06 Mar: Thorburn wins Snowman

… First Blood to Thorburn …
Arnold Clark Thistle Hotel Snowman Rally, Saturday 22nd February …
Rd01, ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship …

Such is the way of rallying that the fastest man in the forests didn’t actually win the Arnold Clark Thistle Hotel Snowman Rally. Instead maximum points on this opening round of the ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship went to Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton. Leading after two stages, David Bogie and Kevin Rae punctured a tyre in the third, and bang went their hopes of victory.

However, the best scrap of the day was for the runner-up position. After 3 stages, Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy were second, leading Quintin Milne and Martin Forrest by 7 seconds, but at the rally finish, the difference was down to 3 seconds – in Quintin’s favour, with Bogie recovering to fourth behind Faulkner.

As ever, conditions were unpredictable in the run up to Britain’s most northerly stage rally, but as it turned out there was snow on only one stage, and even then, there was just a 1.5 mile stretch of it. Otherwise, the sun shone on the righteous. It was still cold and damp, but there was always the well-stocked Dingwall Market restaurant to look forward to at the twice-used Service halt.

SS1, Munro Scotch Beef Millbuie, 8.23 mls
1, David Bogie/Kevin Rae, 8m 30s
2, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton, 8m 48s
3, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 8m 57s
4, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 9m 01s
5, Dougal Brown/Lewis Rochford, 9m 07s
6, Steven Clark/Steve Pugh 9m 09s

A couple of years ago Millbuie was hidden from view. It was under two feet of snow in some places, but this year the road was covered with a layer of slime, mud and wind-shaken pine needles. Barry Groundwater summed it up best: “If you got off line at all in there, you were in the skitters – we had quite a few skitter moments!”

First into the stage was Milne. “The others were hanging back,” said Quintin, “so I went in first. It was really slippery in there. There were about 10 or 12 chicanes and some really tight hairpins. I spun on the last corner.” He dropped over 30 seconds to the fastest man – that was going to take some getting back!

First on the road was Thorburn, but Bogie spotted him parked up as he approached: “I saw Euan hanging back,” said David, “so I hung back just to see what he was up to, but when he pulled forward I followed him in.”

By the time the top seeds went into the forest, there was a bit of a ‘line’ on the road but it was still treacherous. Even so, Bogie set the fastest time from Thorburn by 18 seconds over the 8 mile test! Also breaking a trail for the top seeds was Jock Armstrong: “I was really on it at first, then I was off it,” said Jock, “I was too busy watching Quintin’s lines out of the tight bits. I reckon it will get quicker as it gets cleaner.”

Faulkner was fourth quickest: “The straights are so long in there you struggle to read the road and judge the braking distances. I looked down at one point and saw 6000 rpm in top gear, and thought – oh, shit!”

He survived, and finished the stage 6 seconds up on Dougal Brown making the best of a number 14 start position and scoring a top six time by 2 seconds from Steven Clark. Bruce McComie was just outside the top ten, first time out in his new Evo: “It was so ‘guttery’ in there with the mud and the pine needles. I was a passenger a few times, then I got a rear puncture near the end. Still, I was surprised to see that no one was off in there, it was so slippery!” Only 3 seconds behind McCombie was Steven Ronaldson in the Metro: “We hit a big puddle at the quarry chicane, and the windscreen misted up immediately. I couldn’t see a thing for the rest of the stage, and I couldn’t get the back of my hand to the window!” Donnie MacDonald was even slower: “We overshot once, then did it again, and the car stalled. It’s a great stage normally, but it was sh*te this morning.”

Perhaps that summed it up even better than Barry’s description.

Meanwhile, there was a heck of a scrap going in Group N. Fraser Wilson’s time was good enough for 10th place overall: “That was my best stage ever,” said Fraser, “but if you went off line it was horrendous.” Just 1 second behind him was Andrew Gallacher in 12th place and Dale Robertson was another single second behind, with John Morrison not too far away.

SS2, Highland Office Equipment Ben Wyvis, 6.23 mls
1, David Bogie/Kevin Rae, 5m 55s
2, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton, 6m 03s
3, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 6m 05s
4, Quintin Milne/Martin Forrest, 6m 06s
5, Donnie MacDonald/Andrew Falconer, 6m21s
6, Rory Young/Allan Cathers, 6m 23s

There was a wee bit of watery snow in Ben Wyvis but it disappeared quickly as the cars sped over it and no-one was delayed. Bogie was quickest again, by just 8 seconds from Thorburn: “I don’t know if I’m over driving it,” he said, “or if it’s just the slippery conditions, but we’ll have a look at the diff settings at service and maybe soften it up.”

Third quickest this time was Faulkner, but by only a solitary second from Milne, and Armstrong nowhere to be seen. The Subaru was sidelined mid stage with a ‘clunk’ coming from the rear, either diff or driveshaft. MacDonald was back on form in here, fifth quickest by 2 seconds from Rory Young.

As for the Group N battle, it went off like a damp squib. A pinch bolt at the bottom of Fraser Wilson’s Steering column worked loose leaving him with armfuls of lock and no direction leaving Gallacher in control from Dale Robertson.

SS3, Highland Appliance Services Rogie, 11.66 mls
1, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton, 12m 05s
2, Quintin Milne/Martin Forrest, 12m 11s
3, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 12m 16s
4= Steven Ronaldson/ 12m 53s
4= Steven Clark/Steve Pugh, 12m 53s
6, Dougal Brown/Lewis Rochford, 12m 57s
7, Rory Young/Allan Cathers, 6m 23s

Rogie was the longest test of the day, and as luck would have it, this was where Bogie punctured: “I didn’t hit anything. The tyre went down a mile in but Kevin and I decided it would cost even more time to stop and change it,” said the rally leader, “We were lucky though, the rim was shattered and the tyre was smoking and almost on fire by the finish. But that’s rallying.”

That meant Thorburn topped the time sheets by six seconds from Milne and Faulkner while Ronaldson and Clark tied on fourth fastest. Both Dougal Brown and Rory Young were still going well, rounding off the top half dozen times. At least, Rory thought he was going well. The temperature had been creeping up on the road run into Service and when the boys got under the bonnet, they found the radiator was goosed. He was going no further.

The Group N fight took another soggy punch in here when dale Robertson struck trouble this time. A brake pie burst with 6 miles to go, and he didn’t even have a handbrake. Just don’t tell the Polis, but he did manage to get back to Service and get it fixed for the final two stages.

SS4, ROM Mechanical Specialist – Top Car Strath Rory, 12.10 mls
1, David Bogie/Kevin Rae, 11m 26s
2, Quintin Milne/Martin Forrest, 11m 29s
3, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton, 11m 33s
4, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 11m 54s
5, Donnie MacDonald/Andrew Falconer, 12m 19s
6, Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks, 12m 21s

Bogie was back at the front in Strath Rory, by just 3 seconds from Milne while Thorburn could only manage third quickest. Was there a reason for that? “We burst a brake pipe in there,” said Euan, “and finished the stage with no brakes.” Maybe Lady Luck was changing her mind, again.

More importantly, Milne’s pace meant that he took a mighty 25 secs out of Faulkner. “We lost out a bit on that last one when we caught David (Bogie) with his puncture,” said Mike, “although he did pull over first chance he could, but it’s just so slippery, the mud keeps trying to suck you in.” Quintin was lucky too: “We had no diff pump on that one and a wheel sensor failed, but we just went for it.”

MacDonald was still in the hunt too, fifth quickest by 2 seconds from Groundwater and Gallacher was now in control of Group N with Morrison benefitting from the troubles of others.

SS5, Highland Heating Management Scotsburn, 6.04 mls
1, David Bogie/Kevin Rae, 5m 43s
2, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 5m 50s
3, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton, 6m 00s
4, Quintin Milne/Martin Forrest, 6m 05s
5, Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks, 6m 07s
6, Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts, 6m 10s

The six mile test at Scotsburn brought the day’s fun to a close under blue skies, bright sunshine and an easing of the rain. It was Bogie again by seven seconds from Faulkner with Thorburn managing to hang on to third quickest pace: “That wasn’t easy,” said Euan, “a brake pipe burst in the previous stage, so we did that last one with a vice grip clamp on the burst pipe help in place with 20 cable ties. It was heart-in-the-mouth stuff all the way!”

And although Faulkner had beaten Milne by 15 seconds in there, it wasn’t enough, and he had to settle for third. “We had no diff pump for the last two stages,” explained Milne, “and we went off in that last one. It was so bad I told Martin to get ready – we’re heading for the trees. I really thought there was no way out and was prepared for the ‘hit’ but somehow it missed everything and we ended up back on the road.” Quintin actually had the nerve to claim ‘divine intervention’ but given his past record, somehow I don’t think it was God that saved him.

The last stage accounted for Donnie MacDonald. Stopped twice in the first two with an electrical fault, the Lancer did it again on the final one, forcing MacDonald to pull over and let everyone else through. A late charge from Groundwater also proved worthwhile as he displaced Dougal Brown for fifth place, but Brown was still chuffed with his best result yet: “We’ve got new bigger brakes for this year and apart from an overshoot in Rogie we were just a bit more committed today.”

Bruce McCombie scored seventh first time out in a Lancer, having sold his Subaru, and Steven Ronaldson got his Metro 6R4 round in a superb eighth place. Ninth was the top Group N runner, Andrew Gallacher first time out in his new Evo9 and Mark McCulloch was the first Subaru driver home in 10th place.

Thorburn therefore scored his first win of the season, but Bogie wasn’t at all downhearted: “We’ve got to look at the bigger picture. “With only 5 stages and a minute and a half lost, there was no way we could make up that sort of time, even if we had been ‘on the doorhandle’ stuff,” said David, “so there was no point risking the car, and we know we’re on the pace. All the car needs now is a spanner check before the next one.”

As for Thorburn, after last season’s ill luck dogged his wheeltracks in Scotland, he’s remaining quite philosophical: “We found out what caused the problem in Wales. When we took the ‘sealed’ ECU off the top of the engine, we could hear water sloshing about inside. I think successive pressure washings under the bonnet had done for it – it wasn’t sealed any more!”

Final Results:
1, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (Ford Focus WRC) 44m 29s
2, Quintin Milne/Martin Forrest (Mitsubishi Evo9) 45m 03s
3, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 45m 06s
4, David Bogie/Kevin Rae (Ford Focus WRC) 46m 21s
5, Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 47m 11s
6, Dougal Brown/Lewis Rochford (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 47m 24s
7, Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Mitsubishi Evo) 47m 45s
8, Steven Ronaldson/Ann Marie Fraser (MG Metro 6R4) 47m 52s
9, Andrew Gallacher/Phil Sandham (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 47m 54s
10, Mark McCulloch/James Haugh (Subaru Impreza) 48m 11s

Class Winners:
Class 2: Scott MacBeth/David Wilson (Vauxhall Nova) 58m 37s
Class 3; Scott MacDonald/Allan Williamson (Vauxhall Nova) 58m 32s
Class 4: Peter Stewart/Kenneth Marchbank (Ford Fiesta R2) 53m 30s
Class 5: Duncan MacGregor/Stephen MacGillivray (Ford Capri) 61m 07s
Class 6: Steven Smith/Daniel Johnstone (Ford Escort MkI) 54m 47s
Class 7: John MacLeod/Iain Mutch (Ford Focus) 58m 20s
Class 8: Malcolm Buchanan/Ian Nicoll (Ford Escort MkII) 50m 04s
Class 9: Scott Kerr/Stephen Clark (Ford Escort) 54m 33s
Class 10: Andrew Gallacher/Phil Sandham (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 47m 54s
Class 12: Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (Ford Focus WRC) 44m 29s