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.