Brecon-based Sara, the 2018 British Women Racing Drivers Club Gold Star Elite Award winner for 2018 and 2016, resumed her competition partnership with the vastly experienced co-driver Patrick Walsh.
The duo took in a relatively small event as a test session before returning to the major French Championship that Sara first tackled in 2017. In mid June they entered the Rally Vallespir, a round of the French National Rally Cup series, that had some ten special stages in the tight and tortuous hills around Amelie Les Bains in the Pyrenees Orientales region of the South of France.
The ten stages varied from seven to eighteen kilometres in length, totalling some one hundred and thirty kilometres of fast asphalt.
Over fifty crews entered the rally and she and Patrick took a very creditable third place in the category and fifteenth overall on unfamiliar special stages and against more powerful cars in many instances.
That successful re-acclimatisation to the French stages and the left hand drive Renault behind them, the third round of the Renault Clio Cup awaited, the Rallye Aveyron Rouergue Occitanie in mid July, with around two hundred kilometres of competitive stages, the series having six rounds within the prestigious 2018 FFSA French Rally Championship.
The 2018 Rouergue Rally was the fifth round of the French asphalt rally championship, as well as the third of the Renault Clio R3T France Trophy series, using legendary special stages in the St-Julien Rodelle, Campouriez and Le Nayrac areas, on day one, the second day including more challenging driving in the heart of Rodez.
The heat was a factor, the South of France as blisteringly hot as amazingly was South Wales, and crews faced heat of over thirty degrees as they battled through the tarmacadam stages, the longest of which was the thirty four kilometre run on that opening day.
The special stages, through still verdant countryside, were not uncharacteristic of the Welsh hill roads, narrow fast twisting ribbons of tarmacadam, bordered by gravel edges waiting to slip an off-line rally car into the grass covered ditches and stout banks behind, sadly a fate that lay in wait for the Clio of Sara (right) and Patrick.
The first three stages went well, the ASM Motorsport R3T setting top six times in succession, before the fourth stage proved their downfall.
The car got onto gravel dragged onto the stage by an earlier car, and the resulting slide saw the front wheel damaged on the Renault, virtually within sight of the flying finish.
All was not lost however, the ASM team repaired the Clio and allowed Sara and Patrick to return the Brecon Motors / Brecon Car Rentals – Renault Sport France – ASM Motorsport – FIA Women in Motorsport – Motordrive Seats and Burnsides Promotion Group supported Renault to the six scheduled stages on Saturday, competing under Rally 2 rules that allow cars to return to the rally after a rebuild.
Two of those Saturday stages were of thirty one kilometres, the same length as those found on World Rally Championship events, and undaunted the Clio duo still set top six times in the Renault honours battle.
The rally finished in dramatic crowd pleasing style, with a ‘super special’ stage around the streets of the town of Rodez, a fitting reward was a finish just one place outside the top ten, and top Female Driver award for the Welsh ‘fast lady’.
Sara reported the stages as ‘very technical and very fast’ but her learning curve on French tarmacadam is one of improvement, she and Patrick beating the times set on the stages in 2017. The next round of the Renault Clio R3T France Trophy will be in early September, and the Rallye Mont-Blanc Morzine near the Swiss border.