Junior WRC driver Tom Williams presents his latest blog exclusively for The Checkered Flag.
It’s time for Wales Rally GB, my home and double-points scoring round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, and the one event that I’ve been looking forward to all year.
I’ve contested it three times before, and I’ve also done a few other rallies in Wales, so at least I have a good feel and understanding of the stages. The JWRC is very much the University of Rallying and I’m still learning, so there is a lot of preparation to do. Wales Rally GB is a very long and demanding event, so you have to be mentally and physically up for the challenge. Friday is tricky, with four tough stages in Elsi, Penmachno, Dyfnant and Aberhirnan forests before a mid-day service, while Saturday is even harder with no service during the day at all. Saturday could be the crucial day, as you have to be fast and make no mistakes, which is a difficult thing to do.
When I started in the JWRC at the beginning of last year I was around five seconds a kilometre off the pace of the fastest drivers – and now, just a year and only nine rounds later, I’m within one second a kilometre of the best times, so we are exactly where I want to be at this stage in my career.
Our last rally in Finland was a bit of a rollercoaster. We were unlucky on the first day, hitting a big rock in the middle of a flat in fifth gear corner. It was on a really smooth and fast section of road, so it was very unexpected and there was no way we could avoid it. The impact cracked the sump, and as it was on the first stage of the afternoon loop we had to switch everything off to make sure that we didn’t damage the engine and could continue the following day.
We were very disappointed, yet more determined to come out fighting on day two. With some set-up changes and a repaired front end, we set two good stage times on Saturday, catching the car ahead of us both times. We were really enjoying the classic Finnish stages and pushing hard, and going into the famous Kakaristo stage we had a great rhythm and the car felt good. Unfortunately, on a deceptive right-hander we slid a little wide and went off. It was because of a pace note error we made during the recce, and it shows that when you are pushing hard the notes have to be spot on – it was another good lesson learnt.
Phil Hall and I had to sit there and wait for all the cars to run through the stage a second time in the afternoon, so we got quite a bit of spectating done! Then some friendly Polish fans with a camper van gave me a lift back to Jyväskylä, while Phil went with the low-loader and the Fiesta R2. While we got stuck in traffic, Phil used his navigational skills to avoid all the jams and, annoyingly, got back to service before me!
Despite a lot of damage, the M-Sport team did a fantastic job to repair the car and enable us to restart Sunday’s final leg of the event. With nothing to lose, we pushed hard on the final day and set some good split and stage times – many under our one second per kilometre target. So the event ended on a high and we left Finland on a positive, having learnt an awful lot.
In Finland we also had four RAF Reserves with us from the 501 and 504 Squadrons, who were there to experience the rally and to make a number of videos – this time focusing on catering and logistics. As part of our partnership with the RAF, we also had a visit from the Defence Attaché, Wing Commander Mark Taylor, who it turns out is a real petrol-head. We’ll have four more RAF Reserves with us at Wales Rally GB.
Talking of back home, I’m delighted that Matt Edwards has won back-to-back British Rally Championship titles. I’ve been working on Matt’s Fiesta R5 at M-Sport and went with the M-Sport team to work on Matt’s car on the Ulster Rally, so I’d like to think I played a very small part in his victory! Working with M-Sport is a tremendous experience, and the more I learn about every aspect of rallying the better rally driver I will become. That’s all I’m focusing on.
That said, I’ve had some great fun days out as well. I had a week up in Cumbria driving journalists around in the brand new Ford Ranger Raptor. It’s an amazing piece of kit that is capable of so much. The suspension is like it’s off the Fiesta WRC car!
And I was lucky enough to go to the Goodwood Revival and watch some incredible classic cars getting pushed hard on hot tar by some legendary racing drivers. If you’ve never been to the Revival, I can highly recommend it – it’s a fantastic day out. But don’t forget to dress up!
But now the focus is very much back on preparing for Wales Rally GB and continuing to progress in the WRC – and I can’t wait for the event to start.