Sam Bilham proved he is worthy of his 2017 Fiesta ST Trophy title, by storming to ninth overall and first in class at last weekend’s Wales Rally GB National (5th/6th October).
Bilham, 21 from Bingley secured the use of a Ford Fiesta R2 for the gruelling 84-mile event which ran alongside the FIA World Rally Championship qualifier in north and mid-Wales. Bilham, guided by co-driver Cameron Fair were fastest on 13 out of the 14 stages to secure an unprecedented start to finish class win and top-ten result, securing the class by almost three minutes to their nearest rival.
Having driven The Swift Group, Greenlight Sports and Entertainment and ME Rallysport backed Fiesta on the Nicky Grist Stages in July, Bilham had been working hard to broker a deal to contest Wales Rally GB ever since.
The event, which took in classic stages such as Myherin, Penmachno and Dyfi would be a new experience for the 2016 English Rally Champion thanks to offering over twice the mileage of a normal BTRDA round.
Almost 80 cars would line up to take the start in the Rally Village at Deeside service park before heading out for five stages and 35 miles of competitive driving on the opening leg. Whilst the aim for Bilham was undoubtedly to gain experience of the longer and more testing events, he wasted no time in stamping his authority on the timesheets, opening up a ten-second class lead after the first 4.7-mile Clocaenog test.
But the Yorkshireman was just getting warmed up. The Brenig test would be one of the longest Bilham had ever contested and at over 18 miles in length, he would need to keep his concentration throughout.
Faced with difficult conditions thanks to the WRC field ahead cutting up the Welsh forests, Bilham picked his way through the monster stage, aiming to at least retain his lead. But he would emerge a staggering 26 seconds faster than anyone else in his class. A further 30 seconds advantage was gained in the following Penmachno stage and he would end the day with over in a minute in hand in 14th overall.
The second day offered stages in mid-Wales and more familiar territory for Bilham. His impressive pace continued for the opening stages in the morning, etching out over 50 seconds per stage to his nearest rival. Sadly, a puncture early in the penultimate test forced him to crawl through the stage, dropping almost 40 seconds in the process.
However, a measured drive over the closing stage netted Bilham his best ever result, with both he and co-driver Fair spraying the champagne over the ceremonial finish ramp on Saturday afternoon to a rapturous crowd.
“This really has been a dream come true and to secure my best ever result on an event of this stature really does defy belief,” said an emotional Bilham at the finish ramp.
“I keep pinching myself that we managed to get a result as good as this. Never did I think I’d be in for a top-ten position at Wales Rally GB. Everything has gone to plan this weekend and although we had a bit of a scare on the last few stages, our lead was such that we could back off a little to conserve the car.”
Bilham believes this was just the result he needed for his rallying career.
“It was a real honour to contest the event in the first place so to secure a class win and top-ten result was just what I needed. Looking at the full WRC event, we would have been setting top three RC4 stage times which is very encouraging considering the lack of seat time in the car. Its been a slow year for me competing wise but I’m hoping this will lead to a firm plan in 2019. The Fiesta R2 is fantastic and I’d love to be at the sharp end of a championship in one. Huge thanks must go to Peter Smith, Matt Edwards and the C1-R team for the opportunity. The weekend was faultless and I can’t wait to have a go at the full WRC event to see what we can do”.
Sam is supported by Calvert Construction, Reis Motorsport Insurance, DMACK Tyres, The Garage at Stanley Mills, Gareth Hooper Motorsport Services and Leighton Vans.
Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography