Three stages into his Rally di Roma venture and it was all looking so good for William Creighton. Sitting third in the European Rally Championship’s Rally4 class, his debut Italian rally was exceeding the Northern Irishman’s expectations.
Then the trouble started.
A puncture and overheating brakes sabotaged the second half of Creighton’s running on Saturday.
Sunday proved no better for Creighton and co-driver Liam Regan as an intermittent electrical turned terminal on Sunday’s fourth stage. The pair were forced to retire their Ford Fiesta Rally4 with five stages still remaining.
It was a disappointing end after their promising start but as I listened to Creighton explain his adventures on the winding Italian roads it became obvious the 22-year-old was travelling back home with more of that crucial part of rallying – experience.
“We came out of the first stage in fourth,” described Creighton, “and held that until the first service. I didn’t think I would have been anywhere near there, especially after shakedown.
“Those rallies are so long if you come out of the first loop in a decent position and can just hold that. The way the boys are fighting at the front, that was never going to finish like that, one or two were bound to fall off the road.
“After the morning loop we had a lot of the hard work done especially going into a repeat loop.
“I was looking forward to keeping it clean and getting to the finish of the day but then we picked up a puncture on Stage 4 which was kind of the start of everything slipping away from us.
“The puncture was just unlucky I suppose. A lot of people were getting punctures in that stage, it was quite dirty with a lot of rocks pulled out from the first pass.
“Then on the fifth stage, we started to lose the brakes on the car because it was so warm. I heard someone say it was 35 degrees outside and 60 degrees inside the car. It has to be one of the most physically demanding rallies that I have done.
“It was good that we’ve been working on our fitness through the [Motorsport Ireland] academy because that definitely helped.
“It’s whenever you come out of a stage after changing a puncture, the sweat is dripping off you, the sun is beaming down and you have to go out and do another 20 km stage.”
Rally di Roma was clearly a tough test. And a test made even more difficult considering many were just back from a long rallying lay-off.
Add in Creighton’s impromptu mechanical woes and you could forgive him for ruing the three-day road trip from Belfast to Rome. That wasn’t the case though and the Junior British Rally Championship regular was instead focusing on the positives.
“Look, that’s rallying, you have to deal with it.
“We just wanted to gain as much experience as possible while we were out there. The brakes issue was the most difficult.
“At one point they went completely on us and we had to drive the last five kilometres only having the handbrake. I had a few hairy moments but we got her in to finish Saturday.
“It’s all part of the experience, I have learned a lot from coming out here to do the rally. Whilst it was difficult, it was a mighty experience.”
Rally di Roma was Creighton and Regan’s third event in M-Sport’s latest front-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta.
After five seasons in Peugeot’s equivalent, Creighton had the 208 R2 down to a tee. Swapping to the Fiesta had the potential to unsettle the youngster’s development but it seems that reliability problems aside, Creighton is relishing the new world of Rally4.
“Whenever the car was going, it was good. I felt the car was set up exactly the way it should have been.
“It didn’t take us long to get a good set-up, put it that way. It was going well and it was more a case of focusing on how to improve my own driving.”
Looking ahead, Creighton admitted he has no idea when or where he will be rallying next. Finding out what caused his early retirement in Rome seemed the most prevalent issue. Rightly so, no-one wants their rallies cut short, nevermind having crossed the continent to do so.
His plans mightn’t be clear-cut but the ERC’s quality of stages and competition has definitely left an impression.
“It was corner after corner. Some of the stages were really relentless.
“With Torn and Radstrom, they came over from the JWRC and it means you’re pacing yourself off the quickest junior drivers in the world.
“I came out of shakedown and was looking through the times of the top guys. I was scratching my head trying to think where that time was. But once you start looking at it and analysing it, that is when you find it.
“I suppose after doing that rally and getting a taste of the ERC, you’d love to be doing that every weekend.
“That’s what those guys are doing, they’re in the car every weekend getting seat-time.”
More ERC rounds or not, Creighton is focused on his development and it was fitting that he finished off the interview by wishing his two MI Rally Academy team-mates, Callum Devine and Josh McErlean, the best of luck on their escapades in Northern Italy this weekend.
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Photos courtesy of European Rally Championship