Reigning British Rally Champion Matt Edwards will be making his first World Rally Championship appearance outside his home country on Rally Estonia this week, but in the co-driver’s seat rather than behind the wheel, as Junior WRC competitor Ruairi Bell’s navigator.
Bell was involved in an accident on last weekend’s Rally Alto Tâmega in Portugal along with regular co-driver Darron Garrod, colliding with an emergency vehicle which had been left parked in an escape road.
That left the pairing’s plans to resume their Junior WRC campaign in Estonia in disarray when it became clear Garrod would be unavailable to perform co-driving duties.
Luckily Edwards, who has previously had Garrod sitting alongside him in the co-driver’s seat, has been able to assist Bell by swapping roles to get his competition fix, as the British championship was canceled early this year due to COVID-19.
Edwards was already back on the stages in a coaching capacity at Rally Alto Tâmega with Nabila Tejpar, a regular in the British and European Rally Championship’s Junior classifications, netting third position in the Challenge R2 & You for first-generation R2 cars class aboard a PT Racing-prepared Peugeot 208.
It has all been something of a rush, however, as Edwards explained to DirtFish as he traveled through Latvia to his final stop-off – the city of Tartu in eastern Estonia.
“As soon as I landed in Manchester on Monday afternoon, I got the nod,” said Edwards.
“I was, of course, aware that I might get that phone call given Darren’s condition while we were in Portugal, and it was confirmed as soon as I touched down.
“I had to make the five-hour drive to my house [in Llandudno], pack everything I needed in the space of ten minutes, before making the five-hour drive to Ruairi’s house [in Blackheath, London].
“I didn’t really have the chance to think about the rally – I was just focused on getting my kit ready!
“The other priority for me this week is to get Ruairi through the event and back on track,” he added.
Although their time in a rally car together is limited, what should stand Bell and Edwards in good stead is previous experience of Estonia’s gravel tracks, having contested South Estonia Rally in an R2 car two years ago.
Fellow Junior WRC ace Roland Poom has also sat shotgun with Bell on a handful of Latvian rounds, a country where the fast, flowing roads are similar in nature to those that lie in wait come Saturday and Sunday.
“That will help,” says Edwards. “I am comfortable sitting alongside Ruairi; I’ve read pace notes on tests with him for a while. I had no hesitation [about Estonia] – this is the least disruptive option for him.
“It is good to be in a position where you can help someone. There was no fault of his in the accident but it’s important to get going again so that he can continue the progress that he has been making.
“At the moment we are taking it as it comes. We’ll get this one out of the way and then see what’s what.”
For Bell, the 2019 BRC M-Sport prize winner, continuity was important on his first foray since that off at Rally Alto Tâmega.
“Matt will be the least disruptive choice for us,” he said. “Matt has been a bit of a mentor for me – he has coached me at various points throughout my career.”
Rally Estonia is the penultimate Junior WRC event before Rally Italy in early October, as the loss of Rally Germany to the coronavirus pandemic last week has reduced the season to just three rounds.
Having recorded three fastest stage times on his way to a 37.8-second victory on home soil back in February, Tom Kristensson currently heads the Junior WRC standings.