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With rallying in Australia getting ready to return to the stages at the Rally of the Bay next month, two young Queenslanders will finally get the chance to restart their plans and dreams. Those plans include competing alongside some of the world’s best up and coming drivers within the Junior World Rally Championship. If the world had been lucky enough to have never heard of COVID-19, the R’n’B Rally Team, which is made up of driver Ryan Williams (22) and co-driver Brad Jones (20), would have been living and training in Finland, in preparation to enter this year’s Neste Rally Finland. The year had started perfectly, with Ryan and Brad travelling to the Arctic Lapland Rally in Rovaniemi, northern Finland. Under the guidance of Russell Hewett, who’s company P3 Solutions had previously sponsored the Queensland Rally Championship, the team was joining former World Rally Championship driver and now full time driver coach, Kristian Sohlberg, for pacenote and driver training. Ryan and Brad started by doing a full reconnaissance for the Arctic Lapland Rally, before moving to the SnowRallyRings complex for more testing and training.

Brad Williams with driving coach and former WRC driver, Kristian Sohlberg (left).

The team was joined in the test by Finland’s Sami Pajari who has been training with Kristian for a number of seasons. Sami is considered to be one of the fastest and most promising young drivers in Finland and it was Sami’s own M-Sport built R2 Ford Fiesta that Ryan and Brad would be using for the test. For Ryan, who is well known in Queensland rallying for his outright speed and his ability to maximise the performance of the cars he competes in, it would be very much in at the deep end. Ryan had never driven on snow before, never driven in a left-hand drive car before, never used studded tyres and had never used a sequential gearbox in a rally car before, as well as using a completely new pacenote style. The first runs in the car showed that Ryan and Brad both had a lot of learning and adapting to do, but as the test continued into its second day the times were getting better and more constant with each run. The testing was done over a variety of stages, all with different characteristics and lengths to ensure the maximum need for note writing and learning.

Brad Jones, and Ryan Williams with WRC great Ari Vatanen.

By the end of the test, and still using the same car that Sami was using, in which Sami has lots more experience in and had just used a few days before for the Arctic Rally, in a second by second, stage by stage battle for a class win, Ryan and Brad had manage to get their time down to be within a second of Sami’s times over 5km. With all the testing behind them, as well as getting to spend time with both Jari-Matti Latvala and Ari Vatanen to talk everything rally, the team headed back home to Australia with excitement and confidence. They were to move back to Finland in May for more training and tests, as well as entering events in both Finland and Estonia in build up to the big one … and then lockdown happened! Since the start of the pandemic very little has happened. They have done virtual rallying, gone for runs and done other physical training, but nothing replaces actual seat time and the team sees the AHM Automotive Group Rally of the Bay on July 4 as the perfect place to restart the dream. “The Rally of the Bay is one of the biggest rally events in Australia, made even better this year as Australian Rally Championship regulars join with front running teams from the Queensland, Victorian, ACT and New South Wales,” Brad Jones said.

The Queenslanders get the low down from Jari-Matti Latvala as his rally museum in Finland.

“We are looking forward to seeing just where our pace is against such a strong field, but that isn’t our main focus for the event. We really want to use this opportunity to continue our work into perfecting our notes, and with having an open recce system on top of such fast and technical roads, we believe it’s the best place to be able to put the skills we learnt in Finland into practise.” That sentiment was backed up by driver Ryan Williams. “We have been waiting to get back into a car and go rallying for so long now, we just wanted to go down and have a play, see how fast we could go and try to challenge some of the front runners,” he said. “We even looked into getting an Evo or Subaru to do that with, but we have to think of the bigger picture and the goal is still getting to Rally Finland, but now it’s next year. “This rally really is a perfect event to back up the work we have already done in Finland, and by using the front-wheel drive Mitsubishi Mirage for this event it still ties in with the big plan, as it is the same drive layout as the cars we will be using in Finland next year.” The team is planning on following up on this event by entering a couple of rounds of the Australian Rally Championship, before returning to Finland next year.

Ryan Williams and Brad Jones are gearing up for Rally Finland in 2021.

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