In the early years, the FODMC was known for its autocross events, but the lure of being based amongst some of the country’s finest forestry proved too strong and in 1975 the Wyedean Stages (as it was then known) was born, with the inaugural event starting from Watts of Lydney and using many of the stages that are used today. he winne of that first Wyedean was one Graham Elsmore, a ‘forester’ through and through, driving a Ford Escort RS1600. Elsmore went on to earn the title ‘King of the Dean,’ as he went on to win the next two Wyedeans, even beating off the late, great Roger Clark in 1976.
The Datsun of Andy Dawson finally beat Elsmore in ‘78; with current Ford World Rally boss Malcolm Wilson finishing third. Wilson improved the following year by winning the event, Elsmore was second once again. Amazingly, only 30 seconds covered the leaders after a mammoth 80 miles over 21 stages!
The 1980 event proved to be the Wyedean that never was. The RAC Rally had decided to use the Forest of Dean for the first time in years, and that meant the planned November date for the Wyedean was moved to January 1981. The change in date didn’t help with the weather conditions, as thick freezing fog meant that the event was one of the toughest on record.
Rally Headquarters moved to the prestigious St Pierre Golf and Country Club in Chepstow for 1983, where the biggest rally entry of the year (some 135 cars) lined up for the event. World Rally competitor Per Eklund headed the entry in his works Toyota, but it was Colin Short who was victorious.
The Wyedean was the pioneer for ‘reverse seeding’ in 1984, with the slowest cars starting first, followed by the fastest. Despite this, the event ran smoothly, and this format is commonly used today. The rally also received great TV coverage, second only to the RAC. 1985 also proved to be a year of firsts, as four-wheel drive cars dominated the event for the first time. It was National Rally Champion David Llewellin in his Audi Sport UK-backed Quattro that was victorious.
Competitors and spectators arrived in 1986 to find the Forest of Dean covered in snow. Driving skills were tested to their limits this year, especially when the compacted snow turned to ice by the end of the event. 110 competitors reached the finish line; with many of them commenting that it was the best Wyedean ever!
It was all change in 1987, as the Wyedean gained a new title sponsor, Hyundai Cars, and moved to a new HQ in Newport. This year the event was held in bright sunshine, a world away from the previous year. Husband and wife team Graham & Pat Beveridge won the event in their MG Metro 6R4, which was only 3 days old!
In 1992, a promising young driver from Reading teamed up with a new co-driver for the first time on the Wyedean, and so began a rallying partnership, which has now become one of the best in the world. Richard Burns and Robert Reid had their first event together in a Peugeot 205 on the Wyedean of ’92, and soon climbed the ladder of success to become World Rally Champions in 2001 for Subaru. The significance of the Wyedean in the rallying world has remained strong throughout its history.
1993 saw more changes to the Wyedean, as the event’s HQ moved to Ross on Wye. There was also an addition for this year, the one-off ‘Historic Wyedean’ for classic rally cars. Tim Ellis-Jones was overall winner. 1994 saw the Forest of Dean District Council Offices in Coleford used as rally start for the first time, proof of the strong ties between the Wyedean’s organisers and the FODDC.
The 1995 Wyedean was particularly memorable, not only for its oversubscribed entry, but also for the fact that 2 days before the event, the whole of the Forest of Dean was covered in 6 inches of snow! The rally’s organisers managed to clear the snow in time, but they couldn’t do anything to prevent the service area at Ross Livestock Centre being slightly hectic, as due to a scheduling error, service crews found themselves mingling with cattle wagons!! Spirits were not dampened however, and Andy Burton in his spectacular Ferrari-engined Alfa was the winner.
1996 was the 21st anniversary of the Wyedean, and the Forest of Dean Motor Club had an extra special reason to celebrate, as not only was the event again a great success with a full entry, but FODMC members Dave Jenkins and Graham Cox were victorious in the Ford Escort Cosworth.
The most famous name involved with the Wyedean, ‘Elsmore,’ was once again on the lips of everyone in 1997, as Graham’s son Nik had his first serious challenge for the win. Driving a two-wheel drive Nissan Sunny run by local team Rex Paddock Motorsport, Nik was in contention until he had an altercation with a tree stump, leaving Warren Philliskirk to take the win in his Metro 6R4.
A titanic battle ensued in 1998 between David Mann in his Proton and Nik Elsmore in the Nissan. The winner was still in doubt right up to the last stage, where it was clear that Mann had won, scoring Proton’s first ever win in this country. Elsmore finished in second, but would be back to challenge again. This was also the first year the Rally HQ was at Chepstow Racecourse. The facilities there were the best ever seen on this event, with scrutineering, service and even a special stage all on one site. The event is based there to this day.
1999 saw probably the best entry for years, as two British Rally Championship teams contested the event, Gwyndaf Evans in his SEAT Ibiza and Justin Dale in his Peugeot 106. Nik Elsmore was back once again in the Sunny, along with a host of other front-runners in the national rallying scene. Another close event ensued, with Skegness driver Brian Bell winning in his Ford Escort World Rally Car, with Evans second and Elsmore fifth. The undoubted star of the event was Car No. 114, the Ford Ka of Boyzone member Shane Lynch.
It so happened that the 25th Wyedean fell in the millennium year, and to celebrate this, event organisers held the first ‘Wyedean Classic Autoshow’ at Chepstow Racecourse, a display of classic vehicles and competition cars. This initiative proved so successful that it is now a regular feature of the Wyedean. The rally itself was held in fine weather, with Andy Burton winning in the monstrous Peugeot Cosworth hybrid, after controversially withdrawing a year earlier.
2001, and the event was all about one man. Nik Elsmore had replaced his two-wheel drive Nissan with a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi, and reaped the rewards. After coming so close in recent years, the Coleford based driver duly won to the delight of local fans. Mitsubishi’s proved to be the car to have, as they filled the top three places with Elsmore, Mark Perrott and Vince Wetton.
2002 saw another crew who have regularly come close for a number of years broke through. Mark Perrott and Gary Mansell took the top spot in their Ford Escort World Rally Car. It was a close run thing, as the similar car of Gary Midwinter and Martin Saunders finished a close second.
In 2003 it was a hat trick for Andy Burton and Rob Morgan, the spectacular sight of the Peugeot Cosworth thundering through the stages is always a crowd pleaser it must be something in the water in Herefordshire!
In 2004 Andy Burton became the first driver in the 29-year history of the event to put his name on the trophy four times. Driving his usual Peugeot Cosworth and co-driven by Rob Morgan, the Herefordshire farmer arrived back at the finish of the rally at Chepstow Racecourse 45 seconds ahead of the Subaru Impreza of another former Wyedean winner, Roger Duckworth.
Dorian Rees and Paul Willets were victorious in 2005 and, while their names appear in this year’s list of starters, they have yet to nominate a car!