London rally driver Ruairi Bell set a blistering pace at the final round of the Junior World Rally Championship, ACI Rally Monza (3-6 December), claiming third place, fastest stage times and his best-ever JWRC result at the unforgiving Italian event.
The Blackheath based 20-year-old not only rounded off his season in style, but such was his speed during the notorious snow-laden Saturday leg of the rally, Bell also set a remarkable 14th overall fastest rally time, beating many WRC regulars in the process, setting him up perfectly to record his maiden JWRC podium at the legendary “Cathedral of Speed”. His result at the weekend also vaulted the Brit to fifth in the JWRC drivers standings.
Bell has endured a tough debut in the hotly contested WRC feeder series, with flashes of brilliance mixed with bad luck and unforced errors throughout the season.
Bell’s season began with seventh spot in Sweden before the global pandemic forced the series to alter the calendar, with Rally Estonia becoming round two in September. Bell grabbed an impressive fourth on the ultra-fast gravel roads, with a devastating final stage retirement in Sardinia putting him on the back foot for the season finale.
Whilst the championship title was out of reach, ACI Rally Monza offered the opportunity for Bell and co-driver Darren Garrod to end the season on a high, with the event being used as a WRC counter for the first time, each of the JWRC crews would have no prior knowledge of what was to come over the weekend.
But unprecedented weather would add a remarkable twist to the rally with torrential rain on the build-up, turning to heavy snow in the mountains meaning the event would now become one of the toughest in the calendar.
Bell elected not to take any risks, ending the opening leg in fourth spot, but as predicted, would wake the following day to snow-covered mountain roads, similar to those found at Rallye Monte Carlo and seven stages to tackle.
With the opening stage cancelled due to incidents further up the field, stage eight kicked off the day for the JWRC crews and set the scene for Bell to return one of the finest moments of his career. Threading his Protec and Marex Spectron backed M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally4 through the ice-covered Italian mountains, Bell grabbed the fastest JWRC time over the Gerosa 1 test during the morning loop.
However, over the second pass of the stage that afternoon, Bell not only set another JWRC scratch time but also secured 14th overall fastest time of the entire rally, beating countless four-wheel-drive crews and WRC regulars in the process, stamping his mark in the history books of the quickest time set by a JWRC crew on the WRC tour.
Ending the leg in third, there were just the three stages on Sunday around the circuit to contend with and Bell elected to try and consolidate his position throughout the day in a bid to scoop his first-ever JWRC podium. He went on to deliver, taking a career-best World Championship result on a grueling season finale’.
“What a way to end my first season in the Junior World Rally Championship,” said an elated Bell.
“It’s been a season of highs and lows I guess but this weekend has been absolutely mega really and I’ve finally been able to prove that I do have the pace to compete at the sharp end of the JWRC and I’m really proud of that. If you look at just how competitive this series is and the speed that you need to win stages, it’s very encouraging for the future that I’ve progressed so much over the course of the year”.
Bell surprised himself with his stage times on Saturday but is eager to point out that it was one of the first ‘clean’ days he has enjoyed this year.
“I was really comfortable on Saturday in the car and everything just came together. I was pushing a little harder than normal but not taking too many risks and when I saw that stage time, I was pretty shocked. It’s nice to prove to myself that I’m capable of that pace and doing so on such a difficult event in those conditions is very satisfying. It’s a pretty good end to a tough season and I really must thank all my backers for their support this season. I’m looking forward to whatever is coming next year”.
Bell will now use the winter to evaluate his plans for the 2021 season.
Bell is supported by Protec Temporary Protection, Marex Spectron, Boolers Wealth Management Ltd, Marina Racewear, Nura, L&J Workwear and MSAR Motorsport.
Photos by Honza Fronek
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