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Junior British Rally Championship front-runner Ruairi Bell proved he is ‘one to watch’ for the future, by winning the hotly contested RC4 class and first two-wheel-drive on his debut in the FIA World Rally Championship at Vodafone Rally de Portugal last week (31st May – 2nd June).

Bell, 19 from Blackheath London, would make his mark on the world’s stage, overcoming searing heat and rough stages to bring his Protec International Ltd and Marex Spectron backed Peugeot 208 R2 to the top step of the podium, despite having never contested a WRC event before. He and co-driver Darren Garrod were also able to secure fourth in the Peugeot Rally Cup Iberica section of the event which took place over the opening leg of the gruelling rally.

The rapid youngster has honed his skills in Europe, choosing to develop his career contesting the Latvian and Estonian Rally Championships. Thanks to a lower minimum age to contest rallies in the Baltic’s, Bell has been competing in full events since his 16th birthday, gaining a valuable advantage over competing in the UK.

This season, Bell has been dovetailing a season in the Junior British Rally Championship and the Iberica Cup, with Rally Portugal counting as a round of the single make series. He would also seize the opportunity to contest the full WRC event to gain more experience for the future and would aim for a solid finish on his debut at the pinnacle of the sport.

An iconic event on the WRC Calendar, Rally Portugal is notorious for its rough and sandy stages which wind their way through the mountainous region near to the rally base of Coimbra. The route, lined by wind farms is set on soft gravel which means later crews can suffer from deep ruts, dust and sizeable rocks in their path during the event.

Over 300km of special stages were on offer packed into three long days with Saturday housing over half the competitive distance and a true test of endurance for crews and machinery.

With the opening day counting for points in the Iberica Cup, Bell would be aiming for a good result throughout the seven stages but would also be conscience that the hardest leg of the rally would still be to come, whilst the Iberica crews finished their event on Friday night.

A measured drive over the opening day saw Bell power the Peugeot 208 R2 to a string of top five times, beating more experienced local drivers in the process. His consistency through the shorter opening day saw him take fourth place in the Cup provisionally take fifth in the series standings.

But Bell’s attentions soon turned to the remainder of the event and the focus on obtaining his first WRC finish. He opened his account with a maiden fastest time at WRC level on the first stage of the day which saw him move into second in class. Another scratch time on the whopping 37-kilometre Amerante test saw him move into the lead of RC4 although he would drop to second place by the end of the day after getting held up in another competitor’s dust on the final stage of the day.

Just five stages remained on Sunday’s final leg and Bell once again topped the time sheets on the opener, closing in on the leader. This form continued on three out of the remaining four tests, with Bell reaching the ceremonial finish at the top of the leader board, taking his first WRC class win in the process.

He was understandably delighted with the result.

“I`m really proud of my achievement this weekend and I think it’s pretty remarkable to say I only contested the full WRC event to gain experience for the future” said Bell.

“It was a real challenge and one of the toughest events that I’ve done but my pace was controlled, and we spent a lot of time preparing for the rally, reviewing on-boards and looking for areas where we could improve. Tyre management was crucial as well and we nailed that perfectly despite the rough stages. It’s a great feeling to be a class winner and first two-wheel drive home.”

And Bell must remain focused over the coming weeks.

“I feel there’s a lot more to come too and there is plenty in reserve” he says.

“That was only my second time on gravel in the 208 and fourth event in the car so I’m still adapting to the different surfaces and characteristics of the Peugeot.”

But now I need to look ahead to my Junior BRC Campaign as we switch back to asphalt and a Ford Fiesta R2T. I’m heading to Belgium to contest Rally van Wervik before the Ypres Rally a week later to get an introduction to Belgium roads and get a good setup ready for Ypres. There is lots to do, but the confidence is high right now.”

Image credits: RallyPixels

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