In tough times we all need an encouraging memory to help us dig that bit deeper, put the extra work in, or give it one more go. For Tom Cave, the rewards of his sole assault on the West Cork Rally is his go-to reminder.
Cave travelled to Clonakilty in 2019, with co-driver James Morgan, knowing his West Cork debut was critical for his British Rally Championship campaign. The Welshman looked to have sealed second-place points on the BRC’s Cambrian Rally curtain raiser only to retire after suffering three punctures on the final two stages.
It left Cave with an early mountain to climb as reigning champion Matt Edwards picked up maximum points on round one. Added to Cave’s concern was the knowledge of Edwards’ asphalt form in Ireland the year before.
West Cork was perfectly poised as a thriller with the BRC’s best mixed in with the fastest Irish Tarmac Rally Championship crews featuring Craig Breen and Alastair Fisher.
The rally’s most famous stage, Ring, opened the action and as Cave explains, it was key to start off the two-day event on the right foot.
“There was a really bad storm the night before the rally started,” Cave remembered. “Yeah, that was an eye-opener, doing Ring, which goes along the seafront with that really famous background shot of the square left.
“I did a lot of homework for that because I knew that was going to be a really key stage to open the doors with.
“We caught Marty McCormack in it because we were running at 30-second intervals.
“I got to the end of the stage and I remember saying to James: ‘I think we have lost like 10 or 15 seconds easy,’ but we were only three seconds off the fastest time.
“So we would have probably been quickest on the first stage and I thought then that we had something quite good. The car was working well and the pacenotes seemed to work well.
“We put the hammer down then for the rest of the day but we had a couple of issues, we had a puncture and we dropped another 20 seconds as well.”
Cave and Morgan’s testing first day of West Cork competition left them in fourth overall and seven seconds behind his BRC rival Edwards. With six stages remaining on Sunday, the Hyundai driver was keen to press on for maximum BRC points.
“The highlight for me was that we fought our way up from quite a poor seeding position of 12th on the road.
“I knew it was going to be hard to really fight with the top three on the first day. I just had to try to get a clean run to make sure we were in a good position going into day two.
“So to finish day one in the top five and not far away from a podium position, I was really pleased.”
Clogagh, Ballinascarthy, and Ardfield ran twice on Sunday, giving Cave 90 km of perfect Irish tarmac stages to reel in Edwards. The Clonakilty debutant was in fierce form, wringing the neck of his Hyundai i20 R5 to set two fastest and two second-fastest times.
Cave was the fastest man racing around Clonakilty that Saint Patrick’s Sunday, 17 seconds faster than rally-winner Breen over the six stages.
The battle for BRC honours continued to intensify with literally nothing separating Cave and Edwards with two stages to go.
“The stages were completely different on Sunday. They were really technical, narrow, and bumpy; I knew they would suit me better.
“That just seems to suit my driving style and the way I do my notes.
“Obviously the main aim wasn’t the overall result, I was more focused on getting maximum BRC points. When I was getting to stage-ends and looking at the times, all I wanted to know was what Matt [Edwards] had done.
“We were chipping away at him pretty much all the way through the day. Eventually, on the penultimate stage, we were fastest and took like five seconds out of Matt.
“I knew that was the hammer blow I needed to get him on the ropes going into that last stage, Ardfield.”
Edwards bounced back with a stage win on Ardfield but it wasn’t enough to overhaul Cave who was only a tenth of a second slower on the final 10.7 km test.
“I always look back to that rally,” explained Cave, “when I’m doing stuff at home, training, or whatever. It’s good motivation to never give up, to keep pushing, because I now know I can go to an event that I have never done before, never even driven the roads before, and fight for top three positions.
“That was a really nice feeling, to be honest.”
His perfect points haul from West Cork reignited Cave’s season as he followed it up with another win on the Pirelli Rally a month later.
With two rallies remaining Cave and Edwards were dead-level at the top of the BRC standings. But Cave’s subsequent crash on the Ulster Rally proved to be his undoing as Edwards went on to claim his second successive British title on the season-ending Galloway Hills Rally.
It left Cave with unfinished business in Ireland and the BRC. The Welshman was hoping to fight for a win on Clonakilty’s surrounding countryside roads last year before its cancellation.
Unfortunately, we will have to wait another year to witness the wonders of rallying in West Cork but the BRC looks set to return to Ireland at the end of this year. The Ulster Rally will host the final round of the 2021 championship to maintain Ireland’s relationship with the UK series.
The Cork Motor Club has rightly been praised for its clubman-focused approach to organising an international rally and Cave was another to support the challenge of rallying in Ireland.
“Looking back at it now I had to really focus hard and I had to commit to my pacenotes so much. I have never really been in that position before.
“I’ve always had some kind of knowledge of the rally or done a recce or something in previous years.
“I was really truly relying on my pacenotes, hoping that they were going to be fast but safe at the same time.”
“West Cork certainly has its attributes to the British Championship.
“If you look back to previous years when the Jim Clark Rally was involved in it and the Irish competitors came over for that, it always was a great spectacle to watch.
“And I imagine it was even better being a competitor as well.
“I think it’s good for the championship to have a bit of diversity as well. Okay, it’s across the pond for us and obviously the costs go up a little bit from a competitor’s point of view.
“It would be nice to contain it within the British Isles because it is a British championship.
“At the same time I can see the benefit of going over to Ireland and I thoroughly enjoy going over there to compete.
“It’s always a pleasure to drive those stages, they’re just so unique and so fast.
“They are certainly a challenge which doesn’t naturally come to me as a driver, I’m much more at home on faster gravel roads but it’s certainly enjoyable to go out and do those events, which hopefully we’ll get to do again.”
Photos courtesy of Alan Noonan / Rally Through a Lens