Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship - Hirst aims to extend Championship lead on the Nicky Grist Stages
Posted on June 06, 2023
Matthew Hirst takes a healthy 22-point Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship lead into the Nicky Grist Stages (Saturday 8 July) - and the defending champion will be favourite to score his fourth win of the 2023 season in his Pirelli-shod Delta Salvage/Witham Group Ford Fiesta R5.
The Doncaster driver returns to Builth Wells reunited with regular co-driver Declan Dear, who was away on honeymoon for the previous round. They are looking forward to repeating their Nicky Grist Stages Interclub victory of last year, after they won the event for the first time in 2022.
"The Nicky Grist Stages is probably the event that I most look forward to in the entire year," says Hirst.
"The mid-Wales stages are great - nice and smooth, flat-out and it's normally scorching hot and it's a great challenge. I love the Llyn Login, Crychan, Halfway and Monument stages and the organisers always do something to spice the route up a little bit."
Simon Rogers is enjoying a magnificent season in his MacWhirter Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi and lies second in the overall Pirelli Welsh drivers' standings and leads class W13. He has been partnered by three different co-drivers in three rounds, but is back with regular navigator James How this time.
There has been little to separate Rogers and Martyn Andrews this year, with just seconds between them at the end of all three rallies. The Opie Oils Subaru Impreza STi N12 driver is third in the overall standings, just five points behind the Evo 6 pilot, and leads the Welsh Challenge category, while his navigator Steve Greenhill leads the overall co-drivers' and Welsh Challenge standings.
Bob Morgan/Ade Williams finished third on the recent Sweet Lamb Rally Time Trail, which was only their second outing of the year in their Winner Garage Å koda Fabia R5 and a good test ahead of the Nicky Grist Stages.
Peter Baylis is an impressive fifth overall and, together with co-driver Paul Godden, will be looking for his fourth high points score in his Artificial Lawn Company Mitsubishi Evo 9. The same is true of Daniel Moss, who is just four points behind after a consistently high scoring year so far. He and co-driver Samuel Davies are still very much in with a shout of the title and will be aiming for a good haul of points in their pink Hurst Haylage Mitsubishi Evo 10, pictured below.
Rob Wilson just missed out on a Pirelli Welsh podium on last year's Nicky Grist Stages - which set him on course to eventually become the 2022 Welsh Junior, Welsh Challenge and class W13 champion, as well as finishing runner-up in the overall drivers' standings. The young Herefordshire driver and Richard Crozier will be aiming for the top spot this time in their Ravenol Mitsubishi Evo 7.
Colin Minton/Bonnie Papper have had clutch and brake problems this year but given a clear run they'll be challenging for victory in their Ignition Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5. Steve Black/Jack Morton should also go well in their 586 Sports-prepared Pirelli-shod Pallas Connections Ford Fiesta Rally2, as the car is swapped to gravel spec having just won the Argyll Rally.
Russ Thompson doesn't do as many rounds as he used to, but the 2019 Pirelli Welsh Championship runner-up is still very quick and, together with Stephen Link, will be aiming for a podium in his Dunnow Plant Mitsubishi Evo 9 - as will Paul Walker/Geraint Thomas (Green Paw Subaru Impreza STI N11), Richard Ceen/Dylan Thomas (MSL Motorsport Fiesta R5) and Steve Hollis/Tim Currie (Volkswagen Golf V R32).
Other 4WD crews enjoying a good season and aiming to increase their Pirelli Welsh points tally include David Tomlin/Keith Ashley (Axon Ford Fiesta R5), Wug and Max Utting (Subaru Impreza N12b), Colin Griffiths/Sion Rowlands (ex-Mikko Hirvonen/Alister McRae Subaru Impreza STI), Rob and Ashley Aslett (Rigfone Electric Contractors Subaru Impreza), Tom McKeown/Neil Thomas (Subaru Impreza), Nik Elsmore/Rob Fagg (CDS Taxis & Private Hire Mitsubishi Evo 9), Charlie Campbell/Jon Hawkins (Subaru Impreza) and Geoff Cottrill/Nathan Crewe (Mitsubishi Evo 9).
Robert Gough has been on inspired form this year, winning the Restruct Welsh Historic class W9 on the first two rounds before an engine problem interrupted his great run last time out. He may have lost the class lead to Lyn Davies/Aled Richards (Wales Motorsport-prepared Escort Mk2), but Gough (who is co-driven by Paul Morris) will be aiming to return to his winning ways - and try to maintain his wonderful fourth place in the overall drivers' standings - in his flying Escort RS1800 Mk2.
Andrew Stokes/Jonny Tad Evans lead the Historic class W8 in their Ford Escort RS1600 and will be up against the likes of Jeremy Wells (co-driven this time by Steve Suckling) and Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner in similar Mk1s. Brace led the class after two rounds but rolled out of the Plains Rally. Luckily his gorgeous RS1600 didn't sustain much damage - and he's back supplying marshals, as he usually does, with his delicious Brace's Bakery Welsh Cakes!
Julian Birley/Emyr Hall will be aiming to take the class W5 lead in their Talbot Sunbeam, Gareth Lewis/Ryland James are back in their immaculate red Ford Escort RS2000 Mk1 and will be battling for class W8 points with Gary Smith/Emma Clarke (Escort Mk1), and Ron Morgan (co-driven by Sion Jones) makes a very welcome return to the series in his Restruct Escort Mk2.
Iwan Roberts Jnr/Daniel Jones snatched the Hockly Motorsport-supported Welsh 2WD class lead last time out in their Roberts of Ffestiniog Ford Escort G3, after Boyd Kershaw/Keegan Rees (who had led after two wins) retired their Flying Kiwi Ford Escort Mk2 with a broken propshaft on the Plains, slipping to third in the points table.
Between Roberts and Kershaw is an inspired Tony Simpson, who has also won class W4 in all three outings this year in his Seacon UK Ford Fiesta Rally4. The Eccleston driver won his class on last year's Nicky Grist Stages and will this time be co-driven by Stefan Arndt. Alex Cannon/Alan Carfree are second in class W4 and will be aiming to close the gap in their Rallyworld Ford Fiesta R2.
Sideways and spectacular will be defending class W12 champions Andrew Fox/Jaime-Lee Fox (Xwatch Safety Solutions BMW 325), Dan Chester/Paul Barbet (BMW E30), Ricky Crone/Ifan Devine (MS Textiles Ford Escort Mk2), Geoff Phelps/Colin Jenkins (Hartpury Farms Escort Mk2), Tim Phelps/Elwyn Manuel (Britpart Escort Mk2), Kevin Metcalfe/Ian Jones (BMW E30),pictured above, Clive Price/Robbie Sandford (BMW Compact 318ti), David and Douglas Young (Escort), Mike Brown/Aled Davies (BMW Compact M3) and David Jones/Gwyn Price (Tanner's Arms/GJ Price Transport BMW E30).
Gethin Price take a strong class W2 lead into the event in his RKP Haulage Nissan Micra. The Machynlleth driver will this time be co-driven by Brynmore Price (who won class W7 as a driver on the opening round of the series).
They'll be chased hard by Nigel and Kaz Jenkins, who won the Hockly Motorsport-supported 1400cc class on round two in their NJ Auto Repairs Vauxhall Nova, and gravel rally rookie Dylan Fowler Bishop (co-driven by Dan Evans) in his Restruct-backed Nissan Micra.
Also aiming for a big bag of points will be defending class champions Adrian and Matthew Walk in their PartBOX Ford Ka, James Dunkley (co-driven by Jack Morris) who won his class on last year's Nicky Grist Stages, Ashley Francis-Adams/Lucy Wilding (T2 Fabrication Nissan Micra), pictured above, Chris Bush/Robert Bryn (Bushtec Recycling Opel Corsa), Luke Watts/Matt Rogers (MG ZR), Edward James/Charlie Mason (Nissan Micra) and Will Banks/Matthew Baddeley (Vauxhall Nova).
Defending champions Martin Walters/Marie Fletcher will be aiming to extend their class W10 lead in their Digger Parts Direct Honda Civic. Trying to stop them will be son and father duo Dan and Cyril Jones, who have won the class twice this year in their Howard Price Rallying/North Wales Joinery Vauxhall Nova, Alan Desbois/Peter Littlefield in their Peugeot 306 RWD, Lucy Wigley/Emma Cooper,pictured above, who won the class on round two in their Redware CitroÃ«n C2, and Michael Jenkins/Jordan Joines (Ford Fiesta).
Three different drivers have won the OnThePaceNote-supported Welsh Junior Championship class so far this year - James Lepley (Esso Escort Mk2), Eddie Lewis (Mechanical Solutions Ford Fiesta R5) and Sam Mason (Samuel Mason Rallysport Fiesta R2T) - although it's Ben Smith (Amigos Escort RS2000 Mk1),pictured above, who leads the youngsters coming into this weekend's event.
Looking for their first Junior win of the season are the rapid Griffiths brothers, Callum (co-driven by William Lewis) and Liam (co-driven by Daniel James) - who are second and third in the table and out for a win in a pair of Presteigne Tyre Services-supported Ford Fiesta STs.
Bonnie Papper leads the Welsh Junior co-driver's section, ahead of Jack Bowen, Jack Morris, Sam Weller, Ifan Devine and James Seymour (who claimed maximum points last time out).
The Nicky Grist Stages will be live streamed on the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship's and Special Stage TV's Facebook pages during the event, featuring action from all the registered competitors.
Organised by Quinton Motor Club, this year's Nicky Grist Stages is once again based in the centre of Builth Wells, with the start in Strand Street, the finish on the banks of the River Wye and the service area on the Builth Wells RFC pitch. The event contains a 22 stage mile loop through the classic and smooth mid-Wales forests of Llyn Login, Crychan, Halfway and Monument, located in and around the Epynt military range, which is first tackled in the morning and repeated in the afternoon.
Further details on the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship can be found online at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk.
Press Officer, Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship
Pictures by Paul Mitchell. Please credit 'Paul Mitchell Photography' if used.