After returning from Belfast, I somewhat felt relieved to come away from the Circuit of Ireland rally with a good points haul. If you followed the rally, you would have heard of the endless changeable weather, which the stage conditions, incredibly tricky even on super soft Michelins!
There was a high attrition rate. Even from the start of the qualifying stage on Thursday, two cars had binned it. The stage was horrendous; I’ve never driven on a stage so slippery and unforgiving before. Mud was an issue. It lasted pretty much from the first corner till the last corner.
I struggled. I will be honest, the feeling wasn’t there. I wasn’t at one with the car and I really couldn’t find a decent rhythm! This was going to be a tough weekend. I calculated after the qualifying stage that I was losing 1.5 sec per km to Elfyn (Evans) who was fastest on the qualifying stage.
Then I worked out I would be approx. 30 secs off him just on the first stage alone on the Friday morning.. I was right.
At the end of the first stage I was confronted by Colin Clark & the rest of media crowd from Eurosport. I glanced across to the timing board where the marshal put up our time and I was pretty much 30 secs off Ellyn’s time! And there was another 150km to go…At that point I knew I was in for a tough weekend.
That completely deflated me to be honest. I guess that was noticeable even at the end of SS1 as Colin Clark rightly said after he saw me in the regroup zone at the Bushmills whiskey factory after the first loop of stage. He said my face just dropped at the end of that stage. I guess it’s only natural when you want to be competitive and you’re not!
We ended the first leg languishing down in 12th overall. We couldn’t amend any springs or considerable setup changes during the day because we had no main service and remote service, which means we are only permitted to change parts that are kept in the boot of the rally car.
Of course, you wouldn’t have set of spring rates or a haul of anti-roll bars in the boot because it’s all weight, so I had to be patient with the car and wait until we got back to Belfast on Friday evening before we could do anything with the car. I was glad to see the back of that day.
When I got back to service I requested to have my in car from day 1 from Hayfisher TV who supply the in car cameras so that evening I got back to hotel and sat down and watched every stage in detail looking for answers. I didn’t get to bed till 2am and I was determined to make the best of leg 2. And show some spark…
We left service Saturday morning, feeling positive. I made a few changes to the car after consulting an M-Sport Engineer and we discovered two areas that weren’t quite right with the cars setup. So we managed to make some amendments in the search of a better day.
On the road section out to the first stage of the day, I discovered we had a gearbox issue, oil was leaking really bad from the side of the box. James and I made road side repairs to insure we didn’t lose any more oil. I felt the gearbox getting tighter as the morning went on. Much to my surprise we got through the loop driving sympathetically, ensuring the gearbox wasn’t getting any abuse.
I couldn’t push the way I wanted on the first loop but I was much happier in the car after the setup changes we made, and we were going in the right direction which was a relief.
After passing Ahlin crashed out on the Bush Mills stage, I knew all I had to do was just get to the finish. With Evans, Cronin, Ahlin, all out of the rally, the main championship contenders for me heading into the next event haven’t scored a point, where we came away with 12 points! In the end the weekend wasn’t soon bad after all, I’m glad I kept my head when the going was getting tough in the car.
Thanks to James for putting up with me… And thanks to Spencer Sport lads for getting the car to the finish!
Next up will be the Carlisle Rally so it’s back to gravel at the end of April.
The Circuit of Ireland Rally, which took place on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th April, saw Tom Cave further his quest to become 2016 MSA British Rally Champion, when he and co-driver James Morgan finished fourth of the BRC runners. In addition to the second round of the British Championship, the event also hosted the second round of the FIA European Rally Championship, in which Tom and James finished a more than respectable sixth.
Having scored an impressive third in the opening round of the British Championship last month in Wales driving the Spencer Sport run Fiesta R5, Tom and James went to the Belfast-based event with realistic expectations, taking into account it was Tom’s first ever rally on asphalt in this type of car. The 24-year old from Aberdovey was aware that he would be up against some tough opposition, as many of the leading R5 teams from Europe had entered and – due to their local knowledge – he also knew that those from Ireland would pose a significant challenge.
In order to give himself the best possible chance of leveling the playing field, Tom chose to sign-up for the European Rally Championship ahead of the event. This enabled him to take part in the practice and qualifying stages on Thursday and gain more pre-rally seat time. It also offered the benefit of a lower start number, which meant he and James would run closer to the front of the field – a real bonus when conditions are unpredictable.
With patches of mud and gravel punctuating the otherwise dry closed public roads on the first loop of three stages held north of the Ulster capital on Friday morning, the Welsh pair opted for a considered start, in order to assess their pace against the rest. Although admitting to be a little frustrated that he could not find his rhythm due to unfamiliarity of the car in the conditions, rain in the afternoon helped the equilibrium and with no dramas to report (unlike some other crews), he and James ended day one seventh of the BRC runners and just outside the top-ten overall.
Saturday’s itinerary included a loop of four stages run twice in the County Down hills. With sunnier conditions – other than the odd spontaneous hailstorm – the roads appeared to be in better condition and consequently, confidence inside the Fiesta increased. It was a factor that reflected in the stage times and, at the lunchtime service halt in Belfast, he and James were now fourth of the BRC crews and in eighth place overall. However, the Fiesta’s gearbox was beginning to feel tight when making certain changes, but after an inspection by the team, it was deemed fit enough to make it to the end of the event.
Mindful of the issue, Tom adjusted his driving accordingly and, after a flawless final four stages, he and James consolidated their position to finish fourth in the British Rally Championship, sixth in the European Championship and in eighth place overall. This result means that Tom and James now lie equal fourth in the BRC standings with five rounds to go and their Joker -which doubles the points score – still to be played.
“All things considered, I am very happy with the result”, said Tom at the finish. “It was a tough event and the conditions were really challenging, especially without much experience of the Fiesta R5 on tarmac and my knowledge of the rally, which meant I wasn’t pushing as hard as I normally would. The Michelin tyres and the car performed extremely well and I must congratulate the Spencer Sport team for another job well done.”
Tom, James and the Spencer Sport team will be back in action on 30th April/1st May, when the surface switches back to gravel for the Pirelli Carlisle Rally and the infamous stages of Kielder Forest.