Tom Cave and his co-driver James Morgan produced another impressive performance at the weekend as they scored their third top-four MSA British Rally Championship result of the season in as many events.
The Welsh pair finished 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, who is from Hirwaun, went into the rally aiming for another top result. However, with the calibre 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, the 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 than 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.
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 June 25.