With the American Rally Association’s Open 4WD technical regulations now altered to bring them in-line with the RC2 category, Tom Williams no longer has a ceiling in terms of what he can achieve.
While he managed to snatch the odd podium last year en route to the RC2 class title, Williams was never a factor in the race for the rally win given the performance disparity between his Ford Fiesta Rally2 and the Subaru and Hyundai machines at the top of O4WD.
“Yeah exactly,” Williams told DirtFish.
“Last year was great, I had no intention of winning that championship it was just being out in America, learning the rallies, doing our thing but of course the way it was structured with people in unlimited cars and people in RC2, no-one wants to be in RC2, everyone just wants to be in the biggest, most powerful car.
“So of course it was cool to win the championship but as you said we hit a ceiling and we want to be fighting for overall wins like anyone else would be.
“That’s a really nice progression by accident where we’ve done a year of learning and enjoying the rallies then this year is the first time ever in American rally history that the rules have changed this drastically so someone like myself, or any other competitor like [Patrick] Gruszka or all these guys, can come along and fight for a rally win.
“It shouldn’t just be the usual top three drivers in these dominant, really big budgeted cars.”
The front of the race in the ARA will look very different this year as a result, particularly as Subaru Motorsports USA’s Travis Pastrana has elected to take a step back and tragically Ken Block lost his life at the beginning of the year.
There’s therefore a real case to be made that Williams is one of the favorites for the 2023 National title, particularly as unlike many of his key rivals he’s not having to learn a new car.
Patrick Gruszka has traded his O4WD Mitsubishi for a Hyundai i20 R5. Kyle Tilley will drive a similar car before switching to an O4WD developed Toyota GR Yaris later in the season, and even defending champion Brandon Semenuk has a new car to acclimatize to even if he’s remaining part of Subaru’s lineup.
“Yeah I’d say of course it’s nice for me to be the one now that’s in a car that I’m used to and I’ve got a few setups, but there is still a slight chicken and egg situation with the Subarus because you’re still running a 2.5-engine and that big aero wing, and they’re still running a six-speed gearbox,” Williams said.
“So down the straights for sure they’ll have an advantage, but now with that weight ballast I think I can take the time out of the Subaru in the corners. So that could be great competition but we’ll just have to find out and see.”
Naturally then, the target is to try and take that championship title.
“Of course,” said Williams.
“If we get to the speed we want to be driving at and if I drive the best that I can then of course I’d like that to result in winning the championship this year, but that’s just down to me and Ross [Whittock, co-driver] doing the best we can.
“It’s going to be a good year with new drivers, new people involved, more variables and I think you’ll start to get a trickle effect of new drivers coming along from Mexico, Canada, further south because there’s a lot of Rally2 cars now on this side of the ocean.
“And there’s lots of exciting growth on this side of the world and the way motorsport’s going with Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR and Nitro Rallycross at the moment it’s as big as it’s ever been.”
It's an awesome rally to be on the snow but it's not ideal when you're not on studsTom Williams on Sno*Drift
Williams’ ARA adventure begins with this weekend’s Sno*Drift Rally where he’s seeking a solid start to begin his campaign.
Williams, a former Junior WRC driver, is no stranger to winter rallying but Sno*Drift will be a new experience for him, competing without the aid of studded tires on ice and snow.
“I’ve done Rally Sweden twice, I’ve done Arctic Rally, but every single one was in a proper car on proper studs and you just set the car up as if it was a Tarmac car but slightly higher, you’ve got as much grip as you’d have on Tarmac.
“But on this one it’s the complete opposite basically, like Monte Carlo spec slicks on ice,” he explained.
“It’s a really difficult rally as you need to work with the car setup a lot. You almost want it as standard as possible – no anti-lag or the least amount possible and the car needs to be extra soft just so you’re able to rotate it.
“Almost the more standard the car, the better, as these Rally2 cars and top Open 4WD cars can be kind of brittle on top of the icy conditions which break away even under a subtle gear change with these sequential gearboxes.
“The least amount of mistakes will win the rally,” Williams added. “But we need to bag points. With some competitors choosing not to do it Sno*Drift Rally is always a good opportunity to bag points.
“It’s an awesome rally to be on the snow but it’s not ideal when you’re not on studs, and you can see with Brandon when he came over last year he was hoping to bag a load of points that would’ve changed how last year ended [had he not retired from the lead].
“But for sure everyone’s here to get the best result they can and get a lot of points to bring forward in the championship.”