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Blackheath rally driver Ruairi Bell overcame a horrifying crash in Portugal to secure his best result in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship last weekend (4-6 September), taking fourth place at Rally Estonia, round two of the coveted series.

The 20-year-old from London, adapted perfectly the super-fast gravel roads, setting top-three fastest stage times on his way to a best-ever Junior World rally Championship (JWRC) result. His impressive performance also takes him into equal fourth place in the championship which returned for the first time since February as COVID-19 halted the series.

Stepping up to the JWRC from the Junior British Rally Championship and Peugeot Iberica Cup last season, Bell was eager to make the most from his 2020 season but with the global pandemic halting all forms of motorsport, he would be forced onto the sidelines like many other sporting disciplines.

With Rally Estonia marking the first JWRC event to run for over six months, Bell would head to Portugal a fortnight before to gain valuable seat time and bed back into his Protec and Marex Spectron backed M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2T.

Sadly, after a positive run across the demanding Rali do Alto Tamega stages, Bell’s Fiesta suffered a high-speed brake line failure which would see the car dive up an escape road at high speed, hitting several emergency vehicles that were parked in the road. Such was the force of the impact, co-driver Darren Garrod would be forced to sit out the following week’s Rally Estonia.

Stepping into the frame would be two-time British Rally Champion Matt Edwards who has also supported Bell throughout his career. Although not a full-time co-driver, Edwards has experience of the passenger seat and enabled Bell to contest the JWRC qualifier.

“I have to say thanks to Matt [Edwards] for stepping in at the very last minute and of course I’m wishing Darren [Garrod] a speedy recovery,” said Bell ahead of the Estonian event.

“There was literally nothing I could do to stop the car in time, so we were just passengers. It was pretty scary, to be honest and I don’t want to repeat that any time soon. But I really must focus on the week ahead and my chances in the Junior WRC”.

Rally Estonia would be a compact event due to COVID restrictions but nevertheless would provide one of the biggest challenges of the season. The high-speed gravel roads offer little room for error and Bell would be forgiven for easing his way into the Fiesta after the misfortunes of the previous week.

But there was no sign of any drop of pace from Bell, or hesitation in the voice of his new co-driver, stopping the clocks just two seconds shy of the lead on the opening super special stage on Friday night.

Saturday offered the first full day of action and Bell picked up where he left off, with some confidence-boosting stage results to end the opening morning’s loop in fifth spot. By the end of the day, Bell made that fourth and was in a prime position to take the best result of his JWRC career.

However, that would be called into question on the very last stage of the 17-test event when his Fiesta suffered a broken driveshaft part way through the 20-kilometre Power Stage. Through gritted teeth, Bell nursed the Fiesta to the end with only one-wheel drive but lost over one and a half minutes in the process.

Luckily, such was his lead over the chasing pack, Bell still managed to secure fourth place despite the time loss and was elated to finish the event after a tough fortnight for the young ace.

“I`m delighted to have made it to the end this weekend, I really needed a result here to get my confidence back after Portugal and although the last stage issues tested my nerves to the limit, I was pleased with the progress I made over the event,” he said.

“Matt did a great job on the pace notes and although it took a while to settle in together, I’m happy that the pace was there from pretty much the beginning. It’s been a very tough fortnight and the result went some way to make that easier to take.

I have to keep looking forward though and as the championship has now been squeezed into just a few weeks, I need to concentrate on the final two events of the season. I think they will suit me better, especially as I have experience in Belgium which forms the final round and I`ll be pushing on even more”.

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

Image Credits: Charly Lopez & JWRC/M-Sport

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