25 Sep: Vassallo wins Knockhill

… A-One Interiors Knockhill Stages Junior 1000 Rally … Sat 20 Sept …

Alex Vassallo made it six out of six when he won last weekend’s A-One Interiors Knockhill Stages Junior 1000 Rally in his Citroen C1. Fastest on every stage, he and Mike Gilbey finished 22 seconds clear of the second placed Peugeot 107 of Dylan O’Donnell and Tom Middlemiss, but the big story of the day concerned penalties. Only one of the ten finishing crews completed all ten stages without any penalty for striking chicanes or cones, and that was third placed crew Peter Bennett and Arthur Kierans in their Citroen.

Most of the youngsters doubted the observational skills of the Judges of Fact with O’Donnell the most sceptical: “I’ll admit to the first one, but I didn’t hit any after that.” It didn’t cost him the win but it made Vassallo’s winning margin, with just one penalty, that little bit greater.

On only his third visit to Scotland, and in his first year of Junior rallying, the young Northern Irishman Peter Bennett finished third displaying a mature approach and turn of speed as he scored third place overall with a penalty free run. There was contact though: “I was catching another car on the entry to a flat left – and he braked, and I nearly spun trying to miss him and took out a cone.” Mind you I had to laugh, he was deadly serious when he added: “I don’t know what he was braking for, I knew it was flat.”

Michael Robertson showed better form than his previous outing here when he slid off the track in wet conditions, but there were no such errors this time as he sped to fourth place in his Toyota Aygo although he did admit to one ‘tank-slapper’ on the sixth test. “I was caught by Alex (Vasallo) and just lost concentration. That was a scary moment!”

The Nissan Micras of Harry Chalmers and Harris Wilson were fifth and sixth.

Chalmers was nursing a sore elbow at the finish: “I banged my funny bone on the roll-cage when I spun at the bottom of Duffus going into the Scotsman right hander,” while Harris Wilson impressed co-driver Craig Wallace with his ‘Touring Car racing lines’ at the Esses, with Craig heard muttering: “He was too airborne at the chicane,” and sounding like he meant it!

Brandon Walsh was lucky to escape with a ‘scuff’ along a tyre wall: “I was trying to catch Dylan (O’Donnell) going through the chicane,” he explained, while Craig MacIvor, Andy Struthers and Dale Kelly all suffered badly with penalties.

Now I know they shouldn’t be hitting the chicanes, but there was some sympathy, some of the time, for some of their efforts. Especially as they came to the high speed circuit stages after four of the tight and nadgery car park ones on the hillside so it was hard to re-adjust speeds and braking distances. And then later in the afternoon the low sunshine was blinding them as they came over the start/finish straight.

There were three non finishers, Brodie Balfour broke a driveshaft on the first corner of the final stage, Finlay Retson had clutch failure and Cameron Russell went OTL with an electrical problem. The Retson team actually changed the clutch in 24 minutes, but with limited service time between SS6 and SS7 they just failed to get back out of service in time to tag on to the last of the stage 7 runners and were deemed to have missed a stage. It was equally hard luck for Russell. The electrical fault eluded them till Big Barry Lochhead came over with his electrical kit and diagnosed a flat battery which wasn’t charging. Turned out, it was a loose battery connection. A few tightens of the spanner and the Micra burst back into life, but too late. Dohhhh!

Final Results:
1, Alexander Vassallo / Mike Gilbey (Citroen C1) 32m 04s
2, Dylan O’Donnell / Tom Middlemiss (Peugeot 107) 32:26
3, Peter Bennett / Arthur Keirans (Citroen C1) 32:31
4, Michael Robertson / Phil Sandham (Toyota Aygo) 33:08
5, Harry Chalmers / Steven Brown (Nissan Micra) 33:36
6, Harris Wilson / Craig Wallace (Nissan Micra) 33:47
7, Brandon Walsh / Ian Shiells (Citroen C1) 34:05
8, Craig MacIvor / Kirsty Riddick (Nissan Micra) 34:34
9, Andy Struthers / Andrew Falconer (Nissan Micra) 34:41
10, Dale Kelly / Martin Murray (Nissan Micra) 38:57