The Nicky Grist Stages has won the prestigious Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship's 'Rally of the Year' award, as voted for by registered competitors.
The Speedsports Shield was presented to event organisers Quinton Motor Club at the annual Welsh Association of Motor Clubs gala prize giving.
Based in the centre of Builth Wells, with a ceremonial start on Strand Street, the service area on the Builth Wells RFC pitch, a champagne podium finish on the banks of the River Wye and gravel stages in the nearby forests of Llyn Login, Monument, Halfway and Crychan (allowing for minimal road mileage), the Nicky Grist Stages is a well-established and much liked round of the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship - attracting one of the biggest championship entries of the season.
"The Nicky Grist Stages is one of those events you see in the calendar and can't wait for it to come around," says triple and reigning Pirelli Welsh Rally Champion Matthew Hirst.
"It really rewards commitment right from the outset. The rally has started for the last few years on the Llyn Login stage, which features some of the biggest crests and jumps you will come across in British rallying. You sit on the start line of it looking in awe at the scale of the first jump, and it does focus the mind. The rest of the stage is quite open with good sightlines, which gives you confidence.
"Crychan has a more traditional Welsh forest stage feel to it, with quite a few junctions and a nice flow. It's also got some technical narrow bits under the trees which can bite. I find it helps to have some good pace notes and previous experience of Crychan - me and Dec [Declan Dear, co-driver] try to spend some extra time on the notes in here.
"Halfway is a stage of two parts. The first section of the stage runs through a quarry which is quite wide, giving you confidence to move the car around and use all the space available. The stage then moves onto a stunning hillside section - at least to look at in photographs, less so as a crew focusing on the drop on the outside! Still, what a pleasure Halfway is to drive at speed, right on the edge at points it can feel a bit like being on a downhill ski slope. One corner just flows into the next and you can push properly hard all the way to the finish.
"The last stage Monument was a highlight for me last year. We were fastest through here on both runs by a decent chunk. There are a few corners where you can take some interesting lines. The profile of the road tends to work for you with quite a lot of camber in places which means you can carry an extra few miles an hour. The icing on the cake was the much-anticipated return of the jump after the crossroads. I think as photos and videos show, it was a welcome return for both spectators and drivers. I spent quite a lot of time before the event discussing how I was going to attack it and to be honest it was just a case of seeing how it felt on the day. I think in hindsight we actually took it quite well with just a small lift on the approach and then back to full power before take-off to keep the nose up. The problem wasn't with the landing, it's stopping in time for the hairpin left 120 metres down the road with a small right kink just on the approach.
"We had a great battle with Elliot Payne for the overall rally win on last year's event. Fair play to him, he was on some pace and took the win by eight seconds. This didn't detract from the day and I'm thoroughly looking forward to 2024's running of the event."
"Quinton Motor Club and the team behind the Nicky Grist Stages are delighted to be awarded the prestigious Best Event Award in the 2023 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship," said Neil Cross, Clerk of the Course for the Nicky Grist Stages.
"We strive to put on the best event possible and knowing it's been appreciated makes all the effort worthwhile."
"I am very pleased to learn that the 2023 Nicky Grist Stages has won the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship Rally of the Year Award," said Mark Hammond, Mayor - Builth Wells Town Council.
"There can be no bigger accolade than to be recognised by the actual competitors themselves. It's well deserved.
"The organisers readily acknowledge that having the rally based in the centre of Builth Wells was a big contributing factor to this award, and from the town's perspective it is wonderful to have this acknowledged.
"The rally at Builth is a vibrant and stunning event, which makes the relationship between the town and the Nicky Grist Stages a real two-way partnership. The event draws in many visitors who make good use of all the shops, pubs, cafes and other great amenities that Builth has to offer, as well as the natural beauty of the town, particularly as it is situated on the banks of the River Wye.
"What I have also found equally impressive is their positive attitude to liaising with the Town Council, and particularly with the Town Clerk. The organisational skills and clinical attention to detail, especially where the safety of competitors and those watching are concerned shown by the Nicky Grist team, reflects the high-level professional approach needed where an event like this is concerned. It also keeps the disruption in the town to a minimum.
"Builth was really pleased to host the rally in 2023 and we are not only looking forward to this year's event, but all those in the years to come as well."
"It is always a difficult task choosing the best Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship event because all of the organising teams in the championship do such a fantastic job and very often there is little to choose between events," explains Dave Evison, Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship Secretary.
"In recent years the organising team from Quinton Motor Club have made small but effective changes and it's made the difference with a lot of very positive feedback from our contenders."
Details on the 2024 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship can be found online at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk.
2024 Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship
Saturday 16 March.......Get Jerky Rally North Wales
Saturday 13 April.......Rallynuts Severn Valley Stages
Saturday 18 May.......Plains Rally
Saturday 13 July.......Nicky Grist Stages
Saturday 7 September.......Phil Price Memorial Woodpecker Stages
Saturday 26 October.......Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally
Saturday 16 November.......Wyedean Rally
Secretary, Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship
Press Officer, Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship
2023 Nicky Grist Stages - Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship podium celebrations
Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Ford Fiesta R5)
Dan Jones/Cyril Jones (Vauxhall Nova)
Nicky Grist Stages service area in Builth Wells
Iwan Roberts/Daniel Jones (Ford Escort G3)
Ron Morgan/Sion Jones (Ford Escort Mk2)
Pictures by Paul Mitchell. Please credit 'Paul Mitchell Photography' if used.