By Paul Evans
Matt Hirst and Declan Dear won the 2019 Pirelli Motorsport UK Welsh Forest Rally Championship in style by taking outright victory on the final round of the series, the Winner Garage Wyedean Stages Rally.
Russ Thompson and Andy Murphy led the Championship going into the Forest of Dean finale, only needing a solid finish to clinch the title. But when they retired with mechanical problems on the opening stage, that gave Hirst and Dear an opportunity to steal the title in their similar Mitsubishi Evo 9.
It would be no easy task for Hirst, as the 2018 Welsh Junior Champion still needed an outright win to steal the crown.
With torrential rain in the days leading up to the rally leaving conditions in the stages treacherously slippery, the slightest driving error could be heavily penalised. While those conditions suggested it would be a day to favour four-wheel drive machinery, at the finish eight out of the top 10 cars were rear-wheel drive Ford Escorts.
Lying third overall after the opening stage, Hirst moved up to second place on SS2 before taking the lead on the next stage – which he retained all the way to the finish of the event in Mitcheldean.
That enabled him to snatch the drivers’ title from the unfortunate Thompson by just two points.
Following the event, Hirst admitted they had written of his chances of winning the championship three events ago. He sympathised with his rivals who lost out so narrowly following a great season-long battle, but he said the win was a great follow up for him and Declan after their victory in the RAVENOL Welsh Challenge last season.
Second place points from the event sealed third place overall for Tom Llewellin, the Historic specification Ford Escort driver adding this to his already settled Junior and Two-Wheel Drive titles. The young Pembrokeshire driver had to survive a first stage spin and a trip into a ditch on SS3, and described the achievement as a great finish to the year adding that the Welsh series is a great championship with great competition.
Third place on the rally went to Richard Ceen and Hamish Campbell. On only his second rally in a Fiesta R5, Ceen took a slightly cautious approach for the first run through the stages, upping his pace second time through.
Josh Taylor and Heather Merrison went into the event leading class B13 and were looking for a finish to take the Championship class honours. Electrical problems cost them four minutes on the opening stage but they bounced back to take seventh quickest time on SS2. Taylor later described what happened on the very next stage: “We went a little fast into a slippery downhill square right. We avoided the tree but then ended up crashing into a rock face, which almost sent us down into the River Wye which meant rally over. I guess after a year without an off we were due one.” Despite that they still take the Championship Class award ahead of Richard Hill and Keith Gapper.
Keith Gapper and Jordan Wilkinson tackled the first three stages without a heated windscreen, leaving them with limited visibility. They then suffered a spin on SS5 before completing the final stage without an intercom.
With Tom Llewellin having already secured the drivers’ category in the RAVENOL Welsh Challenge, co-driver honours went to Tom Murphy. A strong run by BMW pairing Andy Fox and Jaime Lee-Fox secured second place for them with third place amongst the drivers going to Josh Taylor while Simon Jones finished third amongst the co-driver.
Wrexham’s Jamie Edwards was co-driving for Ian Bainbridge in the top seeded Skoda Fabia R5. They led the event, before sliding off the road at slow speed on SS3. They were pushed back by marshals and spectators and despite the big time loss continued – until they suffered a puncture and called it a day. Graham Middleton/Steve McPhee retired with clutch problems in their Mitsubishi Mirage R5 and Phil Collins/Den Golding were forced out when a front strut broke on their Opel Ascona 400.
Over 130 competitors registered for the 2019 Pirelli Motorsport UK Welsh Forest Rally Championship and it is reflection of the competitive nature of the series that just two points separated the top two crews after eight rallies and more than 300 stage miles.
All the award winners will receive their trophies at the annual WAMC dinner, which will take place at The Hotel Metropole in Llandrindod Wells on January 25.
Wyedean Stages Rally – top 10 finishers
1. Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Mitsubishi Evo 9)….45mins 58secs
2. Alex Allingham/Ross Weir (Ford Escort Mk2)….47mins 00secs
3. Tom Llewellin/Peredur Wyn Davies (Ford Escort Mk2)….47mins 31secs
4. Mark Griffiths/Matt Rogers (Ford Escort)….47mins 55secs
5. Ben Friend/Cliff Simmons (Ford Escort Mk2)….48mins 28secs
6. Tim Freeman/Paul Williams (Ford RS1800)….49mins 05secs
7. Jason Gardner/Mike Jode (Ford Escort)….49mins 20secs
8. Richard Ceen/Hamish Campbell (Ford Fiesta R5)….50mins 01secs
9. Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner (Ford Escort Mk2)….50mins 16secs
10. Mike Simpson/Dale Gibbons (Ford Escort Mk1)….50mins 31secs