by Geoff Mayes

Melis Charalambous, a student of former RAC rally winner Pentti Airikkala, benefited heavily from recent lessons to record his best rallying result to date on his British Rally Championship debut.

Charalambous, who has had his road driving licence less than a year and is the youngest driver in the championship at just 18 years of age, is tackling the full Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship this year, with British Rally Academy member Andrew Roughead calling the notes. Last weekends Pirelli International Rally was the first time that the pair have made their own pacenotes together.

The rally itself was full of adventures as Charalambous experienced a number of things for the first time. Although he had driven in the dark on last years Wales Rally GB, that had been in heavy fog. This time around the young pairing had to tackle four stages in the infamous Kielder forest on Friday night, but with no fog to contend with, Charalambous loved the experience.

They also picked up their first ever puncture which Charalambous had to drive out of the stage with, before it was changed in the dark on the road section, incurring 3 minutes worth of road penalties. By the end of the opening leg the M-Tec Developments run Subaru N12 was lying just outside the top 20, but with a couple of top 20 times to their credit.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, albeit rather chilly. However for Charalambous perhaps a hot cup of coffee was required before the day began. A trip to one of the notorious Kielder ditches saw the pair drop over two minutes, incurring some panel damage on the co-drivers side along the way. This dented his confidence for the rest of the morning loop but once the young student had gotten his head around things he upped his pace again.

A big moment over a crest gave Charalambous a fright, as did sliding wide and hitting a tree, once more on Roughead's side of the car. However his confidence was growing and Charalambous was getting used to the unique nature of the roads. By the end of the rally the pair were regularly setting top 15 times but Charalambous was the first to admit that he still has a lot to learn.

"I love Kielder, I cannot wait for next years rally," he said. "We had some wild moments and I was lucky in there a few times. I can now appreciate how important it is to have good notes and that is something that Andrew and I will be working on with Pentti over the next few weeks. I was very happy with my stage times and in fact surprised even myself on occasion with my pace."

Charalambous will now switch to a slightly older specification Subaru for the RBS Manx International Rally as he aims to gain experience of tarmac ahead of the next three British Rally Championship rounds, which are all tarmac based. This next rally will be the first time Charalambous has ever competed on a true tarmac event, and as such he is making a big step into the un-known.