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MSA co-driver graduate Tom Woodburn ensured his Prestone MSA British Rally Championship Junior title hopes remain firmly on track, after guiding Norwegian Steve Rokland to fourth place at the Renties Ypres Rally in Belgium last weekend, despite being 16th and almost last on the fifth test of the event.

After spending over seven minutes in one of the infamous Belgian ditches, the Morecambe ace ensured the duo could mount a gutsy comeback drive, to take valuable points and take the Michelin Motorsport Peugeot Sport Cup victory in the process. Despite having not competed in the country for over five years, Woodburn is now just six points away from the lead of the Junior BRC co-driver’s series.

Selected outings alongside the rapid 208 R2 driver in 2017 resulted in Woodburn returning to the co-drivers seat for a full assault on the Junior BRC title this season. Their year would get off to the best possible start, dominating the opening round in Kielder forest to take maximum points at the Pirelli International Rally in April and headed to mainland Europe in command of the series.

The switch to asphalt for the following three rounds would see a guest appearance in Belgium where some of the best drivers in the world would tackle the event, notorious for its difficult conditions, gravel-strewn corners and super-fast sections of the countryside.

Although asphalt is perhaps not Rokland’s preferred surface, Woodburn would ensure the event would get off to a good start by guiding the duo to an impressive second Junior after the first loop of stages. But a trip into a ditch on the fifth stage would take over seven minutes to get extracted by the Belgian rally fans and hopes of a repeat of the Pirelli Rally victory were all but dashed.

Woodburn was relieved to make the first service halt where the damaged was repaired by the team and a comeback drive was soon mounted for the remainder of the day’s stages. Finishing the day in 13th, the following 13 stages on Saturday would be critical for his championship hopes and he would need to ensure it was a trouble-free run.

Not only did Woodburn guide Rokland back up the leaderboard on the second leg, but they stormed to two fastest times on their way to fourth, a critical result as the series heads into a summer break.

“I always knew this weekend would be tough and you only have to look at the list of retirements to see how difficult this rally is but I genuinely thought the rally was over before it had really begun” said Woodburn.

“It seemed like a lifetime in that ditch on Friday but once we were out the fightback began. To battle back from 16th to fourth was fantastic to be part of and there was a real harmony in the car as we were both as determined as each other to get back up there. The Junior BRC is pretty impressive but we knew we could have been on that podium this weekend.”

Woodburn is still upbeat about his chances for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a very long year and we have some pretty big events coming up so just being a few points down at this stage of the season is not too much of an issue. I have more experience of the upcoming rounds so that will undoubtedly help our progress. It’s a really exciting time right now and it will be a long two months before we are in Ulster that’s for sure”

The next round of the British Championship takes place in Northern Ireland with the Ulster Rally in August.

Images : Jakob Ebrey Photography

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