All systems go for youngest entrant

on Wales Rally GB

The UK’s first minor international rally driver, Tom Cave, will step into the history books next week, as he becomes the youngest ever driver to compete on the UK round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Wales Rally GB. Now the teenager from Aberdovey has passed his driving test and secured his UK road license, he has ticked every box on his way to what he describes as “an unbelievable opportunity”.

Cave, who turned 17 on the 16th November, passed his driving test at his first attempt earlier this week. Having already achieved his International Rally license, issued by the Latvian Automobile Federation after two years of competition in the Baltic state, he has now fulfilled every requirement to start the final round of this year’s WRC.

The pressure on the youngster’s shoulders was immense, as he prepared for his test. Not only was his chance to contest next week’s rally riding on his success, he also had the added pressure of live film crews from Sky News, BBC News and ITV waiting alongside family and friends as he returned home. However, he achieved the result everyone was hoping for and was congratulated by co-driver Gemma Price, whose rally opportunity also rode on Tom’s success.

“It was such a relief to pass the test,” said Tom. “In the run-up to it, I tried to stay as focused and positive as possible, concentrating on passing the test, rather than allowing myself to think about failing. As I walked to the car with the examiner, he mentioned that he’d seen a report on Sky that morning about my rallying, so I hoped that didn’t prejudice my chances. In the end, I made seven minor faults, out of an allowance of up to 15 and was immensely relieved.

“Now that the test is out of the way, it means that I can concentrate on preparing for the rally and everything that goes along with that. There are so many things to consider now, not least of which is getting as much experience driving on the roads and preparing myself physically for what will be a very challenging three days.”

Cave has already carried out a two-day test in Wales, developing the set-up for his Group N Ford Fiesta and assessing different tyre options from partner Yokohama. He will now carry out a final pre-event test immediately before the start of the event to finalise the car settings and tyre selection for the rally.

Following that, just like the best drivers in the world, he will begin the recce on the morning of Tuesday 2 December, where he will see the stages that he will be competing over for the first time. He will have just two runs over each stage to make his pace notes from scratch for the event, which looks as if it will feature typical Rally GB weather; wet and cold.

“I can’t begin to explain how much this event means to me; to be competing on my home round of the WRC, on stages which are in some cases just a few miles from home, alongside the best drivers in the world is an extraordinary opportunity. I can remember watching the event with my father and back then, I never could have imagined that I would be doing the same, just a few days after my 17th birthday.

“The support I have had from my father and the rest of my family, as well as the Latvian Automobile Federation and of course, Gemma has been incredible and is what has allowed me to be in this unique situation. I’ll never be able to thank him or them enough for making this possible.”

While that support has been invaluable in giving Tom this opportunity, his skill and determination have also had a part to play. And they will never have been more in demand than next week, as he and Gemma roll over the start ramp in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Thursday evening. While Thursday sees just the ceremonial start, Friday morning will see the action begin in earnest, with a double run of three stages, before two back-to-back tests around the purpose-built stage at Walter Arena.

Saturday sees an early start for the competitors, with six more stages, again run as two loops of three, before the now-famous Cardiff superspecial stage, run inside the Millennium Stadium. Sunday is another early start but the shortest of the three days, with the first cars expected over the finish ramp, again in the Millennium Stadium, at around 3pm.

With three days and a total distance of almost 1500Km ahead of him, Tom is excited and understandably, a little apprehensive of the event. “Our objective for the rally is simple; to get to the finish. I realise we will be close to the back of the field and conditions could be tricky, especially on the second run through. But we won’t be taking any silly risks with such an important event. We’ll make sure we get round and enjoy every mile.”