Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear

Rally North Wales winners Matthew Hirst and Declan Dear. Pic: Paul Mitchell Photography

Matthew Hirst Hits A Rally North Wales Hat-Trick As Ryland James Remains 600 Not Out

By Paul Evans

Matthew Hirst celebrated a hat-trick of Get Jerky Rally North Wales wins on Saturday to launch the defence of his Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship title in ominous fashion – while the Welshpool-based event was also a special one for St Clears co-driver Ryland James, who notched up his 600th rally start.

Ryland James Ryland James – 600 not out.

In a rallying career spanning seven decades and 54 years, James guided Carmarthen’s Gareth Lewis home to a second in class (and 50th overall) result in their Ford Escort RS2000 Mk1 – proving that he’s finally got the hang of route notes and time cards!

It’s the inspiration, advice and encouragement from seasoned competitors like James that ensures that Wales continues to produce plenty of young rally talent.

And this is true of Sam Weller, as Rally North Wales was an event he’ll remember for a different reason.

Sam Weller 16-year old Sam Weller co-driving on Rally North Wales. Pic: Paul Mitchell Photography.

The 16-year-old from Brecon has already contested 35 rallies and is the current BTRDA Targa road rally champion – and this was his first multi-venue stage event.

Running last car on the road, Welshpool was dark and largely deserted by the time he guided Charlie Campbell’s Subaru Impreza down Broad Street and over the finish line, but it was an excellent performance by the youngster nonetheless.

Back at the front, Hirst and co-driver Declan Dear were in a class of their own – winning the 45 stage mile gravel rally through Dyfnant, Gartheiniog, Big Ray and Dyfi forests by just over two minutes in their Delta Salvage Ford Fiesta R5.

They’d won the event in 2019 and 2022 – and both previous times they’d gone on to claim the Welsh title.

And on this form, they’re odds on favourites to do that again this year.

“When you’ve built up a nice gap at the top of the leaderboard by the middle of the event it’s yours to lose from then on, so we’re pleased to have reached the finish here in Welshpool’s town centre,” said Hirst.

“We underestimated the grip levels on the opening stage and then had a couple of moments when we were pushing after that, but everything has gone really well all day.”

Alan Carmichael, co-drive by Ammanford’s Claire Williams, finished second in their Hyundai i20 R5, the pair rallying together again for the first time in over a year.

Gavin Edwards was hoping for a good result, but the Caernarfon driver (co-driven by Caron Tomlinson) retired his Ford Fiesta R5 at the Dolgellau midday service halt after a morning dogged by brake issues.

Despite wet and muddy conditions, particularly on the morning’s loop of four stages, the top rear-wheel drive cars did exceptionally well against their four-wheel drive opposition.

Not only did Robert Gough score top points in the Restruct Welsh Historic W9 class, the Ludlow driver also took home second placed overall Pirelli Welsh points.

It hadn’t been plane-sailing for him and co-driver Paul Morris either, for they had starter motor failure and hydraulic fluid leaking onto the clutch and brake pedals in the morning and wrong tyres in the afternoon.

There was a fierce family battle in the Welsh Juniors between the Presteigne Tyre Services supported Ford Fiesta ST brothers Callum and Liam Griffiths. Both had great runs, although it was Callum (co-driven by William Lewis) who finished ahead of Liam (co-driven by Daniel James) this time.

Callum Griffiths Callum Griffiths took Welsh Junior honours, beating his brother Liam. Pic: Paul Mitchell Photography.

Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner had a great day in their Brace’s Bakery Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1. Softer tyres in the afternoon improved things, as the Blackwood driver won the Welsh Historic class W8.

Jonathan Brace and Paul Spooner Jonathan Brace and Paul Spooner were on Welsh class winning form in their Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1. Pic: Paul Mitchell Photography.

Brynmor Pierce/Matt Baddeley won the Welsh Historic class W7 in their Peugeot 309 GTi, despite not having a working intercom for the entire event.

Having done a lot of work to his Talbot Sunbeam over the winter, Bala’s Julian Birley said the car was the best it has ever been as he and co-driver Emyr Hall romped home to Historic class W5 victory.

Defending Hockly Motorsport-supported Welsh 2WD champions Boyd Kershaw/Keegan Rees won the Welsh 2WD category, despite early sequential gear down shift problems in their Flying Kiwi Ford Escort Mk2.

Iwan Roberts Jnr. lost the brakes on his Roberts of Ffestiniog Ford Escort G3 on the opening stage.

It didn’t get much better on SS2, when the car lost oil pressure meaning that for the rest of the event he dare not rev the engine over 6,000rpm.

He and co-driver Daniel Jones still reached the finish to score valuable third place Welsh 2WD points.

Montgomery’s Ricky Crone suffered electrical issues in his MS Textiles Ford Escort Mk2, which forced him to skip three stages in the morning.

He and co-driver Ifan Devine re-joined in the afternoon, but with hefty penalties for missing SS2, 3 and 4 they were classified last.

Gareth Edwards had taken two years to build his Ford Escort Mk2 and with fellow Caernarfon man Ifan Rowlands alongside was going well until he stopped in SS5.

Gethin Price had spent the last six months repairing his RKP Haulage Nissan Micra, having rolled it last time out on Rali Ceredigion.

Gethin Price Gethin Price damaged his Nissan Mirca but still won his class. Pic: Paul Mitchell Photography.

The Machynlleth driver was on a road section to a stage when he was hit head-on by other competitor travelling in the oppositive direction.

With front panel damage, he and co-driver Steven Brown continued and were rewarded with a Welsh class W2 win.

Prestatyn’s Adam Clews was enjoying his first event in a Ford Fiesta R2, but he and co-driver Mark Thomas were forced to retire the car when a fuel pump problem was discovered in service.

Wrexham’s Dan and Cyril Jones had a few moments in the morning and clipped a bale in the afternoon but survived to win the Hockly Motorsport-backed class W10 in their Jones Brothers/North Wales Joinery Vauxhall Nova.

If you missed it, the live streaming coverage from Rally North Wales remains available to view on the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship and Special Stage TV Facebook pages.

Round 2 of the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship is the Rallynuts Stages on Saturday 15 April, which is based at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd.

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