By sambilham, Jan 21 2019 06:36PM
Bingley rally driver Sam Bilham will embark on the biggest challenge of his motorsport career after securing a deal to drive a Greenlight Sports and Entertainment Ford Fiesta R5 for the 2019 season.
The 22-year-old will receive backing from the sports and marketing agency to tackle the Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series which offers seven all-gravel rounds across the UK. Bilham will use four-wheel-drive machinery for the very first time on the opening round, the Cambrian Rally in February.
Bilham has long been regarded as one of the most progressive rally drivers in the country, following the motorsport career ladder to the letter. His first taste of driving a rally car came at the tender age of just ten years old before embarking on his first full season in the Junior 1000 championship.
After becoming a member of the MSA Academy for aspiring youngsters, he continued to build experience in the sport, becoming BTRDA Junior Champion and MSA RSF Young Driver of the Year. Winning the MSA English Rally Championship in 2016 helped him to become the 2300 Club John Easson Award Winner, before winning the Fiesta ST Trophy in 2017.
Sporadic outings hampered his progress in 2018 but he was handed a lifeline by Greenlight Sports and Entertainment, The Swift Group and ME Rallysport when he was offered a Ford Fiesta R2 for the Nicky Grist Stages. Despite his inexperience in the potent R2 machine, second in class was the reward which led to a second event in the car, Wales Rally GB in October.
In one of the most ground-breaking drives of the event, Bilham stormed to ninth overall, first two-wheel-drive and a class win, taking fastest time on 13 out of the events 14 special stages. It was this performance that led to Greenlight Sports and Entertainment’s Managing Director Guy Smith and Chairman of the Swift Group Peter Smith, offering Bilham a season-long campaign in the firm’s state of the art Ford Fiesta R5.
Both Guy and Peter are no strangers to the world of motorsport with Guy having contested the prestigious 24 Le Mans with Team Bentley, and Peter a regular sight on stage events across the UK in various machines. Their vast experience in the sport meant they could see Bilham’s potential which led to supporting the Yorkshireman in 2018.
“We are in a very lucky position to be able to support progressive young drivers in rallying and Sam stood out as someone we would like to help last season,” said Guy.
“He drove our Fiesta R2 on the Nicky Grist and was immediately on the pace despite his lack of seat time so I thought he certainly had the potential for the future. We were able to repeat the outing at Wales Rally GB and were rewarded with a sensational result against some much more powerful machinery. It made sense to continue the relationship in 2019 and we believe that getting Sam into the Fiesta R5 is the right thing for his career right now. It’s a great partnership and we are looking forward to seeing how he develops during the season”.
The Ford Fiesta R5 is a vastly different car to that of the R2 which Bilham used in Wales. The M-Sport built machine develops 285 brake horsepower via its turbocharged powerplant and is driven by all four wheels. Capable of winning events outright, Bilham is now armed with the most powerful car in his career and will make the leap to top-specification machinery in just a few weeks’ time.
“Its still sinking in to be honest,” said Bilham.
“It was such a tough year in 2018, sitting out on so many events was one of the hardest things I’ve done and I’ll forever be indebted to Greenlight, The Swift Group and Matt Edwards for offering me the opportunity to drive the R2. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would lead to a season-long drive in one of the most up to date rally cars of the modern era.”
But the youngster is aiming for a solid finish rather than podiums on his debut.
”This really is a career-defining moment for me and I`ll never get this opportunity again. But at the same time, I need to ensure I don’t put too much pressure on myself and go out there and just do my own thing. We won’t have much time to test beforehand so I`ll need to learn as I go but I mastered the R2 pretty quickly so with the huge experience of the people I have around me, I’m hoping the R5 will be very similar. I really can't put into words how grateful I am to Peter, Guy and Greenlight, I just hope I can return their trust in me this season.
The Cambrian Rally marks the opening round of the Jordan Road Surfacing BTRDA Rally Series and takes place on the 15th February in Llandudno, North Wales.
Sam is supported by: Greenlight Sports & Entertainment, Swift Group, Pirelli, Calvert Construction Ltd, Speedline Corse, Morris Lubricants, Garage at Stanley Mills