Spotlight On Welsh Rallying

The growing popularity of the Motorsport UK Ravenol Welsh Rally Championship, which is run in association with long-term supporter Pirelli, is thanks to all that is good in Welsh forestry rallying working together. It’s a highly complex affair, made successful by its simplicity.

Robert Ceen_Shaun Layland in their Ford Fiesta R5. Paul Mitchell Photography

The team from the Association of Welsh Motor Clubs, which promotes the championship, and the majority of event organisers, are experienced competitors. That knowledge and understanding gives the current crop of drivers and co-drivers exactly what they’re looking for – a no-nonsense, efficiently run, cost-effective and guaranteed challenging and fun seven day of events offering top-class competition.

This tried and tested format continues to boost numbers in all 14 classes of the Welsh Rally Championship. The figures speak for themselves – last year there were a total of 176 registered competitors in the 2022 Welsh Rally Championship, with 98 drivers and 73 co-drivers scoring points!

Healthy championship entries benefit the organising clubs, as the cost of putting on these events are covered. In turn, they provide a major economic boost to the local region (hotels and B&Bs are booked solid months in advance) and they are great for spectators too who, both in person and via the live online streaming service, can be assured of a great day’s entertainment for very little or no money.

John Caine_Andrew Sankey in their Subaru Impreza. Pic by Paul Mitchell Photography

And the Welsh Rally Championship is continually evolving, in a non-stop effort to provide more rewards for competitors. This work has resulted in long term partners Pirelli and Ravenol both increasing their involvement in 2023, RE Restruct and OnThePaceNote continue to support the Historic and Welsh Junior categories respectively and Hockly Motorsport joining to support the 1400cc classes.

Having some of the best gravel forest rally stages in the world helps too, but it’s the continually evolving format of the events that keeps the Welsh Rally Championship feeling fresh. It also keeps competitors returning year after year and attracts some exciting new talent into the sport as well.

Indeed, attracting new talent is at the very heart of the Welsh Rally Championship’s strategy and its efforts were showcased on the final round of last year’s series when Rob Wilson collected second-place points in his Ravenol-backed Mitsubishi Evo 7 to scoop the Welsh Junior, Ravenol Welsh Challenge and class W13 titles, as well as finishing runner-up in the overall drivers’ category. It was a remarkable turnaround for the 19-year-old Herefordshire driver, whose entire rally season was put in jeopardy after he’d rolled his car in pre-season testing.

There was no stopping Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear, however, who ended the season with a perfect 150 points score, having won five rounds in their Pirelli-shod Delta Salvage Ford Fiesta R5+.

Despite strong opposition, they almost completed a clean sweep with four straight wins, before the 2019 champions clinched the title for a second time on the penultimate round.

But victory was never assured and there was not a standout hot pre-event favourite – not with the likes of Dylan Davies/Mark Glennerster (Škoda Fabia R5), Perry Gardener/Jack Bowen (Ford Fiesta R5+), Russ Thompson/Stephen Link (Mitsubishi Evo 9), Tom Llewellin/Ross Whittock (Mitsubishi Mirage), James Giddings/Aled Davies (Mitsubishi Evo 9), Benj Ceen/Caron Tomlinson (Ford Fiesta R5) and Bob Ceen/Shaun Layland (Ford Fiesta R5) in the starting line up.

It was, however, Bob Morgan (Winner Garage Škoda Fabia R5) who finished third in the overall drivers’ standings (his navigator Ade Williams finishing runner-up in the overall co-drivers’ category), beating arch-rival John Caine (Phil Price Rally School Subaru Impreza) to the final podium position by just a single point.

As well as the modern high-tech machinery, the classes attract a huge variety of cars, including a host of different BMWs (328 Coupe, 325, E30 and E36 M3), Vauxhall Novas, Talbot Sunbeams, Nissan Micras, a Ford Ka, some glorious Ford Escort Mk1s and Michael Sawyer’s 2350cc Datsun 1600.

It was the Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2 that finished as the top two-wheel drive car, with Michael McDaid finishing an impressive seventh in the overall drivers’ standings. Co-driven by Declan Casey, the Northern Irishman also clinched the prestigious Historic class W8 title, after a big battle with Matt Edwards/Hamish Campbell and Nick Elliott/Dave Price (both in Fiat Abarth 131s) – who both held the class lead during the season.

There were many other stand-out performances. The battle between the Griffiths brothers, Liam and Callum, in the Welsh Junior Championship, Brynli Thomas (Peugeot 306 Rallye) battling with Graham Thatcher (Peugeot 206GTi) for the new Road Rally class title, the hard-charging Boyd Kershaw in his Flying Kiwi Escort Mk2, the magnificent class-winning achievements of Matthew Jackson (Ford Fiesta R2T), Martin Walters and his high-revving yellow Honda Civic and of course the class acts of David Lloyd Roberts and Declan Casey which deservedly earned them the David Stokes Historic Challenge for drivers and the Guy Weaver award for co-drivers.

And there will be many more memorable moments to savour this year, as the Get Jerky Rally North Wales kick starts another exciting seven-round Welsh Rally Championship.

2023 Motorsport UK Ravenol Welsh Rally Championship
Saturday 25 March: Get Jerky Rally North Wales
Saturday 15 April: Rallynuts Stages Rally
Saturday 20 May: Plains Rally
Saturday 8 July: Nicky Grist Stages
Saturday 9 September: Phil Price Memorial Woodpecker Stages
Saturday 14 October: Wyedean Rally
Saturday 28 October: Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally