Following a highly successful 2016, when he finished runner-up in the MSA British Rally Championship, Aberdovey driver Tom Cave kicks off his 2017 season with the Llandudno-based Cambrian Rally that takes place on Saturday 11th February. The 25-year old is pleased to be starting his year with one of his most local rallies and consequently, is aiming for nothing less than a top result.
In order to enhance his chances of success, Tom has acquired a WRC Subaru S14 from McKinstry Motorsport to contest the event that hosts the first round of the BTRDA Rally Series. Although having never driven the car before and with his most recent gravel outing that of the Nicky Grist Stages in July, Tom’s experience in four-wheel-drive machinery last year is destined to stand him in good stead. Indeed, it’s worth noting that Tom took outright victory in the last BTRDA event he contested, the Plains Rally in May.
Starting and finishing on Llandudno Promenade, this year’s Cambrian Rally features 42 competitive miles split into six stages in the Clocaenog, Alwen and Penmachno forests, all previously used for the Wales Rally GB.
“I’m passionate about supporting events in Wales, especially this one as it’s organised by my car club, so to compete on a rally that takes place only 20 miles from where I live and features such good stages is a perfect way to start the season. It’s also an excellent way to promote my sponsors, including our family business, the Trefeddian Hotel.
Tom’s season takes on a different look to that of last year’s when he got within one place of winning the British title:
“Of course, I did consider continuing in the British Rally Championship this year, as I feel I could have really challenged for the title. But following the cancellation of the opening round – the mid-Wales Stages – it made it a difficult to justify a BRC campaign to many of my sponsors.
“My plans are now to enter a series of selected rallies that will expand my experience and continue to keep me match-fit. As to what events these will be is still to be decided, but I’m really looking forward to what’s going to be an interesting season ahead, especially as I’ll be kicking things off by driving a WRC car on the Cambrian Rally.”
Tom will be joined next weekend by his regular co-driver from 2017, James Morgan from Hirwaun. The car will carry the livery of Tom’s sponsors: Trefeddian Hotel, Dmack tyres, Walero and Atech Racing:.
A test has been organised in nearby forests on Friday 10th February and Tom has extended an invitation to the media to sit along side him as he shakes-down and acclimatises to the Subaru. Those who would like to attend should get in touch with Press Officer Simon Slade: email@example.com / 07966 1535555.
Tom secures second place in British Rally Championship following perfect performance on Isle of Man
Tom Cave, together with co-driver James Morgan, delivered a perfect performance on the Rally Isle of Man to secure second place in this year’s MSA British Rally Championship.
From the moment the seventh and final round of the season started on Thursday (15th September) evening through to its conclusion on Saturday afternoon, Tom from Aberdovey and James from Hirwaun never put a foot wrong and reaped the rewards of their efforts, not just for this event, but for the whole of the 2016 season.
With fellow Welshman Elfyn Evans claiming the BRC title on the previous round in Northern Ireland, Tom went to the rally knowing exactly what he had to do in order to retain his second place in the championship.
Goal number one was to finish – not an easy task over a total of 167 competitive miles split into 20 stages on roads that have a reputation for the demands they put on cars and crews. Goal number two was to score enough points to stay ahead of the four other crews that could challenge for the runners-up spot. But that wouldn’t be easy either, as double points are awarded for the last round of the championship.
Focused and determined, Tom set off for the first of Thursday evening’s three stages with the aim of staying out of trouble, but at the same time not lose time to his rivals. And that’s exactly what he did, getting back to Douglas for the overnight halt, not only second in the BRC standings, but second in the overall event behind Evans.
Friday was to be the longest day with 11 stages planned. Throughout it, James kept a close eye on the stage times of the crews that mattered and Tom adjusted his pace accordingly. Another faultless performance by car and crew meant they skillfully maintained their BRC position by the end of the day and now held third place, with Manxman Mark Higgins – who wasn’t registered for the BRC and therefore not taking any points – now heading the field.
For Tom and James and the Spencer Sport team, they knew that Saturday’s six stages were to be the most important of the season. The team gave Tom the best car they could, whilst inside the Fiesta it was a case of 100% concentration and no mistakes for the remaining 60 stage miles. But Tom and James were in the zone and an exemplary drive on the final day saw them cross the finish line at the TT Grandstand having maintained position behind Evans – who had retaken the lead – and Higgins.
After the rally, an elated Tom said: “I’m really pleased we were able to maintain such a good pace throughout the rally and I was able to push when we needed to push to stay ahead of our rivals.
“Second in the BRC is the best outcome we could have hoped for, not just for this event, but for the season overall. We always knew it was going to be tough to beat Elfyn and we were up against so many top drivers. But I’ve had a great team around me and that has made such a difference.
“Not only have Spencer Sport given me a car that’s performed faultlessly throughout the year, but James’ and the team’s support and commitment to what we needed to achieve has been incredible. Testimony to this is the fact that we are one of only two crews in the whole of the British Rally Championship field that has scored points on all seven rounds.
“I would therefore like to thank James for his work inside the car, the team for their work outside it, plus all of my sponsors and supporters, including the Trefeddian Hotel, Michelin and team boss Jamie Jukes for letting me drive his car! It’s been a fantastic season.”
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.”
For the second time in as many events, Tom Cave from Aberdovey and his co-driver James Morgan from Hirwaun have scored an impressive second place on an MSA British Rally Championship round and in doing so move up to second in the 2016 standings. Adding to the significance of their result on this weekend’s Nicky Grist Stages Rally, were the extremely wet conditions over both days, coupled with the format of the event that featured gravel stages on Saturday and Asphalt stages on Sunday – a factor that was to reveal which crews were the best all-rounders.
The eight gravel stages on Saturday followed by 10 asphalt stages scheduled for Sunday all took place on and around the Epynt military ranges, the area being one of the only locations in the UK that is capable of hosting a mixed-surface event such as this year’s Nicky Grist Stages. Consequently, with a total of 45 competitive miles followed by 59 miles respectively, as well as for the drivers and co-drivers, the event was to provide a true challenge for the service crews – who would have to change suspension set-ups on Saturday night.
Conditions notwithstanding, Tom made a perfect start and set the fastest time on the opening stage, beating all his main championship rivals: David Bogie, Fredrik Ahlin and Elfyn Evans. Tom continued to hold the top spot until stage three, when current championship leader Evans took the lead when Tom and James were slowed by an overshoot.
However, although ahead of second-in-the-championship Ahlin, Tom and James’ challenge for championship places was eased when the Swede retired on stage two, meaning he had to restart on Sunday under Super Rally regulations but with a series of time penalties applied.
But for Tom and James, the remainder of Saturday’s competition saw them go on to deliver a committed and controlled performance that served to consolidate their second place. Consequently, they pulled away from the rest of the pack and, at the conclusion of the eight gravel stages, they were 52-seconds ahead of third-placed Desi Henry and 48-seconds behind Evans.
Although the rain had eased off in on Saturday afternoon, it was to come back with a vengeance during the course of Sunday morning’s asphalt stages. Initially the roads that crisscross the military ranges were in reasonable condition, but as the weather deteriorated they became more and more slippery, especially with mud being pulled out onto the road as cars cut the tighter corners. Whilst this is not usually such a big an issue for the front-runners, the multi-use of the roads meant that grip levels changed from stage-to-stage.
But that didn’t phase Tom and James as they continued to maintain their pace and underpin their second place. Although their stage times didn’t reflect it, they admitted they were not pushing too hard, so that if anything were to happen to the leader, they would be in a perfect position to take advantage of an opportunity, should it arise.
However, following an incident involving another competitor – fortunately without any serious consequences – and due to the subsequent delay, the rally organisers decided to cancel the final three stages that meant the top three positions remained unchanged.
Following the two days of intense competition and, having dealt so well with all the challenges that were presented to him, Tom was understandably pleased with his weekend’s work when he was interviewed at the finish in Builth Wells:
“We know Elfyn (Evans) was going to be difficult to beat this weekend, so it’s great to be the best of the rest. I’m very pleased that we have been able to score our second second-place in succession and to move up to second in the championship standings.
“It’s also satisfying to know that we’ve been the most consistently placed crew so far, having scored a top four position in all five rounds. That 100% finishing record is in no small part down to the reliability of the car that once again, ran faultlessly throughout this event and I have to congratulate the Spencer Sport team for all that they do to make this happen.
“I must also praise our Michelin tyres that worked exceptionally well on both the gravel and tarmac surfaces and in such changing conditions. Thanks also go to my co-driver James for his great work inside the car.”
The sixth round of the MSA British Rally Championship takes place in six weeks time when, for the second time this season, competitors will experience Northern Ireland asphalt, this time for the Ulster Rally on 19th & 20th August.
Tom Cave and his co-driver James Morgan did their title hopes no harm at all this weekend, when they recorded their best ever MSA British Rally Championship result this season with a second place in round four, the RSAC Scottish Rally. The value of their performance was doubled by virtue of Tom playing his joker and consequently, he and James scored twice as many points than they would have done otherwise.
An inspired outright victory on last month’s Plains Rally, followed by a good pre-event shake-down with the Spencer Sport Fiesta R5 last week, meant that Tom arrived in Dumfries for the start of the Scottish Rally in positive mood and ready to resume battle for the BRC title.
Then fourth in the championship standings, he knew he would be up against some tough opposition, namely Fredrik Ahlin, Elfyn Evans and Josh Moffett, who were also in Fiesta R5s – and at that point holding the top three positions in the championship respectively – plus local driver David Bogie in a Skoda R5, who had also played his joker for this event.
The rally, round four of the British Championship, comprised a route featuring a distance of 62 competitive miles split into eight stages within the forests close to the host town of Dumfries. The road surface and character of the stages is quite specific to the region. However, it didn’t take Tom long to acclimatise to the unfamiliar territory and consequently, he set the third fastest time on the first stage, just behind Evans and Bogie.
Another third fastest time through stage two meant he and James entered the first service halt in fourth place, albeit just 0.6s behind Ahlin who had edged ahead. But on the next stage Tom felt the car lose power and, although setting the third fastest time on stages three and four – and still in third place due to Ahlin’s retirement on stage four – the Fiesta was definitely in need of some attention at the lunchtime service halt.
The problem was quickly traced to a faulty regulation FIA turbo-boost pop-off valve and, between the Spencer Sport and M-Sport engineers, all was fixed before Tom and James embarked on the afternoon’s stages.
With his Fiesta restored to full power, Tom went in pursuit of Bogie and Evans and was third fastest again on stage five, before setting the second fastest time on stage six. With organisers cancelling stage seven, suddenly it was all down to the final stage – a 10.64-mile run through a forest referred to as Mount Joe.
An epic drive resulted in Tom setting the quickest time through the stage, 4.5-seconds faster than Evans – a performance that secured him and James a hard-earned second place. Although making it through the stage, unfortunately for Bogie, a broken radiator meant he didn’t make it to the finish, which meant that Desi Henry inherited the final podium position.
“This result just goes to show that it’s not over until it’s over”, said Tom at the finish. “When the engine started to lose power we feared our challenge might be over, but a great job by the Spencer Sport and M-Sport engineers meant we were back in contention. We really pushed hard in the afternoon to make up for any lost time and I’m extremely pleased to have set the fastest time on the final stage and to have taken second place.
“I feel sorry for David (Bogie). That was really though luck, especially on his home event. Getting through the final stage and then not being able to make it back to the finish is the most frustrating thing that can happen, as all the hard work’s been done.
“It’s great for us to have gained a good haul of points on this event. Everything is going in the right direction at the moment: the car and the team, plus James and I as a partnership, so things are looking good for the remaining three rounds. I have to thank Spencer Sport, M-Sport, James and all of our supporters, especially Michelin and Tim Hoare for providing us with excellent tyres, advice and technical support.”
The result in Scotland makes Tom and James the most consistent of all top-four BRC crews, being the only pair to finish and score on all rounds so far. Consequently, they now move up to third in the championship standings.
There’s now just a two-week break before the next event in the MSA British Rally Championship calendar, which takes place on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th July. The two-day mixed surface Nicky Grist Stages Rally features gravel on the first day and asphalt on the second, over roads on and around the Epynt military ranges near Brecon in South Wales.
IMAGES COURTESY OF JAKOB EBREY PHOTOGRAPHY
This weekend’s Plains Rally witnessed a masterful performance by Tom Cave. Having led from the start, the Aberdovey driver, together with his co-driver James Morgan from Hirwaun, they won six of the event’s seven stages to take victory by a convincing margin of 27-seconds.
With an eight-week gap between the third and fourth rounds of the MSA British Rally Championship – the Pirelli Carlisle Rally and the RSAC Scottish Rally – Tom, James and the Spencer Sport team, who prepare the Fiesta R5 that’s taken them to three top-four BRC results this season, took the decision last week to enter the fourth round of the BTRDA Rally Series. And they were very pleased they did!
This seven-stage event that comprised 45-competitive miles would be used to develop set ups for the car and to test the Michelin tyres in competitive conditions, without the pressure of having to score championship points. Plus, with it Tom’s ‘home’ rally and his subsequent familiarity of the stages, entering this event was a logical choice.
Bright and sunny weather was the order of the day as the 143 crews arrived in Welshpool for the start of the 50th running of the Plains Rally on Saturday (14th May). The conditions meant that the stages in the North Wales Forests were dry and dusty, but with Tom and James seeded at number three, poor visibility caused by the dust was unlikely to be an issue.
In fact, there were no issues whatsoever for the first run through Gartheiniog Forest, with Tom and James taking nine-seconds off their closest rivals, Julian Reynolds and Patrick Walsh in a Ford Focus WRC. And, whilst the tables were turned by two-seconds on stage two – Dyfi East – Tom and James were fastest again by four-seconds through SS3, Dyfi West. Consequently, when the crews arrived at the lunchtime service halt, Tom and James had extended their advantage to 11-seconds.
The next three stages were a re-run of the first and Tom commented that conditions were ideal: the Fiesta was running perfectly, they had been re-seeded to run as the first car on the road and the sun was still shining! The afternoon’s trio of stages – plus the addition of Pantperthog at the end – could not have gone better. In fact, following the rally Tom admitted that he and James were smiling all the way through the final stage.
A faultless performance from the crew, the Spencer Sport Fiesta and the Michelin tyres resulted in Tom and James crossing the finish line in Welshpool having pulled out a 27-second advantage. It was an impressive result and signified the first-ever outright victory for the Spencer Sport team.
“I haven’t enjoyed a rally as much as this for a long time”, said Tom at the finish. “We entered the event to work on set ups and to test the Michelin tyres in competitive conditions – as well as make sure we kept ourselves match fit during the gap between BRC events. In fact, everything went so well, we quickly found ourselves in front and I’m delighted to have provided Spencer Sport with its first overall victory and to have won my home event.
“It’s clear from this result that all of us in the team are doing the right things and if we can continue the momentum into the next round of the BRC, then we’ve achieved what we wanted to achieve this weekend. I therefore have to thank Spencer Sport for providing me with such a fantastic car. It never missed a beat throughout the rally and also thank James for his work and support inside the car.”
The next event for Tom, James and the Spencer Sport team is the RSAC Scottish Rally that starts and finishes in Dumfries on 25th June.
Cave makes it three top-four finishes out of three events
It was another impressive performance by Tom Cave and his co-driver James Morgan at the weekend, when they scored their third top-four MSA British Rally Championship result of the season in as many events, by finishing fourth on round three: the Pirelli Carlisle Rally. Driving the Spencer Sport Fiesta R5, Tom – from Aberdovey – was once again matching the times of the world-class drivers around him and in doing so, kept his BRC title hopes well and truly alive.
The Pirelli Carlisle Rally featured four stages on Saturday afternoon followed by another three on Sunday morning, with all of the event’s 74 competitive miles taking place in the infamous Kielder Forest. It’s an area renowned for the challenges it presents to cars and crews, with the fast and technically demanding gravel roads possessing their own distinctive character.
Following a third place on the Mid Wales Stages in March, followed by a fourth on the Circuit of Ireland three weeks ago, Tom and James went to this weekend’s rally aiming for another top result. However, with the caliber of the crews they were up against, they knew it would be no easy task.
Their expectations were realised as early as the opening stage, when it was clear that pace at the front of the field was going to be fierce and they emerged from SS1 in fifth place. It was a solid start, but both Tom and James knew there was more to come.
They kept the pressure on and, when rally leader Elfyn Evans dropped back following a puncture on stage three, they moved up to fourth. The final stage of the day served to maintain the status quo, when the top six crews beat the bogie time, meaning that all were accredited with exactly the same stage time. Consequently, organisers decided to add a series of chicanes into Sunday’s route in order to slow down the cars and attempt to avoid the bogie times being beaten.
Adding to the changes for Sunday was the onset of rain, the wet stages providing crews with a greatly reduced level of grip from that of Saturday. With their Michelin tyres working well in the conditions, Tom and James moved up to third in the first of the day’s stages. But another good run in the next stage was unrealised, when the top 13 crews managed to beat the bogie time again – resulting in the leading positions remaining unchanged.
It was now all down to the final stage – a 16-mile run through Chirdonhead – and, with Evans now on a mission to make up time following his Saturday puncture, Tom and James knew they would need a clean run to remain in a podium position. Everything was going according to plan until two-miles from the end, when a small overshoot when negotiating one of the organisers’ newly-added chicanes saw a few seconds lost – the subsequent delay allowing Evans to edge past and snatch third place behind Matthew Wilson in second and Fredrik Ahlin in first.
Whilst this final turn of events may have appeared frustrating, Tom and James remained pleased with the result, particularly against such tough opposition. Consequently, their performance was praised by the Spencer Sport team and at the finish, a philosophical Tom said:
“Overall I am very happy with the outcome of the weekend. To finish fourth against such a high level of competition is a good result. Added to this, James and I have continued to develop our partnership, plus I also learnt a lot more about the Fiesta.
“I really have to thank the Spencer Sport team for giving me such a reliable and competitive car. It never missed a beat throughout the rally. The Michelin tyres worked well in the differing conditions and we’re now in a great position for the rest of the season.”
The next event for Tom, James and the Spencer Sport team is in eight weeks time, when the MSA British Rally Championship heads even further north for the Dumfries-based RSAC Scottish Rally, which takes place on 25th June.
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.
On to the main purpose of the year, The MSA British Rally Championship and the Mid Wales Stages.
The strategy was to achieve a podium. My confidence was low after the accident and it was important to get a solid finish and get the championship underway on a positive note.
The recce became a challenge in itself, keeping my trusty Subaru forester recce car on the road in a straight line thanks to a thick layer of snow and ice which adorned the stages. It made the recce a challenge for the crews who were in 2wd recce cars who found themselves stuck very frequently which sadly slowed the whole convoy. But thankfully the conditions warmed up in the afternoon and we completed the recce without ending up in a ditch or any tow rope in site.
We completed a test at Higgins Rally School in Carno mid Wales that evening, after the recce. This became very beneficial to us. Because the conditions were shockingly bad, we gave the car a good shakedown, played around with lights for the night stages on the Saturday and made few minor suspension changes to suit the slippy conditions.
The first loop of stages on Saturday started very well, posting a 3rd fastest time on stage 1 & then followed by 4th fastest on stage 2, even driving out of the stage on a rear left puncture for 4 miles! Which I was very surprised with..
We fought with David Bogie on Sunday for 3rd place, we managed to hold him off and recorded a very satisfying 3rd place with a strong points haul.
Next up is the Circuit of Ireland – fantastic stages few we’ve driven before on Ulster Rally 2012, Torr head stage known as Ballymena this year is personal favourite of mine.
Thanks for reading,