Tom Williams got his 2019 FIA Junior World Rally Championship campaign off to a magnificent start when he finished a career-best fourth on Rally Sweden (14-17 February).
In a field of 13 highly competitive drivers, several of whom come from Scandinavian and the Baltic states, the 20-year old Oxfordshire driver started the specialist full winter event aiming to gain experience. Yet Tom’s strategy of maintaining a fast and clean pace paid dividends, as the result exceeded all expectations and eclipsed his previous JWRC best result of sixth on last year’s rallies in Finland and Turkey.
It was by no means an easy event, with changing weather conditions making tyre management difficult for even the most experienced of drivers. Whilst a hard overnight frost ensured the morning’s stages were packed with snow and ice, a thaw turned the roads to mud and slush when the stages were repeated in the afternoon. The gravel surface destroys the studs on the winter tyres, leaving drivers with little grip when they need it most.
Despite the challenging terrain, Tom grew in confidence as the event progressed and was able to increase the intensity of his driving on the afternoon stages. Co-driven by Phil Hall in the brand new M-Sport developed EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta R2, Tom posted a sequence of fourth, third and fourth fastest stage times on Saturday afternoon to move up from sixth to fourth in three stages.
This enabled Tom to start the final day of the event with a nice gap both in front and behind him, and he maintained his focus and concentration to complete the final three stages and bring home a truly magnificent result.
Tom Williams said: “I did a lot of work over the winter to prepare for this year’s Junior World Rally Championship, especially on my pace note system with my co-driver Phil Hall. After a good pre-season test in the new M-Sport Fiesta R2, we were pretty confident coming to Sweden – although against twelve other very good young drivers, several of which are from Scandinavia and the Baltic states who have grown up driving on snow and ice, we knew this event was going to be a big challenge.
“The aim in Sweden was to gain the maximum amount of experience that we could of driving on snow and ice, and we thought that if we made no mistakes and had a clean rally we might finish seventh or eighth. We started the rally at exactly that pace, but we found that we had to push harder to make the studded tyres work properly – and as we pushed, our confidence grew and our stage times improved.
“The road surface was a lot different on the afternoon stages, as the snow and ice had melted and given way to more mud and gravel – it was more like Wales Rally GB in places, so I just felt more and more at home. Tyre management was a challenge too, as gravel destroys the studs, and we did that pretty well by saving new tyres for the longer loop of stages and swapped the tyres around after every stage.
“On Saturday afternoon we increased the intensity of our driving and moved from sixth to fourth in three stages, which I was very pleased with. We started the final day with a big gap in front and behind us, and we focused on getting through the final three stages without making any mistakes and to bring home a good result, which we did!
“It’s a fantastic start to the JWRC and I’m really looking forward to driving the Fiesta R2 on asphalt next and building on this good start to the season.”
Round 2 of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship is the Tour of Corsica (28-31 March).