Matthew Hirst

Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Ford Fiesta R5). Pic: Paul Mitchell

Matthew Hirst And Declan Dear Set To Be Crowned Pirelli Welsh Rally Champions

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By Paul Evans

Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear are set to become Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally champions for a record-equalling third time as they take an unassailable lead into the final round of the all-gravel series, the Wyedean Stages Rally on Saturday.

The defending champions have led the series since the beginning of the season, winning the opening four rounds in their Delta Salvage/Witham Group Ford Fiesta R5.

But having been unable to start the Phil Price Memorial Woodpecker Stages and then retiring on the most recent Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally meant that their once handsome lead had been eroded to just 10 points.

It looked like the Wyedean would be a straight head-to-head fight between Hirst/Dear and Russ Thompson/Stephen Link for the title – until pre-event engine problems with their Dunnow Plant Mitsubishi Evo 9 forced the 2019 Pirelli Welsh runners-up to withdraw from the event.

This leaves Hirst/Dear on course to secure their third Pirelli Welsh title in four years and aiming to add to their Wyedean victories of 2019 and ’22.

Simon Rogers currently holds second place, and whilst the two scores to drop rule means that he can’t win the title outright, the runners-up spot would be the highest finishing position for the rapid Radlett driver.

Co-driven by James How, the Wyedean hasn’t always been a lucky rally for the MacWhirter Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 6 driver, as his last finish on the event was in 2017.

Martyn Andrews is four points behind in third, having scored highly on all six previous rounds in his Opie Oils Subaru Impreza STi N12.

Such has been the Welwyn Garden City pilot’s performance this year that he won the Welsh Challenge title some time ago, while Steve Greenhill has also secured the Welsh Challenge co-drivers’ crown and leads the overall co-driver’s standings.

Wug Utting arrives at the final round in fifth and could still finish third in the series. Co-driven by Bob Stokoe, he’s had a fantastic season in his Geoff Jones Motorsport-prepared Subaru Impreza N12b – and having travelled from his home in Gatwick (the Surrey village, not the airport) to every round this year, the Wyedean is his ‘local’ Pirelli Welsh event.

Bob Morgan will be aiming to finish the season off on a high in his Winner Garage Škoda Fabia R5. He and co-driver Ade Williams took home third placed points on the Woodpecker, and they’ll be aiming for another Pirelli Welsh podium finish on this their local event.

Nik Elsmore is a two-time winner of the rally and whilst he doesn’t compete as much as he used to (this will be this third Pirelli Welsh start this year) he is still a force to be reckoned with.

Co-driven by Pauline Nash, expect some fast times from the local driver in his CDS Taxis & Private Hire Mitsubishi Evo 9.

Another rapid Mitsubishi driver to watch is Rob Wilson. He might be in an older Evo 7, but that didn’t stop the Ledbury driver taking the Pirelli Welsh win on the Woodpecker and two other podium results this year.

The 2022 Welsh Junior, Welsh Challenge and class W13 champion will be co-driven this time by Martin Haggett.

Steve Hollis/Tim Currie had a great run last time out on the Cambrian Rally, although a broken exhaust manifold on the final stage cost them half a dozen places.

You can’t miss the sight and sound of their unique V6 Jaguar-engined Volkswagen Golf V R32, which will be aiming for its best result of the season.

Colin Minton has been flying in the second half of the season – so much so that his co-driver Bonnie Papper became Welsh Junior co-driver champion two rallies ago.

The Swindon driver will be looking for his second top 10 finish of the season, as he contests the event in his Ignition Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5.

The new driver/co-driver partnership of Colin Griffiths/Marc Morgan is working extremely well, and the pair will be aiming for another good result in their Subaru Impreza STi.

Also hoping to end the 2023 season well will be Geoff Cottrill/Nathan Crewe (Mitsubishi Evo 9), Rob and Ashley Aslett (Rigfone Electric Contractors Subaru Impreza) and Richard Ceen/Alun Hayward in their MSL Motorsport-prepared Coedwigaeth Pencelyn-backed Ford Fiesta R5.

Organised by Dean Motor Club, the 45th running of the Wyedean will contain seven special stages totalling 41 miles in the picturesque Forest of Dean.

There will be three stages in the morning, a midday service halt at Coleford, followed by a re-run of the three stages, a return for a final service and finally a run through a single stage before the finish. The first car will leave the start at Folly Farm in Coleford at 08:00 and return there for the finish at 17:00. Rally headquarters will be at the nearby Forest Hills Golf Club.

Spectator information is available at: wyedeanstages.co.uk.

The Wyedean Rally 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.

Further details on the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship can be found online at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk.

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