It’s a demonstration of how much Rhys Yates has developed as a driver that he came away from the opening round of the British Rally Championship (BRC) a little disappointed with a podium finish on the Cambrian Rally.
The Ford Fiesta R5 MkII driver finished Saturday’s North Wales opener in third place, but barely has time to catch his breath before he flies north to Torsby for Rally Sweden and the second round of his world championship campaign.
The Chesterfield star is blending his second season in the World Rally Championship with a shot at home glory as he looks to land a British title in 2020.
As well as potential home rule, competing in the BRC ensures Rhys more experience of the rally car in preparation for competing around the globe in this year’s WRC2 series. His first round of WRC2 netted him a solid fourth place at last month’s Monte Carlo Rally.
Talking about Saturday’s result and his first time driving the Fiesta in this specification, Rhys said: “One of the priorities for this year’s BRC rounds was to be able to get out of the blocks quicker. These British rallies are a bit shorter than the world events, so you’ve got to be at it from the first corner and that’s not always been my strongest characteristic as a driver.
“On the first stage in Wales, I was right there. I went in with good aggression and really ready to stick it to them. My head was in the right place and I pushed pretty hard.
“I think I started to think about things a bit more in the second stage and maybe I wasn’t attacking quite as hard, we dropped a few seconds and then I spun and stalled at a junction in stage three. I got it going, but stalled again, it was all a bit frantic for a moment – I’d say we dropped at least 15 to 20 seconds. Suddenly we came out of stage three and we were half a minute off the front.
“I was a bit disappointed with that, but the good thing is that I know where the time went. Through the afternoon, the times were good again, but by then I was aware we had third and some solid points waiting at the finish.
“It’s kind of mixed emotions really. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased, we’ve put a result down, but I felt there was more to come if we could have stuck at that stage one speed and not had the spin in stage three. Look, shoulda woulda, coulda. We’re here with points, a good start and a good way into Sweden.”
The big positive for Rhys moving forward is the feeling in the car ahead of Rally Sweden, which starts from Karlstad on Thursday evening.
“One thing which I’m really pleased with is the feeling in the car,” said Rhys, “I’ve never felt more comfortable with a car on a gravel rally than I did with the Fiesta in Wales. It was so good. The pace was pretty quick at times – and it will be this week in Sweden – so you’ve got to be comfortable with the car moving about underneath you. You’ve got to be comfortable with it going sideways in fifth gear. I got that feeling in Wales and that’s great for me.
“I want to hit the ground running in Sweden. We’ve got a test on Tuesday and then the rally starts Thursday. One thing I’m so chuffed with is how much time I’m getting in the car. By the time Sweden starts I’ll have been in this Fiesta four times in a week – I’ve never had that much seat time before and that can only be good for the confidence.”
Conditions in Rally Sweden aren’t ideal, with the winter element largely missing from the WRC’s winter round.
“There’s not a lot of snow and ice on the roads,” said Rhys. “We go across the border into Norway for some stages which are at a higher altitude and latitude and the roads there are a bit better. Let’s see what we get. It’s a shame because when you have minus 20, full snow and ice, you can really play with the car and use the snowbanks to go – sometimes – a gear higher than you normally would. We won’t have those this week.”
Rally Sweden – which, courtesy of its weather-affected itinerary – spends Friday and Saturday largely in Norway finishes on Sunday (February 16) afternoon.