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Reigning Fiesta Trophy UK champion Ruairi Bell ensured his leap into the FIA Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) got off to a solid start, by taking seventh place at an unpredictable opening round, Rally Sweden (13-16 February).

Greenwich based Bell overcame a time-zapping puncture on the often-snowless stages to secure a positive start to his career-defining campaign in the World Rally Championship, to be the first newcomer and Briton from the 16 series contenders.

Bell has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top tier of the sport, enjoying success at every level he has competed in. After beginning his career in Latvia and Estonia, Bell mounted a full assault on the Junior British Rally Championship in 2019 in a Ford Fiesta R2T, dovetailing that with the Peugeot Iberica Cup which offered events in Spain and Portugal.

His maiden Junior BRC podium came in Ypres behind the wheel of the Ford, which was followed by fourth place at the Ulster Rally and Galloway Hills Rally. His results were enough to award him €60,000 towards a JWRC campaign thanks to M-Sport and Pirelli, offering him the perfect opportunity to compete against some of the world’s best young drivers, all eager to reach to the top-tier of the sport.

Co-driven by 2018 British Champion Darren Garrod, Bell would put his prize to good use which would start with the daunting Rally Sweden. Dubbed as the “fastest rally in the world” thanks to the high speeds reached on the thick ice and snowbanks which flank the stages, there would be a twist to the season opener this year as the wintry conditions failed to arrive, leaving many stages with little more than gravel on the surface.

With the shortened itinerary due to the climate, there would be just 174 kilometres of competitive driving available, spread over 11 tests during the weekend. Sixteen crews in identical M-Sport Ford Fiesta’s would tackle the event which kicked off on Friday morning.

Despite being a far cry from the events contested in the UK last season, Bell adapted quickly to the unique conditions. A tricky mixture of thick ice and muddy gravel lay ahead and Bell professed to be “easing in gently” to the new surroundings. A puncture early in the event hampered progress up the leader board, costing just over a minute and leaving the Brit in ninth after the opening leg.

Just four stages made up Saturday’s itinerary and Bell would continue to build confidence in the super-fast stages despite the conditions remaining unpredictable for the crews. As the miles clicked by, Bell’s times would tumble and with just one stage remaining on Sunday, the youngster would find his form in the slippery forest stages. doing enough to secure and impressive seventh place on his maiden JWRC outing.

“I`m actually really pleased with this result, especially with the additional challenges we have faced this weekend,” said Bell.

“To be the first newcomer was certainly part of the goal this weekend, and that’s an impressive feat in itself given the fact these are some of the fastest Junior drivers in the world, many of which have the experience of a season in the series under their belts. If we didn’t have the puncture, it would have been fifth overall which I would have been delighted with”.

But Bell realises that there is still more work to do.

“I thought I was well prepared for the step into the Junior WRC and I felt I had the measure of the event. I’d done plenty of research and planning but the pace out front is impressive. There are still area’s I need to improve and that will be the key focus heading into the next event. But it’s a good start to the season for sure”.

The FIA Junior World Rally Championship is a five-round series, with the winner netting a brand-new M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 and support from Pirelli throughout the 2021 WRC2 season. The next round on the calendar sees crews head to Italy for Rally Italia Sardegna in June.

Bell is supported by Protec Temporary Protection, Marex Spectron, Boolers Wealth Management Ltd, Marina Racewear and MSAR Motorsport.

Image Credit: M-Sport/FIA Junior WRC

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