Tom Cave’s efforts and the promise of a podium result on Saturday’s Ulster Rally ended one stage from the end, when contact with a wall stopped him and co-driver Dale Bowen in their tracks.
Having set regular top-three stage times, as the Welsh pair challenged to maintain their share of the championship lead, the outcome clearly didn’t match the potential in the British Rally Championship’s penultimate round.
Having won two rounds, scored a second place and recorded a DNF apiece this season, Tom and his main rival Matt Edwards headed to the Newry-based, Today’s convenience store sponsored event tying for the British Rally Championship lead.
So, with the Ulster encounter representing the fifth of six rounds, it was all to play for between the two title aspirants over the nine stages and 93 competitive miles that lay ahead of them.
The competitive action got underway on Saturday morning with the first loop of loop of three stages. Whilst damp patches in the opening stage did not persist in the second, grip levels from one section to the next were still difficult to predict.
However, Tom and Dale were right on the pace and well placed to challenge for the result they were looking for when he and Dale pulled into the first service halt of the day. At that point they were lying second in the British Championship standings – 9.8 seconds behind Edwards – and third overall – 12.2 seconds behind rally leader, Craig Breen.
Changing onto a harder compound tyre for the second loop of the same three stages helped in some cases, but not in others. Whilst an overshoot into a field in SS5 cost Tom and Dale precious seconds, a fastest BRC time in SS4 and an overall fastest time in SS6 did much to restore some of the deficit.
However, the gap between them and Edwards was now 19.3 seconds, which meant that a return to the softer tyres and a consolidation of positions was the order for the final loop.
But the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition and, on the approach to a high-speed left hander near the end of stage eight, Tom felt the car slide a little wider than it had done before. Whilst he straightened it up for the exit, a section of a wall that jutted out caught the front corner of the car, removed a wheel and spun the Hyundai round in the road.
Thankfully both Tom and Dale were unharmed, but the same could not be said for their car and they had no choice but to retire on the spot.
“I really didn’t think we were going to hit the wall, but the last bit of it stuck out further than the rest and although we just clipped it, the outcome was terminal,” explained Tom. “Of course, it’s disappointing to end the rally that way, but if we hadn’t been on the front-running pace, it would have been even more disappointing, so we certainly take away some positives and I congratulate Craig and Matt for the overall and BRC wins respectively.
“Once again, the PCRS team provided us with a car that was competitive and reliable – as it has been all season – although what happened in stage eight was not the best way to show our appreciation of their fantastic efforts, of course.
“With just one round of the British Rally Championship to go, it’s going to make it extremely tough to claim the title. However, we shall still give it our best shot.”
The sixth and final round of this year’s British Rally Championship takes place on September 14 and sees the surface return to gravel for the Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas based Galloway Hills Rally.
Tom’s 2019 British Rally Championship campaign is supported by: Trailhead Fine Foods and its Get Jerky snack brand, Cambrian Training, Michelin Motorsport, Ponsse UK, H.N. Nuttall Foodservice, Go Fetch Ltd, Intervino, Atech Racing, Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing and Shukers Hyundai of Aberystwyth.