Australian rally crew Molly Taylor and Rebecca Smart have finished eighth outright after making their debut in the first event of the 2011 FIA WRC Academy Cup, the Rally de Portugal.

The event started in Lisbon on Thursday, March 24 with a timed special stage through the centre of the city, before moving to the forests of the beautiful Algarve region in the south of the country.

The pair took it slow and steady initially, finishing the morning stages of Day One in 10th of the 18 Cup starters. The afternoon was not so kind – a spin on SS6 cost around 20 seconds, and then the Pirelli Star Driver scholarship winner flipped the Ford Fiesta R2 in the very next competitive stage after clipping a rock on a corner about six kilometres in.
“In one way it was not so good, because it happened in front of some spectators – so not exactly the sort of driving demonstration you want to give people!” Molly laughed.
“But in other ways we were really lucky it happened there, because they were able to help us get right way up and going again. And because we’d had a good run in the morning we only fell back to 13th for the day.”

After a fantastic job by the M-Sport mechanics who repaired the slightly battered car overnight, Molly and Rebecca had a consistent morning on Day Two, hampered slightly by a wheel alignment problem which they believe was a result of the roll.
They took it cautiously on the afternoon stages too, finishing the day in a solid eighth spot, giving them eighth outright for the weekend and four valuable points in the championship tally.

The Academy Cup competitors did not contest Day Three of the event (Sunday, March 27), instead spending the day analysing their performances with Academy staff.

“Portugal is known to be a rough event and there was major carnage among our fellow competitors as well as the WRC guys, so we’re actually really pleased we made it through,” Molly said.

“We had so many dramas before the event that it was almost a relief to actually start. We did have some butterflies, but it was good to get going and it was really exciting to be out there – so we did enjoy ourselves!

“The crowds were amazing, and so encouraging – and we were really lucky we had some around at the right place at the right time. If they hadn’t been there, it would have been a struggle to get going again and get a result.

“The car’s handling was a bit nasty after the rollover, but we managed to work around that, and the main thing is that we finished and we got some points. Our first event – woo-hoo!”
Molly and Rebecca are among 18 crews contesting the FIA WRC Academy Cup, a sub-series of the WRC, which replaces the previous Junior WRC category and has been designed to give young drivers a strong foundation in all aspects of competing at the elite level. All are driving identical Ford Fiesta R2s prepared by World Rally Championship specialists, M-Sport, and fitted with a Pirelli control tyre.
Six of the drivers were successful in the Pirelli Star Driver Shoot-Out, winning a fully-funded scholarship to compete this year, Molly being one of them.
The next event on the Academy schedule is Rally d’Italia Sardegna over the weekend of May 5-8, but the Australians are also contesting a number of other rallies, including Round Two of the British Rally Championship – the Bulldog International Rally in North Wales this coming weekend. They are also running a Ford Fiesta R2 in the BRC.

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