Cadwell Park welcomed the Junior 1000 Rally club for round 8 of the season. Although the championship was all tied up, this event was set to see a first time winner as none of the 12 drivers entered had yet claimed a victory.
Leading the drivers off as top seed would be rookie Elliott Payne, with Tom Rawlings, James Hall, Eddie Lewis and Rob Wilson all expected to be at the sharp end of the leaderboard. Several of the drivers had switched cars for this event as they started development work ahead of the 2018 season. Eddie Lewis had switched back to his Fiesta after substantial work on the suspension had made the car uncompetitive at the start of the season. Both Rob Wilson and Ioan Lloyd had jumped out of their Micra’s into faster C1’s, with Lloyd acquiring Tom Llewellins car after it won the last 2 rounds. Also making his Junior rally debut was 14 year old Max Hughes, who follows in his Fathers and brothers footsteps in the flame red C1.
The opening couple of stages were very closely fought. Tom Rawlings set the quickest time on stage 1. closely followed by Hall, Wilson, Lewis and Payne, with only 13 seconds separating the top 5. Hall fought back on stage 2 to close the gap to Rawlings to just 3 seconds, with top 5 still only separated by a handful of seconds. The changes that Eddie Lewis had made to his Fiesta were had made a huge difference and saw him set one of the quickest time on stage 2, although a niggling gearbox issue was slowing his progress.
Disaster then came for 5th placed Elliott Payne on stage 3, as his engine blew up and ended their charge early. Tom Rawlings continued to set the quickest stage times with Steve Jones also impressing as he started to find his feet in his new C1. Max Hughes was also doing very well on his first ever rally and was setting some very respectable times compared to the more experienced drivers.
At the half way point of the rally we then lost Riley Banks and Mike Jode from the event as their engine blew up on stage 4, forcing them to retire. Another driver unfortunately experiencing issues was Eddie Lewis, who damaged his steering and broke a drive shaft after clipping a stray tyre which launched the car onto 2 wheels. The crew were able to repair the damage and get him out for the next stage, but a stage maximum time put an end to their chances of a podium.
As the drivers started the second half of the rally, darkness fell and lights switched on and gave the drivers a new challenge to overcome. Rob Wilson really pushed hard on stage 5 to set the quickest stage time (the first in his career), as Rawlings took a more cautious approach on the first dark stage. With James Hall also setting a quicker time, the gap at the top was now down to 7 seconds with Wilson now only 8 seconds behind Hall in 3rd. George Sheard also found some pace in the dark and started moving up the leaderboard. Rawlings then immediately responded on stage 6 to open his lead back tp to 14 seconds with only two stages left to go. Wilson had yet again taken a chunk out of Halls lead to now sit 4 seconds behind 2nd place.
As stage 7 started, Rob Wilson was to suffer an electrical issue forcing him to stop and restart on stage. He was able to continue, but he lost 36 seconds to Hall in 2nd place. Yet again, Rawlings set the quickest time and had now opened up a comfortable 22 second lead going into the last stage. After Wilsons problem, 4th placed Steve Jones was now just 3 seconds behind and looking at his first potential podium finish. However, Wilson’s car ran perfectly on the final stage, allowing him to be quicker than Jones to confirm 3rd place and top Rookie. James Hall cruised around in 2nd place as Tom Rawlings clinched victory in style by setting his 6th quickest stage time of the 8 stages to take his first ever victory. Rob Cotton also pipped Adam Dalton for the Lewis Reporting Pre ’03 Trophy.
The crews only have 2 week to prepare for the final event of the season at Angelsey which also see’s drivers from the Scottish Championship travel south for a head to head battle.