Welsh rally driver Tom Cave left Bournemouth with a solid points haul to begin his 2012 British Rally Championship season this weekend. The youngster, second on last year's event and partnered by Craig Parry, completed the 12-stage Rallye Sunseeker in 7th place overall after a gritty performance in a rented car.
It was a tricky day for Tom; while the weather was sunny and bright, he was driving the rented Ford Fiesta R2 for the first time, having completed just 20Km at the wheel at the event shakedown prior to the ceremonial start in Poole on Friday evening.
As tradition dictates, the start ceremony was incredibly well attended by fans and set the scene for another thrilling first round, with the BRC this year adopting 2WD cars only.
Tom and Craig began the day conservatively, keenly aware that they needed a solid points finish to begin their season. As they tackled the first loop of stages, their pace gradually improved and included a fourth-fastest stage time, arriving at the first of the event's three services in 10th place overall.
Several changes to the Fiesta's settings helped the car's performance but an overshoot on the next loop dropped the crew to 11th overall by the mid-point of the event.
By Tom's admission, the Fiesta performed better on the faster sections of the event than the slower and tighter ones and by the final loop of three stages, he and Craig were in a position to exploit mistakes made by other drivers. By the time the crews reached the finish ramp in Bournemouth, they had climbed to 7th place overall and third Fiesta.
Commenting, Tom said; "I'm pretty happy with the result - we got a decent points haul for the first round and that's what we were looking for. We decided to drive our own rally and see where we were on pace and towards the end, found ourselves in a bit of a scrap with Matthew Cathcart, which was good fun.
"I think we adapted to the Fiesta reasonable well. It's a good, solid car but it doesn't seem to have the legs that the R3 cars do, such as the Citroen DS3, as we'll be using for the rest of this season. It was pretty good on the faster, more open stages but of course, struggled a lot compared to the 4WD cars I'm used to in the slower corners. It's been a while since I've driven 2WD!
"We made some changes to the car's set-up early on but I think that this didn't really help us and the overshoot cost us some time, which on this rally, is very difficult to make back up again. But we managed to get up to 7th and some decent points for that, so overall, I'm fairly happy."
There's little chance for rest for Tom though, as next weekend (2-4 March) he will be tackling the second round of the BTRDA series in his Subaru Impreza, one of the cars he used to clinch the 2011 Production Cup title. However, for this year, the car has been converted to closer to B13 specification, allowing Tom to challenge for the outright Gold Star title, rather than the Production Cup.
He, Craig and the Davies MotorSport Services team will travel north to Cumbria for the Malcolm Wilson stages rally on Saturday 3 March, before returning to Wales as soon as that event finishes, ready to compete on the Mid Wales Stages on Sunday 4 March. Tom and Craig won the Mid Wales Stages outright in 2011 and will be keen to defend that win next weekend.
He then plans to debut the Citroen DS3 R3T he has secured for the BRC at the second round, the Bulldog Rally in Welshpool at the end of March.