Rally Du Var 2017
Welsh rally driver Sara Williams concluded her first foray into French rallying successfully on the Rally Du Var 2017
The final round of the Clio R3T Trophy France Championship that ran through fourteen twisting and tortuous tarmacadam special stages in the mountains above and around St. Tropez. Sara and co-driver Mark Glenerster travelled down to the last round of the championship on a Tuesday, to make ready for a long rally route reconnoitre session of twelve hours on the following day, that began at 7am and finished at 7pm, ensuring that the stages that they would later tackle at full speed were checked in the dark as well in the southern France sun. The stages in the ‘Massif’ overlooking the ocean are very technical, with a vast number of fast flowing corners, and flanked by a lot of long drops should a rally crew get it wrong and go off the road !
Thursday saw another day of travelling the stages to hopefully perfect the route notes needed to get the Renault Clio through the tests at top speed and without mishap. That second day was concluded with a run through the longest special stage of the rally, Le Plan De La Tour, a thirty two kilometre blast that would require ultimate concentration and skill from both Sara at the wheel and Mark on the notes. The final task of the day was to meet up with the ASM Motorsport Team and re-familiarise themselves with the Clio R3T before heading off for the Le Muy shakedown test that allowed competitors to make any last minute adjustments to their cars before the rally start on the following morning, after a few runs through the test kilometres. The rally started on Friday afternoon, with three special stages to tackle, the first – seven and a half kilometres of the Le Mole section running in daylight – followed by over ten kilometres of the picturesque Borme Les Mimosas stage, but running in rapidly vanishing daylight, before the final fifteen kilometre section of Collobrieres, run in darkness, Sara has had far less experience of stage rallying in the dark, and the Cols of the South of France hardly the best place to learn the art, but she and Mark got through that final days stage a credible eighth fastest, boding well for the rest of the three day rally. A fellow competitor was no less nine time World Champion Sebastien Loeb, he and co-driver Daniel Elena out in a special recently purchased Peugeot 306 Maxi, Loeb on home territory as he has a home near Sainte Maxime. Sebastien said ‘It’s here, on the Rallye du Var in 2000 , Guy Fréquelin, Citroën Racing Director of the time, trusted me with the official Xsara Kit-Car, some pressure, but we won !’
The Peugeot duo held second place, then first, before the unlucky thirteenth stage saw them retire with engine failure, though useful experience before the rumoured return to rallying for a few events with Citroen next year. Pleased with day one results the Renault Clio R3T of Sara and Mark returned to an overnight Parc Ferme, no work permitted on the car until Saturday morning. Following a thirty minute routine car check by the ASM Motorsport crew seven special stages awaited, but the opener was to be cancelled after an earlier incident, the Les Mimosas and Collobrieres next to be driven, and successfully negotiated, before a return to the Service Halt. With the final two stages of the day scheduled to run in darkness, the auxiliary light pod was fitted to the Renault, stages seven and eight completed without problems, and the planned final darkness stage – Collobriers – again cancelled, leaving just a near seventeen kilometre run through the Pignans test to close the second day, before a return to Parc Ferme and the overnight halt.Four special stages remained for the final Sunday run, an early seven am start following Service, and into the ten kilometres of La Garde Freneit, a taster for the stage everyone was waiting for, the second run through thirty two kilometres of Le Plan De La Tour, and Sara and Mark upped the pace from their first run on day two, setting fifth fastest time on the stage for the Clio runners. Two stages remained, the Welsh driver with a steady nerve completing the rally in accomplished style, to finish ninth Clio in the event, and just missing out on a seventh placing, just four seconds splitting her from the two cars ahead, but Sara succeeding in taking a very credible tenth overall in a hard fought Renault Clio R3T French Trophy along with third Junior Driver and First Female Driver, in what Sara fittingly describes as “A fantastic year in the Championship in which I have learnt a lot, going from a right hand drive four wheel drive car on gravel to a left hand drive two wheel drive car on some of the fastest Tarmac stages in Europe. I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had this year, and I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has made it possible this year, including Renault Sport France, ASM Motorsport, Millers Oils, Burnsides, Stema , Brecon Motors, Brecon Car Rentals, FIA women in motorsport and of course last but certainly not least my co-driver Mark”