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.
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,
The intentions for the pre-season outing on the Red Kite were to build a working relationship with new co driver for 2016, James Morgan. Also we needed to gather data from the car with regards of setup of diff settings in preparation for the Mid Wales Stages. Spencer Sport were new to the Fiesta R5 it gave the lads & team time to bond with car and get to know how it works. They’ve had R5 experience with running the unique Mitsubishi Mirage R5 on national events over the last 12 months or so.
A mile into stage 1, unexpectedly the car dictated a change of direction very aggressively and we went off the road at 120kph backwards down a 250ft ravine. The car rolled more times than I could count and we fortunately and violently came to an abrupt end which felt like a entirety rolling down the hill bouncing off the trees. I remember Jari Matti Latvala’s accident at Rally Portugal 2009 when he crashed in the Focus WRC and rolled down the mountainside and you just can’t comprehend something like that till it happens to you. It’s not a feeling I wouldn’t want to wish upon anyone and never want to experience again.
It took nearly 48 hours to recover the car. It was clearly going to be extensively damaged.
But amazingly, it was repairable in time for the Mid Wales Stages, some 11 days later. I personally would like to thank the M-Sport & Spencer Sport technicians and also Dave Jenkins Motorsport who spent all weekend nonstop painting the car after the car returned from the body shop at M-Sport.
Welcome to the first ever Tom Cave blog!
So we started off the year not knowing whether I would be competing at all this year. There simply weren’t any real offers on the table. Of course, I had the option of the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy but I really didn’t see the benefit for me of staying in that series for another year.
I wanted to be in a R5 car for 2016 but things were looking bleak.
However, low and behold an opportunity raised its head during the week leading up the Autosport Show.
Spencer Sport, who is a family concern based in Llandysul West Wales wanted me in a R5 Fiesta EVO in the new-look BRC which was now attracting attention from around the world.
They were fortunate enough to have a excellent tyre deal on the table with Michelin all we needed was a car…
A deal was struck with M-Sport World Rally Team and we got our hands on Elfyn Evans’ Sweden winning WRC2 Fiesta R5 EVO. It was game on.