WILLIAMS FOLLOWING IN GODFATHER’S FOOTSTEPS
That’s Tom the rally driver”, said a fellow pupil at Shiplake College, as Tom Williams walked onto the cricket pitch for a photoshoot in his rally overalls. It’s a pretty cool school nickname, by anyone’s admission.
In his first season of rallying, Tom won Rookie of the Year in the Formula 1000 series, after three fourth-place finishes in his Nissan Micra saw him finish sixth out of 23 drivers. Having turned 17 in December, Tom is too old to return to the Junior category, so instead the family has bought him a Ford Fiesta R2 in which he’ll contest a variety of small gravel rallies to gain experience ( see above).
It’s perhaps written in the stars that he’d take up rallying. His parents, David and Sadie, won the 2007 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge in a 1938 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe. Indeed, David was well known in British national rallying in the late 1980s and early ’90s for his exploits in a Nissan 240RS. And he is even better known for guiding Richard Burns from the Under 17 Car Club to become a World Rally champion. Burns was a man Tom Williams could call his godfather.
Tom is now following the same hard work ethos that Burns did. There is no way Burns would have been allowed to start a round of the Peugeot Challenge unless every square inch of his 205 was immaculate, and now, 26 years later, it’s Tom who has to prepare his own car, polished to his father’s very high Genesis Design standards. And, like Burns before him, Tom has to learn to rally drive in an underpowered car on small events before there is any talk of moving up.
“I’ve always liked cars, and two years ago my dad took me to watch Rallye Deutschland and I’ve been hooked on rallying ever since,” says Tom. “I did a couple of rally school driving days when I was 15, and one morning my dad left the house at 0500hrs. He’d done some research on how to start rallying and was off to see a round of the Formula 1000 series! There he met Simon Mauger from Major Motorsport, and that’s how my first season of rallying came about.
“At 16, I was a little late into the Junior category, as most of the other drivers had done karting and were in their second year of rallying. It was great fun, I’ve made some good friends and I would have scored my first podium, had I not put the Micra up on two wheels on the last stage at Pembrey and missed out on third place by one second!
“I would have liked to return to Formula 1000, but now I’m 17 and too old! Instead, we’re going to concentrate on gravel rallies in 2016 in a Fiesta R2. I want to be competitive and not drive around at the back of the field, but I’m also under orders not to crash the car. We want to do small rallies, learn the trade and get quicker step-by-step.”
The left-hand-drive Fiesta R2, with its sequential gearbox and more power, is very different to the Micra. Tom will have a number of driving training sessions with David Higgins. He’s another British driver his father helped in his early career.
Under the guidance of Williams Sr, the multiple American rally champion once used to prepare his own Peugeot Challenge car out of the same garage that Burns did a few years before him.
They all became close friends, with Higgins doing gravel notes for Burns in the Asia-pacific and World Rally championships.
“Nothing in rallying has changed since David helped the likes of Richard and myself in our careers, so his way of doing things works as well now as it did all those years ago,” says Higgins. “Nothing is handed to you on a plate. You have to do the hard work yourself and learn from the bottom up. So many people fall at the first hurdle or have too much too soon, but he didn’t allow that to happen to Richard or myself and he’s not going to let it happen to Tom either. It was a real honour when David phoned to ask if I could help Tom. Tom wants to learn and do it right. He hasn’t come into the sport too young, and the way British rallying is on the up, I think the timing could be just about right for him.”
Only time will tell if Tom’s rallying career takes off, but with a godfather and family friend in Burns and Higgins, he’s got a better chance than most.