Ahead of this Saturday’s (17th August) Ulster Rally – sponsored by Northern Ireland-based convenience store chain Today’s – Aberdovey driver Tom Cave prepares what could be the most significant event of the season.
Tom currently shares the British Rally Championship lead with fellow Welshman Matt Edwards, both of them level-pegging on 68 points and with two wins, a second place and a DNF apiece, the penultimate event in the six-round season is shaping up to be a pivotal point in the chase for the title. Therefore, with the nine timed special stages providing 93 miles of competition over the fast and technically demanding Ulster asphalt, the tension is building for an epic encounter between the two title aspirants.
“It really is a case of who dares wins this weekend”, explains Tom. “Both Matt and I are at the top of our game and we’ve been very evenly matched so far this year, so there’s no room for error and neither of us can afford to relax.”
Tom will drive the PCRS supplied and prepared Hyundai i20 R5 that he has campaigned in all this year’s previous four rounds and took to victory on the West Cork Rally in March and the Pirelli International Rally in April. Once again, the 27-year old will be co driven by Dale Bowen from Hirwaun.
The Welsh pair will head across to Northern Ireland on Thursday to carry out a pre-event test in the Hyundai on roads that will replicate those that will confront them two days later. Friday will see the crews perform their recce runs through the stages, with the event’s ceremonial start from Albert Basin in Newry taking place from 8.45 that evening.
Competition will begin at 8.30 on Saturday morning with a loop of three stages tackled before the first service halt of the day in Newry. The same trio of stages are repeated before second service halt and again afterwards, with the finish scheduled for 17.30 at Newry High School.
“We are in a great position to challenge for the win on Saturday, so Dale and I are extremely focused on what we need to do. Having finished runner up twice before in 2012 and 2016, I would really like to get the British title under my belt – not only for Dale, the team and I, but for Hyundai and all our sponsors – so rest assured, we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got.”
Tom’s 2019 season is supported by: Trailhead Fine Foods and its Get Jerky snack brand, Cambrian Training, Michelin Motorsport, Ponsse UK, H.N. Nuttall Foodservice, Go Fetch Ltd, Intervino, Atech Racing, Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing and Shukers Hyundai of Aberystwyth.”
Tom Cave’s hard work behind the wheel of his Hyundai i20 R5 coupled with Dale Bowen’s efforts beside him on the notes, rewarded the Welsh pair with an impressive second place in the British Rally Championship standings and an overall result of seventh on Friday and Saturday’s (28th & 29th June) Renties Ypres Rally.
The outcome hots-up the race for the British title and with two wins, a second place and a DNF apiece, the scores put Tom on exactly same number of points as Matt Edwards with two of the six rounds remaining.
The Ypres Rally is the longest and fastest round of the season and was made even more demanding by the recent exceptionally hot weather. Adding further to the challenge for success in this hugely popular rally was a top quality field that featured a line-up of former and current World and European Championship teams.
Thursday evening’s practice and qualifying runs resulted in Tom and Dale claiming 10th place. Consequently, they had the final choice of starting position at Friday’s draw during the spectacular pre-start ceremonies in the town square and opted to run as first car on the road when the rally began later in the afternoon.
A measured start saw Tom and Dale enter the service halt after five stages holding an overall position just outside the top 10 and only eight seconds from BRC leaders Edwards and co-driver Patrick Walsh. Now with a better feel of how the car and his Michelin tyres were working on the Belgium asphalt, a re-run of four of the first loop’s stages in the evening twilight paid dividends. Therefore, when the crews arrived back in Ypres for the overnight stop, Tom and Dale had elevated their overall position to seventh and importantly, were now heading the British Rally Championship field by an excitingly close 0.4 seconds.
The plan was ‘more of the same’ for Saturday’s 14 stages and with no let up in the ambient temperature, there was little doubt that a tough day lay ahead. A perfect run through stage 10 to extend their lead was contrasted by a puncture and a damaged wheel rim on stage 11. This resulted in a cautious pass through SS12 and the loss of around 40 seconds, albeit Tom and Dale maintained a position in the rally’s top-ten and were still second of the British Championship runners.
With a two-minute buffer to that of the third-placed BRC crew of Alex Laffey and Stuart Lowden, Tom and Dale elected to still push so that if Edwards and Walsh had any issues they were in a position to pounce, but at the same time not spoil what would be an excellent result and claim a significant haul of points in the process. The remaining 11 stages saw Tom and Dale provide a demonstration of determined and consistent on-the-pace driving that was perfect for the circumstances – and in doing so, they increased their overall position to an impressive seventh and at the same time consolidated their second place in the British Rally Championship field by the time the event finished that evening.
“This is one of the toughest events I’ve ever done, said Tom at the finish. “The high temperatures coupled with the nature of the stages and the level of concentration and raw speed you need to succeed against drivers who are more familiar with the Belgium stages, was really intense. But of course, that makes our result even more satisfying and I’m delighted to have scored a third BRC podium finish and in doing so, stay at the top of the championship tables – albeit now sharing the position with Matt (Edwards), who drove an excellent rally.
“I must add that I could not have achieved any of this without by wing-man Dale Bowen, who did a fantastic job. I also have to thank and congratulate the PCRS team for providing us with the Hyundai that ran perfectly throughout the event, especially as this has been such a difficult week for them.
“And of course, my appreciation extends to all of our supporters, partners and sponsors: Trailhead Fine Foods and its Get Jerky snack brand, Cambrian Training, Michelin Motorsport, Ponsse UK, H.N. Nuttall Foodservice, Go Fetch Ltd, Intervino, Atech Racing, Walero, Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing, Shukers Hyundai of Aberystwyth and Gamme Hyundai in Ypres.”
Tom and Dale will reconvene their successful partnership on 16th & 17th August, when they head to Northern Ireland for the Today’s Ulster Rally and the fifth round of the British Rally Championship.
Photo: Chicane Media
Having claimed two British Rally Championship victories and consequently, maximum point scores on the previous two rounds: the West Cork and Pirelli rallies, Tom Cave heads to round four and the Renties Ypres Rally leading the drivers’ standings by seven points.
Taking place on smooth West Flanders asphalt roads, for the Aberdovey driver this weekend’s event is the biggest of the season on three levels: overall competitive distance, the rally’s sporting status and for keeping Tom’s title hopes on track.
“It’s an important one for us, as we will be fighting to maintain our championship lead”, explains Tom. “It’s a demanding rally too. Whilst the stages are on good quality roads, they’re very technical in nature and you have to concentrate 100% of the time.“
Tom will be partnered in Belgium by fellow Welshman and his regular co-driver for 2019, Dale Bowen and will be driving the same Philip Case Rally Sport prepared Hyundai i20 R5 that he has used for all three previous British Championship rounds.
“I last did this rally two years ago – also in a Hyundai i20 R5 – and although we didn’t finish on that occasion, following the experience gained and the development of the car since then, I am confident we can be very competitive this year.
“As usual there’s a high quality of crews and teams on the entry list and whilst we’ll be fighting for overall honours, our main focus will be to beat our BRC rivals, of course. I must admit that following my last asphalt outing in Ireland, I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do in Belgium.”
A test on Tuesday on similar roads that will be used for the rally went exactly according to plan, with Tom reporting that the Michelin tyres were working exceptionally well in the dry and warm conditions.
Tom and Dale will carry #5 on the door of their Hyundai and will take part in Thursday evening’s qualifying session that will dictate their eventual starting position.
Following the pre-start ceremony in the centre of the town, the Ypres Rally gets underway at 16.10 CET. Crews tackle nine stages that evening and following the overnight halt, another 14 on Sunday, with the finish scheduled to take place at 21.30. The rally’s overall competitive distance of 278 kms makes this the longest event in the BRC calendar.
The team welcomes its new sponsors and supporters for this event: Ponsse UK, Shukers Hyundai in Aberystwyth and Gamme Hyundai in Ypres. They join Tom’s existing line up of supporters: Trailhead Fine Foods and its Get Jerky snack brand, Cambrian Training, Michelin Motorsport, H.N. Nuttall Foodservice, Go Fetch Ltd, Intervino, Atech Racing, Walero and Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing.
For two days in the middle of May, Hyundai UK invited us to take part in its Spring Drive Event, where journalists and key personnel were given the chance to experience the latest range of Hyundai cars – and discover what it’s like to ride in a rally car.
The event was based at a farm about ten miles north of Banbury that featured a superbly converted barn where guests were welcomed in the morning before embarking on a series of pre-determined routes in various Hyundai models. Our role was to provide the attendees with demonstration rides in our i20 R5 in between their test drives.
To do this, we set up a stage at a nearby quarry, which provided a perfect ‘Ken Block’ style venue where we could put the car through its paces and give our passengers a ride they’ll never forget. Whilst some had previously experienced what it’s like to be strapped into the co-driver’s seat and driven at almost full rally-speeds around a stage, for others it was their first time. Either way, it would be fair to say that without exception everyone was blown away by the experience.
“This is the first time we’ve worked with Hyundai UK and we were delighted to be involved with this event. PCRS came over from Ireland with the Hyundai i20 R5 we’ve been using for this year’s British Rally Championship, so for the guests, it was the real deal.
“We ran almost non-stop over the two days in what were very dry and dusty conditions, which meant that from the photos it looked like we were competing somewhere overseas. We took out well over 30 journalists and Hyundai personnel, including the company’s chief European designer and the UK managing director.
“Other than the car needing fuel towards the end of the second day, the team didn’t have to do a thing to it, which considering we covered the same mileage as a British Championship round in ‘Safari-like’ conditions, was an impressive statistic.
“We’ve had some great feedback since the event and there’s been some excellent media coverage. We therefore look forward to doing more with Hyundai UK in the future.”
Photos by Matt Vosper.