Mixed fortunes for Junior Rallying

 in final 2008 Latvian outing

It was mixed fortunes last weekend for the young drivers competing with Junior Rallying, the scheme to develop the next generation of British rallying talent. Tom Cave, the inspiration for the scheme, got exactly the result he was looking for on Rally Latvia but Tom Clark rolled his car 1Km from the end of the penultimate stage and retired.

Rally Latvia was the final round of the 2008 Latvian Rally Championship and marked the culmination of Junior Rallying’s activity in the Baltic state for this season. The flagship event saw Tom Cave aiming for another finish to allow him to secure his international rally license while Tom Clark was stepping up to a national event for the first time, after a series of exceptional results in the RallySprint championship.

Cave approached the event with a single objective – to get to the finish and gain the final signature required to achieve his international license and with it, the next phase of his rally career. He drove a considered event and reached the finish ramp sixth in class, one place behind the Latvian who competes in the FSTi, the one-make Fiesta championship that supports the FIA World Rally Championship.

This means that the Latvian Automobile Federation will now issue Tom with his International rally license, allowing him to enter and, pending passing his UK driving test, compete on the final round of the 2008 WRC, Wales Rally GB. This clearly demonstrates the validity of the Junior Rallying proposition, in providing young British drivers with two years of crucial rally experience and a significant advantage over their peers by the time they reach their 17th birthday.

If he passes his driving test and competes in Wales, he will become the youngest Latvian license-holder to compete in the WRC, with the Latvian flag next to his name on his car: a fitting tribute to the effort and support given to Junior Rallying by the Latvian Automobile Federation (LAF).

Tom Clark’s event didn’t go so well, however. After a string of exceptional results in this season’s RallySprint championship, Tom was invited to take part on the final round of the National Championship by the LAF. From the word go, he realised that competing on a national event was a much harder proposition than he was used to.

By the end of the recce, he had a better idea of what was involved. He was surprised by the length of the stages on the event and their technicality. In the RallySprint series, he was used to stages ranging from 2Km to 9Km. However, on Rally Latvia, he would have to tackle 28Km stages with combinations of corners on the fast and flowing gravel roads, testing he and co-driver Aggie Foster’s mettle.

His problems began on the first superspecial stage in Jurmala. The rear of his Suzuki Swift Cup car stepped out and he clipped a kerb, bending the rear beam. He limped through the rest of the section and the Junior Rallying technicians carried out running repairs to allow him to continue. He went on to set the fastest class stage time on stage nine of the event, a remarkable feat on his first national rally. However, it was on the penultimate stage of the event, the 28Km Parex Lizings test where the drama would occur.

Tom mis-heard a pace note, warning of a fork right following a crest and left the road and went into the field between the two forked roads. As the car went off the road, the nose dug in and the Suzuki rolled end-over-end, landing on the rear of the roof, collapsing it and the roll cage. Both crew were unhurt in the incident but clearly, their event and the rally career of that particular car were over.

Despite his severe disappointment at the incident, which occurred 1Km from the end of the penultimate stage, Tom was back in a rally car on Monday morning in the UK, testing at the Junior Rallying HQ. He viewed the incident as part of the learning process and was keen to get back into a rally car as soon as possible.

Also in Latvia at the weekend were the Roberts Twins, Charlotte and Jessica, along with British Rally Championship competitor father, Martin. They were visiting the event on a fact-finding mission, since they will be joining the ranks of Junior Rallying drivers in 2009, competing in a two-car sister team in the RallySprint series. The twins are already well versed with rallying, from following Martin’s career but visiting Latvia and seeing the competition first-hand has added a sense of excitement and urgency to their preparations for next year and neither can wait to take the start of their first event.

Commenting on this season’s final outing in Latvia, Junior Rallying Manager Gemma Price said; “This was a difficult weekend for Junior Rallying. While we’re delighted that Tom [Cave] finished the event and gained his international license, we’re also deeply disappointed for Tom Clark, who drove a superb event. To have an incident that close to the end of your first national event is bad enough. For it to cause significant damage to their car is worse. However, both crew were unharmed which is the most important aspect and the fact that Tom was back in a rally car within hours of the roll is testament to how seriously he takes his rally career.

“I’m also delighted that the Twins were able to join us this weekend, to see first-hand what rallying in Latvia is all about. They are very excited about next season now, where they will combine the training phase with the RallySprint series. They were very impressed with the level of competition, the professionalism, the country and the Latvian people. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Charlotte and Jessica next season.

“From Junior Rallying’s point of view, I don’t think this first season could possibly have gone any better. The partnership we forged with the Latvian Automobile Federation has worked perfectly; the support and encouragement both the scheme and the individual drivers have received has been unwavering. We are very pleased that the Latvian flag will be displayed alongside Junior Rallying’s logo on Tom Cave’s car when, I’m sure not if, he competes on Rally GB.

“This season has also demonstrated the effectiveness of the overall Junior Rallying concept. Tom Cave is effectively the first student to follow the complete program and assuming he passes his test, will step up to his first WRC outing immediately following his ‘graduation’ from Junior Rallying. Tom Clark and several other drivers are all planning to contest the national series next year while we have the twins and several new drivers all ready to start their training and RallySprint competition with us.

“It’s been a perfect first year for us and we must now make sure that it works even better for the new intake than it has done for this year’s drivers.”

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