14 Sep: Thorburn takes Merrick

… GWF Energy Merrick Stages Rally, Sat 6 Sept …
… ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship, Rd 6 …

The outcome of last weekend’s GWF Energy Merrick Stages Rally decided nothing. If anything, it only made the 2014 ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship title predictions much more difficult. Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton scored their third victory of the season matching title rivals David Bogie and Kevin Rae. That makes three wins for each of them from the six rounds so far, with two to go. The title race is now closer than two coats of paint.

However, on the day, Bogie could only make third place. Second overall were Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy making everybody wonder what Mike had for breakfast. If we ever find out and feed everyone else the same diet then maybe the top two will have a really serious fight on their hands.

The only other point of note was the number of entries. With just 53 starters it wasn’t good, and it was those who weren’t there who missed out. It was warm, dry and sunny in Wigtownshire and South Ayrshire and the stages were in mostly good nick. Yes, the surfaces were stoney, but slippery rather than rubbly. Conditions therefore rewarded the tidy, and those who like to feel the car moving under their bums found the cars moving more than normal. Still it was good for the heart-rate!

SS1, 4×4 Hire (Scotland Ltd) Jenny’s Hill, 4.33 mls
1, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton, 4m 35s
2, David Bogie/Kevin Rae, 4m 41s
3, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 4m 42s
4, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 4m 44s
5, Dougal Brown/Lewis Rochford,4m 53s
6, Dale Robertson/Paul McGuire, 4m 54s

Most folks got through the first stage at Jenny’s Hill safely although Bruce McCombie was already noticing that the Lancer’s gearbox was playing up. But fastest on the opener was Euan Thorburn by 6 seconds from David Bogie and just one second behind the Fiesta was Mike Faulkner. I think his pace even surprised him: “I had a choice of buying new hard tyres or run old softs this morning,” said Mike, “I opted for used!”

Jock Armstrong wasn’t far off the pace, just 2 seconds behind the Lancer and ahead of Dougal Brown and the top Group N runner, Dale Robertson, rounding off the top six fastest times. Mark McCulloch was already sporting a frown at the end of the stage. The Subaru wasn’t handling right. At first he thought it was a puncture, but all four tyres were still full of air at the Stop line.

SS2, J&B Print Drumjohn, 12.63 mls
1, Thorburn/Beaton, 12m 08s
2, Faulkner/Foy, 12m 26s
3, Armstrong/Swinscoe, 12m 30s
4, Bogie/Rae, 12m 45s
5, Donnie MacDonald/Andrew Falconer, 12m 55s
6, Brown/Rochford, 12m 58s

It was Thorburn again in Drumjohn, but this time by a hefty 18 seconds over Faulkner in the notorious 12 miler. Armstrong was third quickest, the Subaru just 4 seconds adrift of Faulkner’s Lancer. As for Bogie, he appeared at first service with a tattered front n/s wing. “Just like Euan (Thorburn) I hit something on the inside of a left hander. I have no idea what it was, we couldn’t see anything but it punctured a tyre. By the end of the stage we were on the rim, had lost the front wing and the tracking had been knocked out of line.”

Thorburn admitted to a similar incident, but was luckier: “I don’t know what it was, but I hit something on the inside of a left hander. It was quite an impact and I spent the rest of the stage just waiting for the front tyre to do go down – and it didn’t.” Normally on the receiving end of bad luck, this was the first bit of good fortune to favour the Borderer in a long time.

Fifth quickest was the ebullient Donnie MacDonald with Dougal Brown on his tail, but as for McCombie, he was out. The Lancer stranding him at the end of the stage with only two gears in the gearbox (2nd and 4th) and sounding like they would soon join the others in withdrawing their labour. As for McCulloch, he found the cause of his wayward rear end: “It’s got a knackered rear strut. W don’t have a spare so we’re just going to soldier on.” Probably a legacy of his previous crash and rebuilding the parts into a new ‘shell.

Missing from the top six fastest times was Dale Robertson: “We picked up a slow puncture in here for the last couple of miles, but were lucky it didn’t come off the rim.”

SS3, Motorwise Recovery Auchinleck, 7.72 mls
1, Bogie/Rae, 7m 37s
2, Thorburn/Beaton, 7m 39s
3, Armstrong/Swinscoe, 7m 44s
4, Faulkner/Foy, 7m 45s
5, Robertson/McGuire, 8m 00s
6, Brown/Rochford, 8m 10s

Bogie hit the front in Auchinleck by 2 seconds from Thorburn, with Armstrong taking one second out of Faulkner. Robertson and Brown completed the top six fastest times, but Donnie didn’t. MacDonald’s Lancer had once again succumbed to mechanical gremlins under the bonnet. Seeck? Aye, that’s putting it mildly. As for McCulloch, he opted out due to his damaged suspension. There was no point in risking the car any further with the McRae only a few weeks away.

SS5, Moorfield Motor Services Black Hill, 4.34 mls
1= Thorburn/Beaton, 4m 01s
1= Bogie/Rae, 4m 01s
3, Faulkner/Foy, 4m 03s
4, Robertson/McGuire, 4m 16s
5= Brown/Rochford, 4m 18s
5= Fraser Wilson/Jane Nicol, 4m 18s
7= Armstrong/Swinscoe, 4m 21s
7= Craig McMiken/Craig Wallace, 4m 21s

There was no let up in pace at the head of the field and both Thorburn and Bogie dead-heated over Black Hill, stopping the clocks on identical 4m 01s times while that man Faulkner was only 2 seconds behind them. As Mike explained: “Yes, the stages are a bit stoney in places, and that made the surfaces slippery, but the stages down here have a good flow to them, and that’s what you want. Drivers’ stages.”

Dale Robertson was fourth fastest from Brown tying with Fraser Nicol and then Armstrong tying with Craig McMiken.

SS6, Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park Balloch, 3.42 mls
1= Faulkner/Foy, 3m 29s
1= Bogie/Rae, 3m 29s
3, Armstrong/Swinscoe, 3m 32s
4, Thorburn/Beaton, 3m 34s
5, Robertson/McGuire, 3m 37s
6, Brown/Rochford, 3m 38s
7= McMiken/Wallace, 3m 40s
7= Wilson/Nicol, 3m 40s

Things got closer still in Balloch where Bogie and Faulkner ‘cleaned’ the stage and Thorburn was 5 seconds off the pace. Bogie cleaned the test by 3 seconds and Faulkner by 1 sharing 3m 29s while Thorburn eased his way through on 3m 34s: “I’ve got a good lead, there is no need to risk it but I have to watch out. One puncture and David and Mike would be on me.” Armstrong was still threatening Faulkner too, third fastest by just 3 seconds. Robertson was fifth quickest ahead of Brown with McMiken and Wilson sharing seventh fastest time.

SS7, Complete Cleaning Services Arroch Hill, 8.76 mls
1, Thorburn/Beaton, 8m 41s
2, Bogie/Rae, 8m 42s
3, Faulkner/Foy, 8m 48s
4, Armstrong/swinscoe, 8m 55s
5= Brown/Rochford, 9m 15s
5= Wilson/Nicol, 9m 15s
7, McMiken/Wallace, 9m 18s

Mindful of his own advice, Thorburn picked up the pace again through the final test, setting fastest time by 2 seconds from Bogie who knew there was little chance of catching his nemesis, but little did he know that there was a wee bonus for him lying in wait.

On route to the final podium place, Armstrong’s Subaru punctured a tyre in the final stage. “We were off,” said Jock, “I punctured a rear tyre at a hairpin and we just slid off, so we lost out on a podium finish.” That put Bogie on to the podium and also a point closer to his rival in a title race which looks as though it will be decided on points finishes rather than outright wins the way things are going.

Faulkner’s third fastest time through the final stage ensured he retained his runner-up position, but given his pace on the day, and with two rounds to go, could he yet spring a real surprise? Even an upset?

Brown and Wilson tied on fifth fastest with McMiken seventh quickest as the cars headed out of the woods and back towards Wigtown Town Square.

Behind the top four, Dougal Brown scored his best championship result so far with fifth place overall in his Evo9: “It just shows what I can do when I’ve got the reliability. We had no problems at all today,” said Brown. In sixth place at the finish was Group N winner, Dale Robertson, just 20 seconds clear of Fraser Wilson also scoring his best championship result. Both had virtually trouble free runs in their Evo9s for the first time this season while Craig McMiken was eighth in another Evo9.

Steve Bannister finished top 2WD in ninth place in his Escort MkII with John Rintoul tenth in his Hyundai WRC: “It’s all about confidence in this car,” he said, “It’s been slow but I think I’m getting there at last.”

Perhaps the drives of the day came from the 1650 and 1450 class winners, Alasdair S Graham finished 11th overall in his Corsa while Scott MacBeth was 19th in his Nova.

Both Thorburn and Bogie now each have three wins from the six rounds so far. The race for the 2014 title now starts on next month’s McRae Stages.

Final Results:
1, Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (Ford Focus WRC 01) 40m 38s
2, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix) 41m 13s
3, David Bogie/Kevin Rae (Ford Fiesta R5+) 41m 15s
4, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe (Subaru Impreza) 41m 46s
5, Dougal Brown/Lewis Rochford (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) 43m 12s
6, Dale Robertson/Paul McGuire (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) 43m 21s
7, Fraser Wilson/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) 43m 37s
8, Craig McMiken/Craig Wallace (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) 43m 57s
9, Steve Bannister/Louise Rae (Ford Escort MkII) 44m 30s
10, John Rintoul/Ross Hynd (Hyundai Accent WRC) 44m 47s

11, Alasdair S Graham/Laura Stuart (Vauxhall Corsa) 44m 56s
12, Robert Harkness/Michael Curry (BMW 316i) 45m 39s
13, Lee Hastings/Michael Cruickshanks (Subaru Impreza) 45m41s
14, Calum M MacLeod/Claudia MacLeod (Mg S2000) 45m 44s
15, Greg McKnight/Chris McKnight (Ford Escort MkII) 45m 50s
16, Alasdair Anderson/Richard Sutherland (Subaru Impreza) 45m 55s
17, Kieran Renton/Dave Robson (Ford Fiesta R200) 46m 19s
18, Steven Smith/Daniel Johnstone (Ford Escort Mk1) 46m 51s
19, Scott MacBeth/Danny Sutherland (Vauxhall Nova) 46m 55s
20, Charles Blair/Mark Roberts (Peugeot 205 Gti) 47m 18s
21, Alex Curran/Heather Grisedale (Vauxhall Corsa) 47m 37s
22, Duncan Campbell/Gavin Chisholm (Honda Civic) 47m 43s
23, Jim Sharp/Kenny Marchbank (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) 48m 04s
24, Fraser MacNicol/Stephen O’Hanlon (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) 48m 05s
25, Blair Brown/Richard Simmonds (Peugeot 205 1.6 Gti) 48m 13s
26, Geoff Goudie/Christopher Robertson (Subaru Impreza) 48m 18s
27, Billy McLelland/Shona Hale (Opel Kadett 400) 48m 42s
28, Colin Aitchison/Garry Pearson (Vauxhall Chevette HSR) 48m 43s
29, Ellya Gold/Jean Hay (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) 49m 26s
30, Iain Haining/Mairi Riddick (Vauxhall Nova) 50m 04s

Class 2: Scott MacBeth/Danny Sutherland (Vauxhall Nova) 46m 55s
Class 3: Charles Blair/Mark Roberts (Peugeot 205 Gti) 47m 18s
Class 4: Alasdair S Graham/Laura Stuart (Vauxhall Corsa) 44m 56s
Class 5: David Cameron/Douglas Cameron (Ford Escort Mk2) 53m 44s
Class 6: Steve Bannister/Louise Rae (Ford Escort Mk2) 44m 30s
Class 7: Donald Carslaw/John Duke (Ford Fiesta ST) 51m 35s
Class 9: Robert Harkness/Michael Curry (BMW 316i) 45m 39s
Class 10: Dale Robertson/Paul McGuire (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) 43m 21s
Class 12: Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (Ford Focus WRC 01) 40m 38s