16 Aug: Vassallo wins Jnr Solway

… usedcarparts.co.uk Solway Coast Junior Rally …

In his final year of Junior 1000 rallying, Alex Vassallo dominated last weekend’s www.usedcarparts.co.uk Solway Coast Junior Rally. With Michael Gilbey alongside in the Citroen C1, the were fastest over each of the day’s ten stages, winning by damn close to 2 minutes at the finish. If that makes it sound too easy, it wasn’t. Whereas the Seniors had the best of weather the day before, the Juniors had the worst of it. Squally and blustery showers interspersed with some really heavy rain at times ensured there was plenty of standing water, mud and streaming wet roads to contend with. Of the 29 crews who started, only 18 reached the finish – and most of those had a few battle scars picked up along the way.

There were 27 starters in this first ever joint meeting between all three Junior Championships, with representative crews from all four home nations, plus two Formula 1000 crews. There was a full house entry from the Brick & Steel Ecosse Challenge and McGrady Insurance ANICC competitions while the organisers are hoping to attract more crews from the Kick Energy Championship (England/Wales) to contest this event next year.

There’s a wise head on top of those Vassallo young shoulders these days. Alex has learned a lot over the past three years and it just shows the value of this 14 to 17 year old series. On the second stage he outbraked himself into a corner but had presence of mind to straighten the car, take to the escape road and get the brakes on in a straight line. There’s a lot of Seniors out there who would have tried to make the corner and ended up spinning or in the field. Not so Alex, but finding braking points in the wet would prove challenging for all the youngsters. He did it again on the third test but was still fastest each time. Over the last couple of stages he had problems with his rear brakes when the grass down the middle of the road caught his rear brake cables and had them off, but nothing was going to deny him victory.

James Williams and Kirsty Riddick were second in their Peugeot 107 having survived an overshoot on Stage 3: “I just couldn’t get it down the ‘box quickly enough,” said James, “and opted to go through the tapes to brake safely.” Another case of a young thinking driver, eh. He had contested 7 events last year and this was his fifth this year, and according to him, this was the best event yet.

Meeting young Zak Hughes for the first time I was convinced he must have lied about his age to get his licence. He says he has just turned 15, although he barely looks out of short trousers to me! But with Chris Evans alongside, the Citroen C1 driver scored a superb third place overall – and this was only his fifth ever rally: “It’s only my fourth full rally though,” said Zak, “I only managed one stage on my last event!” and added, “I’m happy with third, it’s the Kick Energy points I was after.”

Top Scot in fourth place overall was Michael Robertson with Phil Sandham in the Toyota Aygo. Given the conditions on the day, Phil had opted for his ‘pit boots’ in place of his ‘racing bootees’ in case he had to get out and push, but admitted afterwards: “I didn’t need them.” Michael’s best result of the series now moves him into second place in the Brick & Steel Junior Championship.

Eoghan Bogue and Sam Bilham rounded off the top six in the first of the Nissan Micras with Eogham already having made a wise decision prior to the rally start: “For the first time I was on new tyres,” said Eoghan, “there was so much standing water I doubt whether we’d have finished without them.” Sam Bilham was the first of the F1000 entries to finish, scoring sixth place, despite snapping a rear suspension arm on a cattle grid: “But I didn’t realise at the time,” said Sam, “it seemed alright and we only spotted it at service.”

Philip White was seventh in his Micra, but he too was busy under the rear end at times having to tighten up the rear suspension, while Sandy Fairbairn was eighth despite finishing the first loop with a broken shock absorber which had also punched its way through the Nissan’s ‘shell floor.

Peter Bennett was ninth in his Citroen and Andy Struthers rounded off the top ten in his Micra, but he was a shade lucky. He appeared at the end of SS4 with o/s front wing damage and a broken headlight and the explanation (and admission to the long suffering Barry Lochhead): “The brakes don’t work in mid-air Barry!” It could have been worse, as it was a large marker bale that he hit and not fence or gatepost. He was even luckier in the 8th test when he struck a post sunk in the ground which dented the sumpguard.

Finlay Retson missed out on a top ten finish, although he was still ‘running in’ a new engine in his Micra, and was still quick enough to have a ‘straight-on’ luckily without hitting anything.

The expected challenges from William Creighton failed to materialise when a driveshaft broke, Dylan O’Donnell’s fuel pump failed, Brodie Balfour burst an engine mounting and Sebastian Perez parked his Micra in the middle of a big field. It was on the outside of a long, slippery lefthander on the 6th test and although there was little actual panel damage, the Micra had gone through a barbed wire fence, which left the paintwork looking like it had been attacked by a demented grizzly bear.

Craig MacIvor did the first two stages without any windscreen wipers and when they couldn’t get them fixed at first service started the second loop without them. He slid off and bent a bottom arm in the Micra. Dale Kelly retired after the first stage with bent steering, but reckons this was probably down to the after effects of his bump on his previous run out at Kames.

At the finish Alex Vassallo repeated the majority view that this was “the best Junior event, ever” and added: “I’m coming back to do the Senior event next year.”

www.usedcarparts.co.uk Solway Coast Junior Rally
Sunday 10 August
1, Alex Vassallo / Michael Gilbey (Citroen C1) 53:19
2, James Williams / Kirsty Riddick (Peugeot 107) 55:03
3, Zak Hughes / Chris Evans (Citroen C1) 55:55
4, Michael Robertson / Phil Sandham (Toyota Aygo) 56:02
5, Eoghan Bogue / John Henderson (Nissan Micra) 56:26
6, Sam Bilham / Graham Wild (Nissan Micra) 56:34
7, Philip White / Richard Wardle (Nissan Micra) 56:45
8, Sandy Fairbairn / Callum Atkinson (Nissan Micra) 56:52
9, Peter Bennett / Arthur Kierans (Citroen C1) 57:08
10, Andy Struthers / Andrew Falconer (Nissan Micra) 57:56