Junior WRC driver Tom Williams gives us an update on his 2019 campaign, Goodwood Festival of Speed and more in his monthly blog.
You’ve caught me preparing for the next round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, Rally Finland. It’s an event I’ve done before, making my overseas WRC debut there in 2017, and it’s one of the most exciting rounds of the series – and a place you have to know extremely well before you can win there.
It’s been very busy since the last round of the JWRC, and Rally Italia Sardegna already seems like a very long time ago. With temperatures approaching 40°C, it was very tough event, and all that time training and working on my cardio paid dividends. However, the event was also a lot different from what people had told us it was going to be like, and it was not what I was expecting at all.
Even though the roads were quite smooth on the recce, people kept telling us how much they would cut up and how rough they would become, but when we arrived on the stages cautiously, the roads held up a lot stronger than I thought, due to the bedrock underneath.
We made a lot of set-up adjustments to the car during the event. We did our pre-event test at Walters Arena, and we a little unlucky in picking quite a cold day – so the set-up we were happy with in Wales just didn’t work in the extreme heat of Sardinia. Even on the shakedown, the car was handling so differently and it didn’t feel comfortable to drive at all. We got the car to work better the afternoon of leg one, but on leg two we lost a lot of time stopping to change two punctures, which meant that any chance of a good result had gone.
Leg three was a really tricky day. We knew a car ahead of us had gone off, and because I was looking to see where it was I wasn’t concentrating on the pace notes, and suddenly the road turned sharp right on a blind corner and I followed Nil Solans into the bushes and hit the back of his car! On the following stage we lost third gear, and then on the final stage, towards the end, we ran over a rock and put a hole in the sump.
You have to have a never give up mentally in rallying, so we spent about twenty minutes after the stage trying to fix the car, trying to plug the hole with foam paddling, clay, bits from nearby bushes and stuff from my medical box. We re-started the engine, and with two bar of pressure we set off again – hoping to complete the final road section back to the finish in Alghero. We drove for quite a while, but when the engine got hot it melted the clay and everything became unplugged. We had no more clay, no more spare oil and no more materials to use, so we had to retire.
On the few stages that we didn’t have a problem on we were able to push and were happy with our pace, as we were only a few seconds off the top guys. It’s just going back to those pace notes and working on driving fast and being cautious at the same time. It’s a fine balance, and we’ll work hard to find it. The most important thing is that we learnt an awful lot in Sardinia, which was can use on other events in the future.
When we arrived back in the UK I went straight up to Liverpool for the Wales Rally GB launch. The enthusiasm from the city is huge and it put on a really good show. The night before we went out for dinner in the city and popped into the famous Cavern Club for a look, which is something you just have to do if you’re in Liverpool. Even on a Tuesday night, the place was buzzing!
We’ve also been to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where I drove a Fiesta R5 run by Dom Buckley Motorsport on the Forest Rally Stage. It’s a fantastic event, and we used it to take guests and sponsors out for a high-speed spin. It was an extremely busy four days, with a lot of sponsor meetings and the magnificent Goodwood Ball.
We had some very special guests at Goodwood from the Royal Air Force. My co-driver, Phil Hall, is an RAF Reservist, and they are supporting and following us this year. Four members of the RAF Reserves came out to Sardinia to film us, in what will be the first of twelve videos that they will produce – looking at the similarities between the RAF and rallying. Things like engineering, logistics, catering, teamwork and of course driving and navigating. I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel of some very big off-road vehicles later in the year, which few outside the RAF get the opportunity to get their hands on!
It was at Goodwood where we announced by new partnership with BELL Racing Helmets International. BELL is massive in Formula 1 and in circuit racing, and we will be working with its technical and marketing departments to develop its BELL HP9 Rally and GT5 Rally Carbon helmets, as well as its all-new state-of-the-art amplifier and intercom system. Exciting times!
But right now, all our thoughts are on Ouninpohja, Ruuhimäki, Pihlajakoski, Päijälä, Kakaristo and all the other ultra-fast and smooth gravel stages that make Rally Finland one of the all-time classic WRC events. Preparation is key, and we’ll certainly be out there trying to do our best against our Scandinavian and European JWRC rivals!