British Rally Championship Round One – Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally (16th February 2019)

On the opening round of this year’s British Rally Championship – Saturday’s (16th February) Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally – Tom Cave and co-driver Dale Bowen clearly established themselves as title contenders, when they delivered an impressive front-running performance on all of the event’s ten stages.

However, three punctures in the final two stages meant they were unable to complete the road section to the finish line in Llandudno – an underserved end to an otherwise well-judged and faultless day’s competition.

For Tom (from Aberdovey), the Northwest Wales event represented the start of new season, in a new car, with a new co-driver, who is relishing the opportunity of contesting a full season in this year’s British Rally Championship. Following a highly successful test earlier in the week when he drove the PCRS prepared Hyundai i20 R5 on Michelin tyres for the first time, he and Dale (from Hirwaun) were well prepared to hit the ground running for the first of Saturday’s stages in forests that are synonymous with rallying in the region.

And hit the ground running they did, posting the third-fastest time in the opening stage, a performance that saw the Welsh pair just 3.2 seconds off the then leaders David Bogie/John Rowan and 0.8 seconds from 2018 British Champion Matt Edwards with co-driver Patrick Walsh. Tom and Dale then went on to set equal fastest-time on SS2 and second-fastest on SS3, which meant they held second place – just 5.2 seconds from Edwards/Walsh – when they booked in to the first service halt of the day in Llandudno.

Tom reported all was going exceptionally well, although the stages were more slippery than expected, with varying levels of grip.

With the onset of rain during the second loop of four stages, traction became even more of an issue. Even so, Tom and Dale continued to set top-three times before booking into the second service halt, where the PCRS team fitted spot lamps and a set of softer-compound tyres for the final three-stage loop in the evening.

The nighttime encounter began well, with Tom and Dale beating Edwards/Walsh – who were now in the lead – by nearly two seconds through stage eight. Although being slowed by a puncture about a mile from the finish of SS9, Tom and Dale still held on to their second place as they lined up to start the tenth and final stage.

However, just half-a-mile into the 4.81-mile run through Elsi Forest, a second puncture beset the Hyundai crew, the tyre loosing all of its air immediately. Nevertheless, Tom managed to get the car to the end of the stage and even with the consequential loss of time, he and Dale were fifth and still in a valuable point scoring position.

But there was more frustration to come, when a third puncture manifested itself during the transit section on the way back to the finish control in Llandudno and, with no more spare wheels available, they had no choice but to retire with just a few road miles left to go. It was not the result that the team had anticipated or indeed deserved, following a performance that had all but assured a podium finish, as Tom explains:

“I just can’t believe our rally ended that way. I’ve never experienced three punctures in an event before – let along in two stages!

“However, I’m really pleased with the way things went up until that point. Considering it was the first time in this car, my first event since October’s Wales Rally GB and Dale and I’s first rally together at this level, to be in with a shot of the lead and claim two fastest times, really sets the scene for the season ahead.

“We’ll now investigate what happened, take on board the positives – of which there were many – and regroup so that we’re even better prepared when we travel to Ireland next month.”

The second round of the British Rally Championship is the Clonakilty-based West Cork Rally, which takes place on 15th & 16th March and provides the first asphalt encounter of the season.

Tom’s 2019 British Rally Championship campaign is supported by: Trailhead Fine Foods (Get Jerky), Cambrian Training, Michelin Motorsport, H.N. Nuttall Foodservice, Atech Racing, Walero and Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing.

– Trailhead are a proud sponsor & long-time supporter of Tom Cave & will be closely following his journey through this years British Rally Championship – so stay tuned for updates! –