Matthew Hirst and Mark Glennerster in their Ford Fiesta R5 on the Plains Rally.
Image: Paul Mitchell Photography.
Defending Motorsport UK Pirelli Welsh Rally champion Matthew Hirst celebrated a third straight maximum points score of the 2023 season on the Bala-based Plains Rally on Saturday.
It was far from straightforward, however, as both he and arch-rival Perry Gardener hit problems in the afternoon, which saw them swap positions on the eighth and final stage.
The frontrunning duo were tied for the lead after the opening 2.78 mile test through Alwen South, before Hirst, who was partnered for the first time by Mark Glennerster, took the smallest of leads after the next 6.55 mile stage through Alwen North.
With the top cars having to drive non-competitively through the longest 8.78 mile Aberhirnant test - one of the highest stages in Wales - just 0.01 seconds separated them as they came to the final stage of the morning loop, the 3.3 mile blast through Llangower.
Hirst and Gennerster, in a Delta Salvage/Witham Group Ford Fiesta R5, set fastest time again to reach midday service in Bala with a slender nine second advantage.
All four stages were repeated in the afternoon, which began with Hirst increasing his lead to 12 seconds, only for him to lose 35 seconds and the lead when the power-steering failed.
With only two stages remaining, Hirst regained 13 seconds on the penultimate stage after Gardener spun to leave him 10 seconds behind entering the final stage.
In his first rally for seven months, Gardener had driven brilliantly and looked set to score a memorable comeback win. But it wasn’t to be, as an alarm on the dashboard came on during the final stage, forcing the Ludlow driver to stop his Davanti Tyres-backed Ford Fiesta R5, turn the engine off, reboot the system, restart the engine and get going again.
The delay cost him and co-driver Jack Bowen almost 30 seconds and the Pirelli Welsh top spot, as Hirst – who had to reboot his power-steering system a few road sections before – finished 18 seconds ahead.
“I’m very pleased to take home my third set of Pirelli Welsh points in a row, as it’s obviously very good for the championship,” said Hirst.
“We started off steadily on the first two stages, as it was the first time that Mark [Glennerster] had co-driven for me. We quickly got into a nice rhythm, before our power-steering issue. Forget lifting weights at the gym, six miles of wrestling an R5 car through Alwen is quite the workout!
“We were able to reboot the system on the next road section, as it’s happened before and I know what to do, and we were intent on a big push through the last two stages. It was a good battle with Perry and, whilst it’s a shame he had problems himself in the afternoon, it all came good for us in the end.”
Simon Rogers has moved up to second in the overall drivers’ standings after another great run in his MacWhirter Motorsport-prepared Mitsubishi Evo 6 – despite hitting a big rock on stage five and breaking a front wheel.
The live streamed coverage from the Plains Rally remains available to view on the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship and Special Stage TV Facebook pages.
Round four of the Pirelli Welsh Rally Championship is the Nicky Grist Stages on Saturday, July 8. Organised by Quinton Motor Club, the event is based in Builth Wells and contains 44 stage miles. Further details at: wnrc.wamc.org.uk.
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