). Crossing the finish line in Welshpools Town Centre with 12 seconds to Richard Jordan & James Gratton-Smith.
Photo: Richard Jordan & James Gratton-Smith | By Andrew Scott
Rounding off the podium and a further 27 seconds back in third, were Rudi Lancaster & Guy Weaver in their MK2 Ford Escort RS1800; they just pipped Alan Walker & John Connor to the final podium place by 2 seconds.
Photo: Rudi Lancaster & Guy Weaver | By GF Rally Images
NEXT TIME …
The Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship relocates a little further south to Builth Wells on April 15th for the Rally Nuts Stages. Where a strong lineup of Welsh Gravel tests such as Myherin and Hafren Forest await the crews for the second round of the series.