Harrogate driver Elliott Payne with co-driver Tom Woodburn secured a well-deserved victory last Saturday in a tightly fought Nicky Grist Stages Rally.

Based within Builth town, organised by Quinton Motor Club and again enthusiastically supported by Abergavenny co-driver legend Nicky Grist, a total of 127 crews took to the start in Strand Street.

Nicky Grist Stages Rally
Strand Street, the Groe car park and the rugby ground allowed the rally to be central to Builth town (Mark Griffin)

Welsh Championship leader Matthew Hirst and co-driver Declan Dear led crews away for eight timed stages in and around the Epynt Military Training area. Utilising the loose gravel tracks of Crychan, Halfway, Monument and Llyn Coch near Cwmowen, dust hanging in the bone-dry forests was a concern for many competitors.

Arron Newby, winner of the Rallynuts Stages earlier this year and also based in Builth, was seeded car two and was expected to go well in his Skoda Fabia R5, but it was car 3 Payne and Woodburn who were fastest on the damp opener at Llyncoch and continued to deliver fastest times over the next two stages, which were dry, while Hurst took quickest over the last stage of the loop, Monument.

After a return to Builth for service, the afternoon loop - a repeat of the morning’s stages - was nip and tuck between the two challengers with just the odd second separating them. Despite a time four seconds faster than Payne on the last stage Hurst could not close the gap and took the runner-up position.

Local driver Jason Pritchard and co-driver Phil Clarke were the top placed two-wheel drive finishers, coming home a magnificent 10th overall in their Trailhead Get Jerky Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2. It was mission accomplished for the Builth Wells driver as he continued his preparation for the Roger Albert Clark Rally at the end of the year.

Nicky Grist Stages Rally
Jason Pritchard and co-driver Phil Clarke power through Llyn Coch near Cwmowen to 10th overall and first two-wheel drive finisher (Mark Griffin)

“This year’s Nicky Grist Stages has gone really well, and everything has run to plan,” said Nicky Grist. “It’s been a bit of a change this year, because normally we have hot dry weather and we’ve had a bit of rain thrown in this time to make the challenge a little greater for the crews. That said, all the competitors that I’ve spoken to have had a wonderful time.

“There was a magnificent atmosphere in the host town of Builth Wells, with the start ceremony on Strand Street, the service area on the Builth Wells RFC pitch and the podium ceremonies on the Groe - on the banks of the River Wye, with Builth Wells’ 18th century bridge and surrounding rolling hills in the background. All this was made possible thanks to the magnificent support of Powys County Council, Builth Wells Town Council, Builth Wells Rugby Football Club, North Road Garage and the businesses and residents of Builth Wells.

“Quinton Motor Club would like to thank everyone who has supported this year’s event, from Nicky Grist, the landowners and local authorities, the championships and competitors, the marshals and officials, the local businesses, and the local residents.”

2023 Nicky Grist Stages – top finishers:

1. Elliot Payne/Tom Woodburn (Ford Fiesta Rally2)… 43mins 04.4secs

2. Matthew Hirst/Declan Dear (Ford Fiesta R5)… 43mins 12.3secs

3. Arron Newby/Jamie Edwards (Škoda Fabia R5)… 44mins 23.2secs

4. Russ Thompson/Stephen Link (Mitsubishi Evo 9)… 44mins 46.1secs

5. Alistair Ginley/Craig Thorley (Ford Fiesta Rally2)… 44mins 56.4secs