Chesterfield rally driver Rhys Yates overcomes a host of dramas to secure a finish at Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship, Wales Rally GB.
In his second FIA World Rally Championship event this month, British rally driver Rhys Yates managed to secure a finish at his home round, Dayinsure Wales Rally GB last weekend (26-29 October), despite suffering a frustrating chain of events which kept him out of the WRC2 category challenge for honours.
Just three weeks after finishing Rally Spain, Yates and co-driver Alex Lee would head to their home round of the WRC in a bid to gain more experience of the series as Yates continues his career progression.
But the notoriously tough four-day rally would provide a cruel blow to his finish position hopes and with only one “clean” day, Yates was forced to drive for a finish and ensure his Brettex Ford Fiesta R5 made it over the finish ramp in Llandudno on Sunday.
Fresh from a successful season in the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship, the 24-year-old would tackle his second Wales Rally GB and would be able to put his experience from the past two seasons to good use as the event would provide over 300km of special stages to get stuck into.
After Thursday’s short, sharp blast around the Tir Prince Raceway on the North Wales coast, Yates would gain confidence as Friday’s stages progressed. With every mile gained in the slippery Welsh forests, his times began to tumble and he began a charge up the leaderboard. Despite being one of the closest fought categories in the event, Yates would head back to the Deeside overnight halt in 29th overall and 14th in WRC2 after the six stages of the opening day.
Saturday would see nine mammoth stages and the longest leg of the event, bolstered with two night tests to further challenge crews. A solid time in the opening Aberhirnant test would set Yates up for the day ahead, but all his hard work would come undone in the next. Alternator belt failure sidelined the Fiesta R5 part way through the stage and Yates was forced to attempt to fix the Ford at the side of the road.
“We couldn’t carry on so had to pull over in the stage, I thought the rally was over,” said Yates afterwards.
“We always have a spare belt fastened to the cage so we were able to fit a new belt. The cooling system had boiled over in the process though so we used all our drinking water to refill the tank. We got going again but lost a lot of time.”
Over 20 minutes were lost and any hopes of a strong finish dashed. The dramas would continue when a puncture forced Yates to stop again in the second pass of Dyfi and when the jack failed to lift the car high enough, losing seven minutes in the process. A broken rear anti roll bar mount resulted in rear brake failure in the Cholmondeley Castle spectator stage further adding to the deficit and Yates would need to look at limiting the damage for the remainder of the event.
There was no sign of Yates driving for a finish as the crews headed out into the opening night stage, the repeat run of Aberhirnant. As thick fog descended on the stage, the World’s best drivers were struggling in the conditions but Yates would relish in them, setting 11th fastest WRC2 time through the test.
The fourth and final day (Sunday) offered Yates a trouble-free run over the five stages and a string of top 15 WRC2 times would ensure he could cross the finish ramp in Llandudno that afternoon. Due to Saturday’s issues, Yates would finish 20th in WRC2 and 40th overall but was eager to take the positives away from the event.
“We only really had one clean full day and when everything was going to plan it all came together for us this weekend,” said Yates at the finish.
“But this really was the toughest event I have ever done, everything has been thrown at us and with the issues, we had this weekend I’m really pleased to have made it to the finish. It’s been a very long and tiring event but every time we compete on events like this, I am gaining more and more experience for the future and that’s really important. We came here to learn and that’s exactly what I have done. I’ve a lot to take away from it and I`m really excited to see what next year holds”.
Yates is backed in 2017 by Michelin, Protyre, Kick Motorsport, Simpson, Zenith Racing, Prestone, Draper Tools, Jordan Road Surfacing and NGK Spark Plugs.
He also receives grateful support from a number of local businesses including H&F PES, Maun Motors, MFA, Calow Lane MOT Centre, The Mobility Shop, Glazebrook Transport, Woodleigh Motor Sales, Juice Motorsport and Clear Edge Filtration Group.
Images: Jakob Ebrey/Wales Rally GB