BINGLEY driver Sam Bilham recorded a convincing Rally First 1.0litre win at the Nicky Grist Stages Rally across the forests of the Epynt military ranges in Wales.
As if his runaway victory of more than four minutes in his class was not enough, the 17-year-old MSA Academy member was also awarded the Andreas Mikkelsen “Star of the Day” for Rally First competitors who showed raw talent and speed throughout the day.
The sixth round of the BTRDA National Rally Championship was based in the Welsh town of Builth Wells and, like all the other rounds of the series, was Bilham’s first visit to the gravel stages on the event.
Having built a solid lead in the RF1.0 class and Junior Series, Bilham could have been forgiven for approaching the event with a goal of simply finishing.
But, by his own admission, that’s not his style, and Bilham and co-driver Graham Wild immediately set the pace from the opening stage.
The Next Big Step star was once again punching well above his weight on the stages, beating many cars in the much more powerful 1400cc categories and, despite a puncture on the second stage, drove to a trouble-free run across some of the infamous stages used in past World Rally Championship events.
Bilham said: “It was a fantastic event all round for us, and the stages as good as people say they are.
“Despite our puncture, we led the class from start to finish, and that’s really encouraging in my first year on gravel. To win the Andreas Mikkelsen Star of the Day award was a really special moment for me – there are some very quick guys in Rally First so it’s great that people have noticed our performance."
The Bingley rally star is pleased with how his season is progressing so far, but is well aware that complacency over the last three rounds of the series is not an option.
He added: “Our championship hopes are looking really good at this stage but anything can happen so we have to keep pressing on at this pace regardless. I won’t relax until I've crossed the finish ramp of the last event this year."
Bilham's achievements are largely down to his grounding in the Junior Rally Championship and, not content with a long day in the forests, he headed back to his roots the next day to assist the current junior contenders at the Brawdy Stages, offering encouragement and advice to competitors looking to progress through the sport as he has done.
Bilham now occupies third in the Rally First overall category, which includes the 1400cc contenders, and the overall junior award which is open to all competitors in all classes. He also tops the Rally First 1.0litre and junior categories.
The next round for Bilham is the popular Woodpecker Stages Rally on Sunday, August 31, based in the Shropshire market town of Ludlow.