This weekend saw a superb rally for Junior Rallying, the scheme to develop the next generation of British rally drivers. No less than five drivers competed under the Junior Rallying banner on the Gulbis Rally, the penultimate round of the Latvian RallySprint championship and all but one achieved excellent finishes on the Latvian stages.
This event marked the largest entry for Junior Rallying since the scheme began in January this year, with five under-17 drivers competing on the six-stage, 180Km event based around the town of Gulbene, 150Km east of Riga.
Top Junior Rallying finisher was Tom Clark, driving his Suzuki Swift Cup car. He finished the event 34th overall and fifth in class, exactly the target he set himself in the run-up to the event. Even more impressive is the fact that this is his fifth finish out of five starts, with his results improving consistently. Other than a puncture on the fourth timed test of the event, his and co-driver Aggie Foster’s day was an uneventful one, despite a gearbox change prior to the event, a result of a manufacturer recall on that particular model. Not only did 16 year-old Clark impress the Junior Rallying team again, his performance also caught the eye of the scheme’s partners, the Latvian Automobile Federation, who plan to invite Tom to compete on Rally Latvia, the last round of this year’s Latvian National Championship in October – a fitting end to an excellent debut season.
Second of the five British drivers was Conor Flynn, who was 38th overall and 10th in class. He was particularly pleased with his and co-driver Tim Young’s achievement, since his Mk3 Volkswagen Golf is in a much lower state of development than some of the other machinery used by the Junior Rallying drivers. His right foot, which he damaged playing football before the event, held up to the stresses of the event and clearly had no effect on his performance.
Next was Jamie Brown, driving his Honda Civic and partnered by Craig Burgess, who also continued to improve, finishing 41st overall and seventh in class. This was only his second event and on his first, he finished in the 70s against a comparable entry field, so a 30-odd place improvement is testament to his potential and achievement.
The fourth Junior Rallying driver was Tom Cave, inspiration for the scheme. He led his fellow British drivers over the first loop of three stages but a near-terminal gearbox failure meant that he had to settle for a pace which would ensure he reached the finish of the event once the Junior Rallying technicians had repaired his car. He eventually finished 45th overall and first in the 1600+ Open class, despite his gearbox being held in by a single bolt and a ratchet strap for three stages.
Despite an excellent start, things went awry for Dom Scott and co-driver Mike Scrimgour. After the first three stages, Dom was the third Brit, one second behind Clark who in turn was two seconds behind Cave. Scott set himself the target of becoming the top Brit but on the fourth stage of the event, his gearbox also failed, leaving him with no drive and therefore, a retirement. To add to the blow, he and his team had spent considerable time between his debut outing and Gulbis testing the transmission to prevent a repeat of the problems that slowed him on his first outing.
Commenting on the weekend, Junior Rallying Manager Gemma Price, said: “It’s been an excellent weekend for Junior Rallying. We’re obviously sorry that Dom had the car problems he did and wasn’t able to finish the event after setting a superb pace on the first three stages. It’s also a shame that Tom [Cave] had his problems but this did mean that someone else, in this case Tom Clark, was able to get a shot at being the top British driver.
“All of the Junior Rallying drivers have shown excellent skill and determination this weekend, as well as good grace when things didn’t go according to plan. As we all know, these kinds of problems are part and parcel of rallying and all the drivers actively learn as much when things go wrong as they do when they go right.
“What is most impressive is the maturity they all demonstrated to recognise that this is all valuable experience and will form part of their development as rally drivers.”
The next event for Junior Rallying will be the Rally B&K in September, the final round of the Latvian RallySprint Championship and the last chance many of the drivers will get this year to compete. Therefore, Price predicts an equally high entry field from the UK for the final round.