Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear clinched the Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship title for a record-equalling third time after winning the Wyedean Stages Rally in their Delta Salvage/Witham Group Ford Fiesta R5.
Recent heavy rain had left the Forest of Dean stages very wet and slippery, and despite a cautious start Hirst admitted to a few overshoots on the morning's loop of three stages. He still led the Pirelli Welsh section and took over the overall lead of the event on the afternoon's repeat run through the stages.
Whilst the drivers' title was pretty much secure, maximum points were required for Dear to clinch the co-driver's title. With that in mind, and the desire to end the 2023 season on a high after a recent run of bad luck, Hirst made no mistakes as he took an impressive 17 second win.
"I'm delighted to have won my third Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship with my third win in a row on the Wyedean, particularly as it was such a tricky event this year," said Hirst.
"We've had a bad run recently and we needed this result to go into the winter break at peace and at one with rallying again. In sport you have good runs and bad runs and we've had both this year.
"We came to the Wyedean with the mindset of taking it steady and not making any mistakes, and to do that and win feels great. We've ended the year on a high, which is what we wanted, and I'm over the moon."
"It was a little more difficult for me to clinch the co-driver's title, but we knew what we had to do on the Wyedean," added Dear.
"Matt drove a great event, really measured in very tricky conditions, and it all came good in the end."
Rob Wilson put in another very impressive drive in his Mitsubishi Evo 7 to finish second on the Wyedean. Co-driven by Martin Haggett, the 2022 Welsh Junior champion was a lot happier once he'd changed tyres for the afternoon stages and never put a foot wrong in the challenging conditions.
Nik Elsmore admitted that Lady Luck had been his salvation in the morning, as he'd been off the road and well into the undergrowth twice on SS3. Co-driven by Pauline Nash, the local Coleford driver had a gear linkage come loose on his CDS Taxis & Private Hire Mitsubishi Evo 9 in the afternoon, making downshifts difficult - all of which made finishing third all the sweeter.
Bob Morgan's Winner Garage Å koda Fabia R5 fell onto three cylinders off the start line of the opening stage, costing him a lot of time. He and co-driver pressed on after that, wrestling the car through the muddy stages as it attempted to swap ends at every opportunity. After a pretty hard work out, Bob was happy to finish an unscathed fourth.
Simon Rogers was delighted to secure the runner-up spot in the Pirelli Welsh drivers' championship. He and co-driver James How lost time with an overshoot on SS1 - and from then on it was a case of survival in the tricky conditions. "It's so slippery, it feels like you just can't do anything right," said the MacWhirter Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 6 driver. He certainly did do a lot right, coming home a solid sixth - and clinching the class W13 and Seniors' titles.
Colin Minton ended an excellent season with a top 10 Pirelli Welsh result. Partnered by Bonnie Papper, the 2023 Welsh Junior co-driver's champion, the Swindon driver was able to find more grip in the afternoon as he put in another very good performance in his Ignition Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5. The end of season icing on the cake was the 4WD Witham Group special award, presented by Witham Group Sales Director Richard Scarbrough.
Richard Ceen/Alun Hayward also bagged a good result in their MSL Motorsport-prepared Coedwigaeth Pencelyn-backed Ford Fiesta R5 - the pair mastering the conditions to pick up some valuable Pirelli Welsh points for 12th.
Rob Aslett loved the conditions and was enjoying a favourable seeding of number 35. "It's great to see so many spectators - we're normally seeded at the back of the field, so by the time we've arrived they've all gone home," he joked. Co-driven by Ashley Aslett, his efforts were rewarded with another solid finish in his smart Rigfone Electric Contractors Subaru Impreza.
Also finishing the season on a high were Geoff Cottrill/Nathan Crewe, who put in another textbook performance in their immaculate Arnside Motorsport Mitsubishi Evo 9.
Having already secured the Welsh Challenge title, Martyn Andrews/Steve Greenhill hopes of a 100% finishing record were scuppered when they reportedly hit a post and retired their Opie Oils Subaru Impreza STi N12 on SS3. Colin Griffiths/Marc Morgan also failed to reach the finish after driveshaft issues in their Subaru Impreza STi.
Callum Griffiths is the new OnThePaceNote-supported Welsh Junior champion, after a very close and exciting battle for the title. He and co-driver William Lewis arrived at the Wyedean leading the class, but with six drivers in with a chance of winning there was much to do. Hitting a few banks on SS3 was an indication of how hard Griffiths was pushing in the morning, as the Presteigne Tyre Services Fiesta ST driver reached first service after three stages with a good lead - and with many of his Junior rivals hitting problems, one hand on the trophy. He still had to survive the remaining four stages to be sure of the title, and a "hairy moment" on SS5 got his heart racing - but in the end Griffiths secured the Junior title in style (taking home seventh place Pirelli Welsh overall points) and clinch the 2WD runners-up spot (first front-wheel drive).
Dylan Fowler Bishop (co-driven by Dan Evans) finished second Junior on the day to secure third place in the points table after another good run in his Restruct Nissan Micra.
Luke Watts (co-driven by Matt Rogers) used his local knowledge and deft car control to take his second junior podium finish of the season. The Coleford driver was on the pace right from the start and secured fourth in the Welsh Junior standings despite a few late handbrake issues with his NJ Auto Repairs MG ZR.
One of the star drives of the season has come from Sam Mason. He only passed his driving test earlier this year and hasn't even got a road car - so the only time he drives at all is when he competes on a rally. In fact, the first time he'd ever driven on a dual carriageway was on the recent Visit Conway Cambrian Rally! Despite this, he and co-driver James Seymour put in another excellent performance in their SM Autocare Ford Fiesta - despite the car having severe diff problems all day, which effectively left it in one-wheel drive - with Mason claiming the Welsh Junior runners-up crown and the class W4 title.
Callum's brother Liam was in with a chance of winning the title, but he and co-driver Daniel James broke a driveshaft in their Presteigne Tyre Services Fiesta ST at the start of SS2, which saw them spend the afternoon spectating.
Gethin Price (co-driven by Steven Brown) also retired in the morning. The young Machynlleth pilot had hit a pile of logs on SS3 after a high-speed tank slapper in his RKP Haulage Nissan Micra and retired a few miles later when a driveshaft snapped.
Iwan Roberts Jnr/Daniel Jones secured the Hockly Motorsport-supported 2WD category title after another excellent drive in their rapid Roberts of Ffestiniog Ford Escort G3. Despite finding it tricky to find both grip and rhythm, they were in a class of their own this time - winning their class and finishing a superb sixth overall.
Ricky Crone/Ifan Devine lost time in a ditch on SS3 but recovered well to finish third 2WD on the day (behind Roberts and Griffiths) and fourth in the points standings (behind Roberts, Griffiths and Boyd Kershaw) in their MS Textiles Ford Escort Mk2.
Richard Warne/Chris Deal scored their best result of the season in their CarSpares Ford Escort Mk2, while Mike Brown Snr/Nikola Brown scored their first points of the season in their BMW E36 Compact.
Geoff Phelps/Colin Jenkins slipped to fifth in the 2WD standings after a rare retirement in their Hartpury Farms Escort Mk2.
Dan Chester/Paul Barbet won class W12 on the day to secure the runners-up spot in the series, after a busy day in their Dan's Action Vehicles BMW E30. They thoroughly enjoyed the challenging conditions and were faster in the afternoon after "cleaning up" their driving - and were delighted to win the special Witham Group 2WD award.
David Jones/Glyn Price finished second in class on the day, equalling their best result of 2023, after a great drive in their Tanners Arms/GJ Price Transport BMW E30 - despite hitting a big pothole in the morning, which bent a front wing.
Michael Jenkins (co-driven by Jordan Joines) scored a brilliant class W10 victory in his Ignition Motorsport Ford Fiesta, despite a power problem getting off the start line of SS5.
Alan Desbois (co-driven by Clive 'Selwyn' Jones) survived a big 180 degree spin on a narrow section in SS1 and lost time putting his Peugeot 306 RWD back in the right direction. After that he flew, finishing third in class on the day and securing the class runners-up spot.
Martin Walters/Marie Fletcher had already been crowned class W10 champions, but a broken driveshaft on SS3 signalled their only DNF of the season in their Digger Parts Direct Honda Civic.
Dylan Fowler Bishop secured the Hockly Motorsport-supported class W2 title, after winning the class for a second time. Ashley Francis-Adams (co-driven by Tudor Jenkins) was hoping to steal the title, but he broke a driveshaft on his FB Motorsport-prepared T2 Fabrication Nissan Micra driving out of a ditch on SS1. Having missed two stages, he returned in the afternoon with heavy penalties and half points awarded.
Having won class W2 three times, Nigel and Kaz Jenkins were hopeful of a good result - although they were forced to stop after engine failure in their NJ Auto Repairs Vauxhall Nova. They had been 11th overall after the opening stage!
Graham Palmer (co-driven by Mike Webb) won class W7 for the second time this year in his PGM Caterham Specialists/Garolla Garage Doors Ford Escort Mk1. He had a slight scare in the afternoon when the throttle stuck open on SS5 and he had to slow the car down by turning off the ignition, but that didn't prevent the Hove driver scoring a great result.
Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner ended the season on a high with a class W8 win in their Dave Jenkins Motorsport-built and run Brace's Bakery Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1. It was their fourth class win from five starts, securing them the class runners-up spot. They also picked up the special Witham Group Historic award.
Charles Hopkinson/Alan Jones admitted to being on and off the road a lot but held on to score their first class W9 win on only their second outing in their stunning Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2.
Steven John Chaplin/Richard Suter hit problems halfway through SS1 when their Ford Escort Mk2 lapsed onto three cylinders. They made it to first service but retired on SS4 when the misfire returned.
Tom Llewellin made a guest appearance in his Weir Rallying Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2. Co-driven by Sion Williams, and with father and two time Wyedean winner David Llewellin watching on, the former Welsh Junior champion finished an incredible fifth overall.
Graham Thatcher made his first appearance in his magnificent TR7 V8, which had undergone a major rebuild since he purchased the car in the summer. Co-driven by Tim Samuel, he was enjoying a good run until the clutch packed in - but he promises to be back next year for a full Pirelli Welsh Historic campaign.
We also now know who will go forward for the special Historic awards, with Lyn Davies, Robert Gough, Peter Jones, Andrew Stokes, Jonathan Brace, Jeremy Wells, Graham Palmer, Brynmor Pierce, Ben Smith, Gareth Lewis, Simon Wallis, Julian Birley, Mark Tugwell and Ian Beveridge put forward for the David Stokes Historic Challenge award for drivers, and Aled Richards, Gareth Davies, James Gratton-Smith, Jonny 'Tad' Evans, Paul Spooner, Clive Jones, Ian Jones, Steven Smith, Emyr Hall and Paul Price up for the Guy Weaver award for co-drivers.
The live streamed coverage from the Wyedean Rally remains available to view on the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship
and Special Stage TV
The opening round of the 2024 Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship is the Get Jerky Rally North Wales on Saturday 16 March.
Further details on the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship can be found online at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk
. 2023 Wyedean Rally - top 10 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship finishers:
1. Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Ford Fiesta R5).......42mins 04secs
2. Rob Wilson/Martin Haggett (Mitsubishi Evo 7).......42mins 21secs
3. Nik Elsmore/Pauline Nash (Mitsubishi Evo 9).......43mins 49secs
4. Bob Morgan/Ade Williams (Å koda Fabia R5) .......44mins 16secs
5. Iwan Roberts/Daniel Jones (Ford Escort G3).......45mins 42secs
6. Simon Rogers/James How (Mitsubishi Evo 6).......46mins 06secs
7. Callum Griffiths/William Lewis (Ford Fiesta ST).......46mins 53secs
8. Ricky Crone/Ifan Devine (Ford Escort Mk2).......47mins 08secs
9. Jonathan Brace/Paul Spooner (Ford Escort RS1600 Mk1).......48mins 32secs
10. Colin Minton/Bonnie Papper (Ford Fiesta R5).......48mins 57secs2023 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally ChampionshipOverall drivers' points after Round 7:
1. Matthew Hirst.......150pts CHAMPION
2. Simon Rogers.......117pts
3. Russ Thompson.......111pts
4. Martyn Andrews.......111pts
5. Rob Wilson.......107pts
6. Iwan Roberts.......97ptsOverall co-drivers' points after Round 7:
1. Declan Dear.......125pts CHAMPION
2. Steven Greenhill.......115pts
3. Stephen Link.......111pts
4. Ade Williams.......103pts
5. Daniel Jones.......102pts
6. James How.......100pts
Pictures by Paul Mitchell. Please credit 'Paul Mitchell Photography' if used.