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Ruairi Bell enjoyed a successful return to the Junior British Rally Championship last weekend by securing a career-best second place at the Renties Ypres Rally (28 -29 June).

Fresh from a debut in the FIA World Rally Championship at Rally de Portugal in which he won his class, Bell mastered the Belgian roads to claim his first JBRC podium at the fourth round of the series. His impressive result means he now heads the race to secure a 60,000 Euro prize fund from M-Sport and Pirelli towards a campaign in the 2020 Junior World Rally Championship.

The 19-year-old ace from Blackheath in London would head to Belgium in early June to tackle Rally van Wervik, a traditional `warm-up` event ahead of the iconic Ypres Rally behind the wheel of the Baltic Motorsport M-Sport Fiesta R2T. The country is renowned for its unforgiving ditches and super-fast characteristics and Bell would sadly learn the hard way, ending his rally in a field.

However, the youngster was still able to gain valuable experience ahead of the British Championship qualifier and with regular co-driver and reigning British Champion Darren Garrod alongside, the duo was eager to resume their BRC campaign at the world-famous event.

Attracting some of the best drivers from across Europe, the Ypres Rally would be one of the toughest on the calendar with almost 280km of flat-out driving, spread across 23 stages and two days. Searing heat would add to the challenge, with temperatures inside the car reaching well over 40 degrees centigrade during the second day.

After the ceremonial start on Friday afternoon, nine stages lay ahead which offered a handful of tests in the dusk. However, Bell would profess not to be “at one” with the Fiesta over the opening loop and would find himself in sixth spot after the opening day.

“I’ve really enjoyed the challenge today, but we need to make a few changes to the car in service tonight,” he said at the end of day one.

“I know we can do better than we are but the car just doesn’t seem to respond well enough so we will work on some issues tonight and see if that improves my confidence tomorrow. It’s a long and tough rally so it’s more of a marathon than a sprint and like the WRC events, you can’t push on every single stage. Let’s see what tomorrow brings”.

Day two would house over 170km and the predicted heatwave arrived with vigour during the day. As the quest for a good result became more difficult, many top European drivers were caught out by the conditions as gravel covered corners made the going even more unpredictable than before.

Bell emerged from the opener on Saturday morning much happier with the rapid Protec and Marex Spectron backed Fiesta and his sixth spot soon became fourth. With an impressive buffer to his rivals, Bell would put in a mature drive across the remaining stages of the day, staying out of trouble and cross the finish ramp to spray the champagne in Ypres town centre in second spot.

“I’m so happy to be here on the podium, I’m lost for words really,” said an elated Bell.

“Its been a really tough day and nothing about this rally has been easy so I’m overjoyed to have made it back to the finish, let alone in second place. On some levels, this event has been harder than WRC Portugal last month and it has taken a lot to come back from a non-finish at Wervik. I’ve also had to adapt to the Fiesta from the Peugeot that I used in Portugal.

To be honest, I thought that we would be lucky even to get a podium after Friday but the changes to the car overnight transformed it. To be leading the M-Sport and Pirelli Fiesta standings is great, but we need to carry this momentum through to the next round so I`ll be continuing to work on my pace and see what we can do in Ulster”.

The fifth round of the British Rally Championship takes place in August as crews head to the Today’s Ulster Rally.

Image credits: Jakob Ebrey Photography

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