By sambilham, Mar 11 2019 11:17AM
Sam Bilham proved his worth in the Greenlight Sports and Entertainment - Ford Fiesta R5 last weekend, by recovering from 66th place to finish the Malcolm Wilson Rally with a career-best sixth overall at the second round of the BTRDA Rally Series (9th March).
Bilham, 22 from Bingley West Yorkshire, overcame treacherous and wintry conditions in the Cumbrian forests and a first stage impact with a rock, to fight back up the leader board and take a top-ten position. Co-driven by current British Championship leader Patrick Walsh, Bilham’s sixth place also secured him the B14 class win, taking victory in the category by well over three minutes in the process.
Less than four weeks ago, Bilham would make his debut in a top-level four-wheel-drive Fiesta R5 at the Cambrian Rally after spending his career behind the wheel of two-wheel-drive examples.
After a confidence-boosting opening stage time, his rally would end on just the second test after a damaged radiator and he would head to the Cockermouth based Malcolm Wilson Rally in the hope of securing a much-needed finish to aid his championship aspirations.
The weather would play a significant part in the proceedings, with low temperatures and significant snowfall affecting most of the stages during the opening loop of the day. Many crews would get caught out by the several inches of snow that lay on in the already slippery forest tests.
Bilham tip-toed through the opener but his caution would not be enough, the Fiesta suffering a significant impact with a rock mid-way through the stage, picking up a puncture. He would limp through the remainder of the test and opened his account with 66th overall.
Normal service was resumed for the second stage of the day which would offer Bilham his first real chance of attacking a stage since securing a drive in the Greenlight Fiesta. And he didn’t disappoint. Despite less than 25 competitive miles under his belt in the car, Bilham set third fastest time overall to begin his climb up the leader board as he acclimatised to the potent machine.
He would back that up with second quickest on the third, which was run across the M-Sport World Rally Team’s test venue, Greystoke Forest. Despite its notorious ditches and unforgiving camber, Bilham’s pace launched him into 16th spot by the time crews headed into the first service of the rally.
Bilham continued his impressive run of form throughout the remainder of the day, never straying outside of the top-ten stage times, even with a half spin in the long Grizedale stage. His impressive pace over the remaining six tests saw the Yorkshireman move into sixth overall after 42 miles of competitive driving.
He was understandably elated at the result.
“I really couldn’t believe it when I clipped that rock on the first stage this morning, I really thought this would be Cambrian Rally all over again,” he said at the finish ramp.
“But to finish sixth overall after that start is really special it’s everything I have always ever wanted in my rallying career. To be in a car like this and at a pace good enough for top-three times was unthinkable a few months ago. I really can’t thank Greenlight Sports and Entertainment and the Swift Group enough for this opportunity”.
Bilham was also pleased with how “at home” he felt in the car despite the limited mileage under his belt.
“Something really clicked on the second stage and when I saw the times, I was really pleased with the direction we were heading. I wasn’t pushing too hard either which is easy to say now, but I was keeping risks to a minimum especially in those conditions and still setting some good times. The car is immense and having Patrick’s experience alongside me certainly helped. I really can’t wait for the next round to see if we can capitalise on this result”.
The next round of the BTRDA Rally Series is the Rallynuts Stages Rally which takes place in Builth Wells, Wales in April.
Sam is supported by Greenlight Sports & Entertainment, Swift Group, Pirelli, Calvert Construction Ltd, Speedline Corse, Morris Lubricants and The Garage at Stanley Mills.