BTRDA Rally Series contender Sam Bilham was on track for the best of result of his career before a puncture caused his retirement from round four of the championship in The Plains Rally.

The Bingley driver had taken his front-running Fiesta R5 into a career best fourth place after the second of five stages, only to suffer a puncture on the third, sending him tumbling down to sixth. The puncture had subsequently caused more issues than first thought and Bilham was forced to retire on his way to the penultimate stage of the day.

The 22-year-old has had a mixed introduction to four-wheel drive, suffering misfortune which has been contrasted by an impressive showing on his first season in a top-flight car. Thanks to sponsors Greenlight Sports and Entertainment and the Swift Group, Bilham’s drive on Wales Rally GB in a Fiesta R2 last year was rewarded by a season in the powerful R5.

Guided by co-driver Patrick Walsh, the signs were good on the opening 10-mile Dyfnant stage as Bilham stopped the clocks fifth quickest and would do so again on the next test in Aberhirnant. Despite struggling to find a comfortable pace through the damp morning stages, Bilham was equal fourth overall and just four seconds away from a podium spot.

Bilham misjudged one of the corners in the second passing of the Dyfnant test, causing an instant puncture. He managed to limp the Fiesta through the remainder of the stage but on the following road section, it was apparent the puncture had caused further problems and Bilham retired.

“I have to hold my hands up and say this one was my fault entirely” said a dejected Bilham.

“Sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don’t. Today was one of those. It’s been another very steep learning curve for me but I really need to take the positives away from the stages that we could complete cleanly, especially the first half of stage three.

"That was the best feeling I’ve had in the car so far, everything felt to be working really well and flowing perfectly.”

Despite the retirement, Bilham is already focusing on the next round.

“It would be easy to get dejected but if I look at the pace I had then that’s a huge improvement over the first few rounds this year so that’s very encouraging for the future. "The team, especially Chief Technician Andy Townend, have produced a perfect car and Patrick has been spot on with the notes as always.

"I just need to bring everything together and make it work on the Nicky Grist Stages in July. A huge thanks to all my backers and sponsors for keeping their faith in me, hopefully I can return that on the next round."