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Sara Williams Wales Rally GB14V-Ex sponsored Sara Williams and her co-driver Patrick Walsh came through a thoroughly testing international debut to finish 43rd overall at Wales Rally GB 2014. Continually battling against time penalties, adverse conditions and mechanical problems – Sara fought back to record a highly respectable finish, cementing her status as a future star of the World Rally Championship.

Sara made her debut on what is arguably the most challenging event on the WRC calendar. With skilled car control and huge effort, team Brecon Motors overcame the marked increase in competition and distance, bringing the V-Ex Subaru Impreza home onto the finishing podium.

Day 1

Sara and her fellow drivers began the event in slippery conditions on the Gartheiniog stage – the first car of Wales Rally GB 2014 being released in anger just before 8am. Rain the night before had doused the forest roads, causing the drivers problems throughout the day. Following a gruelling 14km Sara finished the stage 2 minutes 24 seconds behind overall stage winner and 2014 WRC champion, Sebastian Ogier, despite suffering a 10 second penalty for a jump start.

After navigating the perils of standing water on stage 2, Dyfi, Sara had climbed 3 places from 56th overall to 53rd. Sara continued this trend throughout the day, looking to strengthen her position.

The Hafren Sweet Lamb stage is 23.55km of unforgiving gravel and long sweeping corners rising to 504ft above sea level; on its route passing by the source of the River Severn. The longest and highest stage encountered on the first day saw Sara climb an impressive 7 places to 46th.

Stage 4, Maesnant, is the southernmost stage driven during the rally, and new to the event this year. Made up from pieces of the Hafren stage from 2013, this gravel track meanders close to the banks of the burgeoning Severn. In this idyllic setting Sara again moved up the leader board, this time to 44th place, setting a stage time of 9:36.2. Sara’s time was only 1 minute 43 seconds off race leader Ogier.

Newtown services comprised the next stop for Sara and her fellow international competitors; who were jovially greeted by the local residents. After rapid repairs on the town centre car park, the action resumed.

The afternoon section of the rally is a repeat of the morning – following the same loop. Stage 5 is a return to the starting line; again Sara climbed the standings, this time to 43rd overall. Stage 6 was a reunion with Dyfi and Sara stayed consistent and consolidated her place, gaining over ten seconds on the car behind her.

For stage 7 it was another run through the lengthy Hafren Sweet Lamb and Sara reignited her charge, climbing to 41st in the standings, an impressive 15 places from her position after stage 1.

The final run of Maesnant saw Sara drop a place for the first time, dropping to 42nd to end the day in position to break into the top 40.

Day 2

The second day began unfavourably for Sara. A penalty for a second jump start of the rally on stage 8 cost a whole minute, leaving Sara at a huge disadvantage to the rest of the field. The number one British female rally driver however was un-phased as she attacked the day’s first stage, Clocaenog East, setting a stage time well within the top 40 by means of response.

The next test for Sara constituted Clocaenog Main, a route characterised by fast and flowing corners that demand bravery. Williams set the 37th fastest time overall, continuing to make up for lost time. Another fast stage in the form of Aberhirnant was next; Sara used the opportunity to climb one place in the overall standings to 43rd. The following stage Dyfnant was not completed by a large number of drivers including Sara, after an incident involving an ambulance and an ill marshal caused the whole stage to be closed early. A trip to the Rallyfest event at Chirk Castle continued the festivities – Sara slipping a place on the special spectator orientated asphalt stage. The next stop: Deeside services to repair and regroup.

After a quick service and a rendezvous with the V-Ex team, Sara and Patrick headed out on the road again. A return to Clocaenog East saw Sara post the 35th fastest stage time overall, helping her jump 3 places. The repeat of Clocaenog Main saw an improvement even on this, as she secured an impressive 34th fastest time for the section – tightening her grip on 41st overall.

Despite a fine days performance, mechanical problems were to strike with devastating effect on Aberhirnant 2; dropping the team nine places overall and undoing most of her efforts. An impact had sheared a ball joint, greatly compromising the suspension and steering of her Subaru. A completed run of Dyfnant marked the final test of the day – Sara regaining a place before the end of day 2.

Day 3

After great efforts from the service crew at Deeside, the Subaru and Sara were ready for the final day of Wales Rally GB 2014. With a large amount of time to make up in only 6 stages, Sara had everything to do.

The new Brenig stage signalled the start of day 3, mixing asphalt, gravel and stunning views around Llyn Brenig reservoir. Sara did not admire the scenery – rising to 48th overall by the end of the day’s longest stage. Alwen, stage 19, led to another rise up the leader board; Sara broke into the top 40 stage times and lifted herself to 46th overall.

Two spectator friendly Rallyfest stages at Kinmel Park ensued next, combining different surfaces throughout a course situated on a grand Victorian country estate. Despite the extra pressure, Sara gained a place in front of the crowds to put herself within reach of the top 40. Only two stages separated Sara and her V-Ex Subaru from the finish line. The re-run of Alwen left Sara in 45th overall, with a final run of Brenig to bring the weekend’s action to a close.

On the final stage, Sara put all her difficulties behind her to set a top 40 stage time once again, rising two places at the death to finish the rally in a 43rd overall. Despite fighting against penalties, slippery conditions, three punctures and mechanical gremlins – Sara had posted an impressive debut result against all the odds. A much deserved celebration on the podium followed in Llandudno, with Sara and Patrick revelling in the completion of their first international event. Sébastian Ogier of team Volkswagen won the rally outright, adding lustre to his championship winning season.

Without the difficulties she encountered throughout the weekend, Sara would surely have been more successful. However a strong debut result under such circumstances underlines Williams as a burgeoning star of the World Rally Championship. Her smooth consistent driving style kept her competitive until the end and helped compensate for sheer bad luck. Hopefully with a faster car and the gritty experience of a WRC debut firmly under her belt – Sara will be in prime position to mount a greater challenge next year. Well done to Sara and Patrick, from all the V-Ex team!

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