Tom Cave broke his MSA British Rally Championship victory drought with a hard fought win in Round Two of the 2012 season, the Bulldog International Rally of North Wales.
The Welshpool-based rally saw its first two stages on Friday night cancelled, meaning that the opening stage was SS3 on Saturday morning. The opening stage win went the way of Finnish ace Jarkko Nikara, who headed into the Bulldog hoping for victory after retiring late on whist challenging for the lead in the season opening Rallye Sunseeker
Cave headed into the rally planning to drive his new Citroen DS3 R3 for the first time, after competing on the Sunseeker in a Ford Fiesta R2. It didn't go to plan for Cave though when he crashed it whilst testing before the event, meaning he was forced to hire a different one at the last minute.
The frantic rush began to pay off on the next two stages, Cave winning both to take the rally lead from Nikara. Another driver competing in a Citroen DS3 R3 for the first time was Keith Cronin, the double BRC champion instantly clicking with his new car to go third early on. Despite struggling with running first on the road, Elfyn Evans set the early R2 class pace in fourth overall, ahead of Osian Pryce in his Citroen DS3 R3 and BRC returnee Jonathan Greer in another Citroen DS3 R3.
Setting some front-running times on the opening couple of stages was Rallye Sunseeker winner Mark Donnelly, though his rally was to come to an abrupt halt at the end of SS4. The Northern Irishman ran wide just after the flying finish and clipped a telegraph pole before spinning into a tree, ripping a wheel off his Renault Clio R3.
Another big name to suffer an early retirement was WRC Academy star Alastair Fisher and his co-driver Daniel Barritt. On SS5, a stone punctured Fisher's fuel tank, causing a leak that eventually set fire to his Ford Fiesta R2, a fire that was eventually put out with the assistance of crews behind who stopped to help.
Back at the front, the battle was heating up, with less than 5 seconds splitting the top three after SS5. Cronin set the fastest time on SS6 to move into second ahead of Nikara, who dropped fifteen second to the Irishman, whilst also closing the gap to Cave to just two seconds.
A commanding performance on SS7 by the leader though saw him win by nearly ten seconds, stretching his lead out to 11.4 seconds. The pendulum swung back to Cronin on SS8 though after he took over eight seconds from Cave to reduce the lead to just three seconds, whilst a strong stage win for Nikara saw him move to within fifteen seconds of the lead. Behind meanwhile, a strong few stages for Pryce saw him move his way into fourth to make it a Citroen DS3 R3 1-2-3-4 at the top.
The event was preparing for a grandstand finish when the series organisers were forced to make the decision to cut the event short three stages from the end after delays through the day. The delays were caused by a BRC Challenge car catching fire at the end of SS8, with the police forced to close the road which led to service, meaning diversions were put in place, putting the rally 90 minutes behind schedule. This meant as the evening closed in with darkness falling, the decision was made to cancel the final three stages on safety grounds.
This confirmed Cave's first ever BRC win and at the finish the Welshman said: “I've been waiting to win an international event for quite a while, so to finally do it is fantastic. I really concentrated on making as few mistakes as possible today and it's paid off. After the problems I had on Tuesday when the steering broke and I went off the road testing my own car, I have to thank everyone who helped get another DS3 organised in time for me to compete this weekend. Needless to say, I am very, very happy with the result.”
The early conclusion to the rally was disappointing for Cronin, who was on a roll in his Citroen, but the former champion will be happy with the pace he showed. Nikara took third to get some crucial points on the board after his Sunseeker retirement, whilst Welshman Pryce continued his strong start to the season with fourth. Evans and Greer completed the top six, ahead of Pirelli Star Driver Jukka Korhonen and Irishman Desi Henry.
Other retirements included Arron Newby in his Pirelli TEG Sport-run Skoda Fabia R2 and Scottish driver Ruary McLeod in his Ford Fiesta R2, the duo both pulling off in the same spot on the day's opening stage with mechanical woes. Also having problems in SS3 was returning driver Molly Taylor, the Australian going off in her Ford Fiesta R2, whilst Ford Junior Team Finland driver Jussi Kumpumaki ground to a halt before SS6 in his Fiesta R2.