Matthew Hirst,pictured, got his challenge for a second Motorsport UK Pirelli Ravenol Welsh Rally Championship drivers' title off to the perfect start by winning the opening round of the 2022 series, the WKD Trained Dogs Rally North Wales.
Co-driven by Declan Dear, the 2019 champion set the fastest time on six of the eight stages held in Pantperthog, Dyfi, Big Ray and Gartheiniog forests in his Delta Salvage-backed Ford Fiesta R5+.
Having entered the midday service halt in Dolgellau with a one second lead, changing the Pirelli-shod car's suspension set up enabled Hirst to set fastest time on all the afternoon's repeat loop of four stages to stretch his advantage to a 24 second winning margin.
"The morning loop was okay," said Hirst. "The first stage felt good but the time wasn't there, the second stage didn't feel so good but we set fastest time, and then we had a very big moment on stage three so were quite cautious through Garth.
"At midday service we changed the damper clicks and it transformed the car. We were much more competitive in the afternoon and in contrast to the morning we enjoyed a nice clean run.
"It was a top job from everyone in the team this weekend. Dec was on fire on the notes and the car ran faultlessly after all the hard work put in from Gaz and Jim. This result means a lot."
Despite having not driven a top-flight R5 car in competition for two years, and without a pre-event test or shakedown, Dylan Davies, pictured, did brilliantly well to finish second in his Å koda Fabia R5+. Co-driven by Mark Glennerster, tyre management was the main issue of the day as Davies had to juggle tyres front to rear between stages to maximise traction. It meant he couldn't respond when Hirst picked up the pace in the afternoon, yet he was delighted to finish a strong second.
Tom Llewellin/Dale Bowen, pictured, enjoyed an excellent trouble-free run to third in their Brace's Bakery Mitsubishi Mirage. The 2019 Welsh Junior drivers' champion made a cautious start but soon got into a good rhythm and put in a textbook performance for a well-deserved place on the overall podium.
Bob Ceen was contesting his first rally since the 2019 WRGB National, his first Welsh Rally Championship event since 2015, his first ever event in a Ford Fiesta R5+ (having previously rallied a Subaru Impreza WRC) and his first event with co-driver Peredur Davies - yet the 2001 Welsh champion was flying in the Axes Design-backed car and finished a magnificent fourth overall.
He also won the family battle, with Benj Ceen coming home seventh in the Rally North Wales Interclub results (and eighth combined). This too was a very impressive result as it was his first rally in a four-wheel drive car, having swapped his Peugeot 106 Cup car for a mighty Ford Fiesta R5+. Despite the hugely challenging conditions, he and co-driver Dylan Thomas never put a foot wrong and their place in the top 10 was very well deserved.
Richard Ceen/Alun Hayward also reached the finish, although they lost a lot of time with day-long transmission problems which saw their Coedwigaeth Pencelyn Ford Focus WRC05 engine stall at hairpins and refusing to restart in a hurry.
John Caine/Andrew Sankey won the battle of the Subarus with a fantastic drive to sixth in the Phil Price Rally School Impreza. Caine also picks up maximum points in the Ravenol Welsh Challenge.
They secured the position on a tiebreak after Bob Morgan/Ade Williams finished on exactly the same time in their Winner Garage Fabia R5+. A small mistake on SS7 cost them a position after they had to reverse the Å koda out of a ditch, although the car ran faultlessly and has given them a strong start in the Welsh Championship.
A gearbox issue cost Lewers Firth/Shaun Lapper time on the morning loop and they set out in the afternoon aiming for a top 10 finish. This they achieved with flying colours, bringing their Firth Construction Subaru Impreza home eighth in the Interclub section (10th combined).
Paul Walker/Geraint Thomas had a good run in their Green Paw Subaru Impreza, while Wug Utting/Bob Stokoe also had a clean run and finished just outside the Interclub top 10 in their Geoff Jones Motorsport Subaru Impreza N12b.
A sensor on the gearshift kept cutting the engine on Simon Rogers' Mitsubishi Evo 6 and it was such a distraction that it cost him an enormous amount of time in the morning. Once the problem was isolated at midday service, he and co-driver James How were back up to full speed and scored a good result and a pleasing haul of Welsh points.
Josh Taylor/Will Atkins had a good maiden run in the colourful Pro-Bolt Subaru Impreza Nr4, especially after winding the diff up in the afternoon found them more grip, while Paul Davy/Roger Allan retired their Subaru Impreza N12b with a misfire at midday service.
Boyd Kershaw, pictured, had a sensational run to 10th overall on the National event in what was his first rally for six years. The Flying Kiwi admitted to scaring himself on the opening loop of stages and he was convinced that he had a puncture on SS2, which he didn't. He and co-driver Keegan Rees were even faster in the afternoon and won the Welsh 2WD section despite a late fuel pump issue.
Ashley Davies/Sam Fordham finished 20 seconds behind after a good run in their Burton Power /G&B Finch/Deranged Trucks Ford Escort RS. A puncture on SS5 cost them time, and after that their priority was to reach the finish and score Welsh Championship points.
Kevin Metcalfe/Ian Jones finished third in the Welsh 2WD section after a good run in their 3-litre BMW E30. Their morning run was faultless, although a rear puncture two miles from the end of SS6 and a stall at a hairpin on both the penultimate and last stages cost them time.
Geoff Phelps, co-driven by Colin Jenkins in the Hartpury Farms Escort, beat his brother Tim Phelps in his Britpart Ford Escort Mk2 after the latter picked up a rear puncture on SS6. He and co-driver Elwyn Manuel initially drove on the flat, but were forced to stop and change it mid-stage costing them four minutes.
The Restruct Welsh Historic classes, which includes the David Stokes Historic Challenge for drivers and the Guy Weaver Award for co-drivers, has received one of the biggest ever entries - with fantastic class battles played out for early points on Rally North Wales.
Julian Birley/Emyr Hall, pictured,got the defence of their Historic class W6 off to a great start with victory in their Talbot Sunbeam Ti 1600. The last time they were in the Dyfi forest complex it was icy, but the contrasting conditions made little difference to their speed as they flew over the now dry and dusty terrain.
Welsh Junior driver Rory McCann, co-driven by his father Paul, finished second in their Metalways Hillman Avenger.
Less than half a mile into SS1 the Lotus Twin Cam engine in the smart Metalways Ford Escort Mk1 of Mark Tugwell/Steve Pugh started to misfire. They managed to get out of the stage on three cylinders, but with oil in the boot around the dry sump tank their rally was over.
Malcolm Bayliss/Siobhan Pugh didn't get much further, retiring their 16BAO Rally Team Ford Escort Mk1 with damaged steering on SS2.
Ben Smith,pictured, has taken the early lead in both the Historic class W7 and the OnThePaceNote.co.uk supported Welsh Junior Championship after a "really good day" in the Amigos Ford Escort RS2000 Mk1. Co-driven by his father Steven, he picked up a puncture on SS5 and bent the steering on SS7 but completed an eventful afternoon with a seventh-place finish in the National section of the event.
Neal James/Kevin Jones finished runners-up in class W7 last year and, after an early misfire in their Cwm Engineering Escort Mk2, started the 2022 series with second in class this year.
Gareth Lewis/Ryland James retired their Escort RS2000 Mk1 with clutch problems on the morning loop, Peter Hinton/Lewis Sim retired their Escort on the opening stage, as did David Lloyd Roberts/Gerallt Wyn Davies on the following test.
Matt Edwards, pictured, won the Rally North Wales National event, finished fifth overall in the National/Interclub combined results and scored maximum points in the hotly contested Historic class W8 after a tough workout in the RSD-prepared Fiat Abarth 131. Co-driven by Hamish Campbell, the three time British Rally Champion said that he'd never done a more physically challenging 45 gravel stage miles. A weld on the front suspension broke early in SS2, which caused the Pirelli tyre to rub on the spring and they had to swap tyres front to rear several times to manage the issue. In the afternoon they hit a massive boulder on SS5 which bent the sump guard, subframe, rack and chassis leg which made the steering so heavy that Hamish had to hold the gearstick in fifth gear as Matt needed both hands to keep the car in a straight line!
Nick Elliott/Dave Robson finished 16 seconds behind in their Truck & Bus Wales & West Escort Mk2, after a puncture on SS5 cost them time.
Roger Chilman/Patrick Walsh finished third having driven consistently the "safe side of quick" all day in their Wales Motorsport-prepared Securcom Escort Mk2. They did however bend a TCA on SS15 and had to complete the event with heavy steering.
Rudi Lancaster/Guy Weaver damaged the suspension on their Woolacombe Holiday Parks Escort RS1800 after hitting a rock at a hairpin and then a big hole on the next stage during the afternoon loop of stages. They had to nurse the car a little to ensure a finish, picking up valuable fourth placed W8 class points.
Alan Walker/John Connor were happier on harder tyres in the afternoon, although they lost time when the coil lead jumped off twice on the final stage and they had to stop their Escort RS1800 Mk2 and reconnect it. Points for fifth in class W8 were their reward, finishing ahead of Rob Dennis/Andy Boswell in their Team Dennis Escort Mk2.
A rough section of road on SS1 threw Jonathan Brace's brand-new Brace's Bakery Escort RS1600 Mk1 high into the air, which was the last thing he wanted on his Dave Jenkins Motorsport built car's debut. A gamble with different tyres didn't pay off in the afternoon and he and co-driver Paul Spooner, who had been suffering with food poisoning all day, were pleased to reach the finish and score good Welsh points.
Defending Historic class W8 champions Paul Street/Ian Jones lost time with a series of problems in the afternoon, which included smashing a wheel on their PJS Marine Escort RS1800 Mk2, starter motor issues and intercom failure, which saw them overshoot a junction. Despite all this they reached the finish in a points-scoring position.
Gary Smith/Clive Jones finished well in their Escort Mk1, with Andrew Stokes/Jonny Tad Evans just behind in the W8 points in their similar car. The latter felt lucky to reach the finish at all, after all the wheel nuts came off the front left wheel on SS5 and they took one nut off the other three wheels to keep it attached - and it stayed on like that for the final three stages!
Last year's Welsh 2WD drivers' champion Owen McMackin has switched to a Historic-spec BJT Hire Centre Ford Escort Mk2 for this year and his second event in the car turned out to be an eventful one. Co-driven by Dai Roberts, he suffered a misfire on the opening stage (cured by flicking to the second fuel pump) and survived a spin on SS2 and 4. The afternoon wasn't smooth either, as they lost three minutes stopping to change a puncture on SS7.
Philip Clarke/Steven Brown stalled at a hairpin in the morning and recovered to bag some early points. Ron Morgan/Marc Clatworthy had a good run in their stunning Wales Motorsport-built Restruct Escort Mk2, finishing ahead of Steve Ward/Miles Cartwright in an Escort RS1800.
Ben Friend/Cliffy Simmons suffered a double puncture in their Allglass Escort Mk2 on the opening stage, ruining what they'd hoped would be a class winning day.
Pete Littler/Andy Marchbank had transmission problems and retired their RED Preparation & Fabrication/Select Security Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2 after midday service.
Will Onions/Dave Williams were forced to stop and change the coil pack on SS5, which put them out of contention. The same stage also saw the retirement of Meirion Evans/David Jones in their Wales Motorsport Escort Mk2. David Kirby/Rhodri Evans suffered a puncture in their Avenue Taxis Escort RS1600 Mk1, which resulted in them running up a bank when they couldn't slow down for a corner. They survived that, only to retire on SS5. Robert Gough/Jack Bowen's run in their Escort RS1600 Mk2 ended with a broken half shaft a third of the way through SS6.
Brothers Liam and Callum Griffiths both finished on the Welsh Junior podium in only their second ever rally. Liam, co-driven by William Lewis in his Discover Parks Ford Fiesta ST, finished second (behind Ben Smith), while Callum and navigator Daniel James were third, having broken a driveshaft on their Presteigne Tyre Services Ford Fiesta ST half a mile from the end of the final stage.
Rory McCann added fourth in the Welsh Junior Championship to his second-place finish in the Historic class W6.
Gethin Price had spent the last two years rebuilding his Keith Price Haulage Nissan Micra, which was now fitted with a competition engine. He and Matthew Baddeley struggled for grip over the morning loop of stages but had a good run to the finish in the afternoon and were rewarded with a nice haul of Welsh Junior points.
Graham Thatcher/Tim Samuel were gutted not to pick up maximum points in the Road Rally class after a fuel leak forced their Pembridge Vehicle Management Peugeot 206GTi into retirement at mid-distance.
Hefin Lloyd-Davies/Rich Jones scored maximum class W3 points in their Jones Bros Engineering Vauxhall Corsa. In their first rally since a big off on last year's Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally, they made an understandably cautious start and were delighted with their class victory. Welsh Junior Gethin Price was second in class.
The Brick brothers, Freddy and Toby, hadn't driven their Vauxhall Corsa for several years and were in and out of ditches as they got back in the swing of things. They were going well too, until they stopped in SS5. Stuart Spyer/Peter Williams retired their Vauxhall Corsa on SS3.
Matthew Jackson/Sasha Heriot, pictured, were delighted with their class W4 victory after a great drive in their Ford Fiesta R2T netted them a very impressive 16th overall in the Interclub section of the event.
Jonathan Jones/Osian Owen were second in their Ingospec Ford Fiesta, having successfully driven around intermittent brake problems in the morning, while Tony Simpson/Ian Bevan parked their Seacon UK/Kielder Tools Ford Fiesta by the side of SS2 with the bonnet up.
Dan Jones/Cyril Jones, pictured, have started the defence of their class W10 title well with a win in their Jones Brothers/Bradley Motorsport Vauxhall Nova. Martin Walters had spent the last two years rebuilding his yellow Honda Civic and was contesting his first rally since the 2019 WRGB National. It was a successful return to competition, with he and co-driver Marie Fletcher finishing second in class.
Andrew Fox/Jaime-Lee Fox survived a rear puncture on the opening stage, and overtaking a car on the final stage, in their Xwatch Safety Solutions BMW 325 to score good points in both the Ravenol Welsh Challenge and 2WD class.
So too did Michael Sawyer/Gareth Price in their 2350cc Datsun 1600, despite a rear puncture almost forcing them off the road on SS5, Colin Griffiths/Tom Bishop, who finished the event on a punctured rear tyre in their BMW Compact, and David Jones/Glyn Price in their G J Price Transport BMW E30.
Matthew Honeyborne said "don't tell the wife" about the new suspension on his Allweld Engineering BMW 328 Coupe. He might not want Mrs Honeyborne to know about the damage to the exhaust, a puncture on the final stage and the fact that he and co-driver Martin Allwood reached the finish but had gone OTL a few stages earlier!
The live streaming coverage of Rally North Wales, which featured action from two stages and covered all the Welsh Rally Championship crews, is available to view at https://www.facebook.com/WELSHRALLYCHAMPIONSHIP
Pictures courtesy of Paul Mitchell. Please credit 'Paul Mitchell Photography' .
Round 2 of the Motorsport UK Pirelli Ravenol Welsh Rally Championship is the Rallynuts Stages Rally on Saturday 9 April, which is based at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd.
Further details on the 2022 Motorsport UK Pirelli Ravenol Welsh Rally Championship, together with registration information, can be found online at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk
WKD Trained Dogs Rally North Wales - Interclub/National top 10 finishers (combined)
- Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Ford Fiesta R5+).......43mins 57secs
- Dylan Davies/Mark Glennerster (SÌkoda Fabia R5+).......44mins 21secs
- Tom Llewellin/Dale Bowen (Mitsubishi Mirage)....... 45mins 22secs
- Robert Ceen/Peredur Davies (Ford Fiesta R5+).......47mins 37secs
- Matt Edwards/Hamish Campbell (Fiat Abarth 131)........48mins 19secs
- John Caine/Andrew Sankey (Subaru Impreza)....... 48mins 20secs
- Bob Morgan/Ade Williams (SÌkoda Fabia R5+).......48mins 20secs
- Benjamin Ceen/Dylan Thomas (Ford Fiesta R5+).......48mins 28secs
- Nick Elliott/Dave Robson (Ford Escort Mk2)....... 48mins 35secs
- Lewers Firth/Shaun Lapper (Subaru Impreza).......48mins 45secs
2022 Motorsport UK Pirelli Ravenol Welsh Rally Championship
Overall drivers' points after Round 1
- Matthew Hirst.......30pts
- Dylan Davies.......27pts
- Tom Llewellin.......25pts
- Robert Ceen.......24pts
- Matt Edwards.......23pts
- John Caine.......22pts