Tom fights back to take top-ten result in Ulster and holds second place in championship
A fight back through the field to 10th overall on day-two of the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally was the best result that Tom Cave and co-driver James Morgan could hope for, considering the issues they had to overcome on day one. Following a puncture and a broken driveshaft on Friday, they climbed 13 places on Saturday and, in doing so, scored enough points to retain second place in the MSA British Rally Championship standings.
A successful test during the week leading up to the event meant that Tom and the Spencer Sport team had the chance to set up their Fiesta R5 for the Northern Irish roads. It meant they put themselves in an excellent position to challenge for a podium place and keep the race for the BRC wide open.
Representing the sixth round of the MSA British Rally Championship, the Derry/Londonderry-based event featured three stages run twice on Friday afternoon. This was followed by a further four stages run twice on Saturday that combined, provided an overall competitive distance of 134 miles. But it was the weather rather than the distance that caused drivers the biggest challenge before the start at Friday lunchtime, as the intermittent rain made choosing the right tyres a lottery.
A considered start, bearing in mind the slippery conditions, saw Tom and James emerge from the first stage in fifth place overall, but then about three miles into the eight miles of stage two something hidden in the grass at the side of the road punctured the front off-side tyre. Choosing to drive the rest of the stage rather than stop and change the wheel saw only 30-seconds lost and, with a further 12 stages still to go, a chance of yet another podium position was still on the cards at that point.
However, a fairly innocuous spin – which was perhaps inevitable in the conditions – was to cause a far bigger issue to that of the puncture. With the car sideways on in a narrow section of road, it required some quick thinking by Tom to get the Fiesta pointing in the right direction again. As he spun the car round under power, something happened to the car’s front near-side driveshaft that meant the Fiesta was reduced to two-wheel-drive.
The Aberdovey driver did a great job of nursing the car through the day’s remaining two stages, but frustratingly, over four minutes was lost and he and James – from Hirwaun – ended the first day in 23rd place. A great effort by the Spencer Sport team during the evening service halt saw the Fiesta back to 100% for Saturday’s eight stages and it was now down to the two Weshmen to claw back as much of the deficit as possible.
Setting a series of front-running stage times – two of them second fastest – Tom and James had a trouble-free day on Saturday and battled their way back through the field to end the event tenth overall and eighth of the British Rally Championship crews. Whilst this hard-earned position was enough to keep them in second place in the championship stands, fellow Welshmen Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry won the event and in doing so secured the 2016 BRC title with one round remaining.
“We were really pleased with our pace on Saturday, but Friday’s problems lost us so much time”, explained Tom. We’ve never finished outside the top four in the British Rally Championship this season, so we’re of course disappointed not to do so again and to lose our chance of battling for the title on final round.
“I really must thank the Spencer Sport team for doing such a great job and for fixing the car on Friday evening. It ran faultlessly on Saturday. The whole team pulled together and we all did the best we possibly could in the circumstances.
“I must also congratulate Elfyn and Craig for winning the event and therefore become BRC Champions. They would have been difficult to catch on the final round whatever happened this weekend, so for us to retain our second place in the championship is as much as we could have hoped for.”