Latvia may seem a strange place for a British driver to start his rally career.
But it is where it all began for Tom Cave, who heads into this weekend’s Todds Leap Ulster Rally as joint leader of the British championship.
Cave, from Aberdovey in Wales, couldn’t wait for his 17th birthday to qualify for a driving licence so, aged 15, his dad took him to Latvia where they allow drivers as young as 14 to compete in rallies.
He was a regular there for two years, qualifying for an international competitions licence in time to make history as the youngest driver to take part in Britain’s round of the World Championship, Rally GB, in 2008 — just 18 days after his 17th birthday.
Still just 20, Cave has packed a vast amount of travel and experience into the intervening years, competing in both the World Championship and the Intercontinental Challenge series, and comes to Ulster buoyed up by recent successes which include his first overseas international win on the Rally of Thailand for the Malaysian manufacturer Proton.
But his primary aim this season is to become British champion and a victory on the Bulldog Rally in his privately-run Citroen DS3 has put him in the thick of the battle with two rounds remaining.
Cave shares the lead with fellow Welshman Elfyn Evans but admits he is looking over his shoulder at the looming threat from Ireland’s two-time British champion Keith Cronin, who has won the last two rounds.
“Keith is likely to be the pace-setter and he’s only a couple of points behind us in the championship, but Elfyn is also quick and very consistent and there are also people like Guy Wilks doing the event in an evolution Renault Twingo R2 which can be a very competitive car,” he said.
“I’ve never been to Ulster before but I’m feeling quietly confident. I feel my driving is the best it has ever been and that helps my confidence enormously. My tarmac performance also seems to have improved over the last year or so, so I’m aiming for a top three finish.
“I think the plan is to be on the pace on Friday for the first six stages so that I’m not on the back foot for Saturday. Sensible but fast with no mistakes.”
Cave and co compete in Rally NI, the all two-wheel-drive section of the Ulster event, which starts from Antrim on Friday.