29 Mar: Armstrong’s First Border

… Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally, Sat 19 March 2016 …
Rd 2 (of 7) ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship …

From uncertainty in the Highlands to a dead heat in the Borders, what a difference a month makes in this year’s ARR Craib Scottish Championship. Whereas wintry conditions played havoc with pre-event prediction and on-event progress in Inverness, drier and friendlier weather in Jedburgh ensured an altogether more recognisable outcome, but it was still too close to call.

After 6 stages, Jock Armstrong and Garry Pearson shared identical totals. A quick glance at the Regs and a check of the Blue Book ensured that the tie-break would be decided by the times on the first stage, unlike the Granite City last year where the Regs specifically stated that the tie-break stage was the final stage. This resolved that particular dead heat in David Weston’s favour demoting David Bogie to runner-up.

On that basis, the winners of the 2016 Brick & Steel Border Counties Rally were reigning Scottish champs Jock Armstrong and Paula Swinscoe who were 12 seconds quicker on the opening stage than Garry Pearson and Robbie Mitchell. It could so easily have been a three way tie with Shaun Sinclair and Kirsty Riddick only 7 seconds behind the leaders.

SS1, Craik 1, 8.99 mls
1, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 8m 53s
2, Shaun Sinclair/Kirsty Riddick, 8m 55s
3, Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell, 9m 05s
4, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 9m 07s
5, Donnie MacDonald/Paul Beaton 9m 09s
6, Peter Stephenson/Patrick Walsh, 9m 10s

Having tested the ex-Jonathan Powell Focus WRC the day before, Shaun Sinclair was on the pace on the first stage of the day just two seconds behind the orange and black Impreza of Jock Armstrong, although Jock had an excuse: “There was a flock of sheep, well maybe a dozen or so, in there, on the right hand side of the road, so I went to the left and they took off, right across the road in front of me,” recounted the notorious star-jumper, “then I went to the right and they went back on to the road and ran down the middle before jumping out of the way.” Garry Pearson was a tad more cautious 10 seconds down on the Focus in his Fiesta but content to play himself in ‘gently’ as he continues to familiarise himself with the new car: “In actual fact, this was my first ‘proper’ gravel stage in the car,” said Garry, “because there wasn’t much gravel on the Snowman!”

That meant the top Mitsubishi driver was again Mike Faulkner only 2 seconds adrift of the Fiesta and 2 seconds in front of Donnie MacDonald’s red and black Mitsubishi, but Mike was looking none too cheerful: “It (the car) was too hard in there, I’ll need to soften off the suspension before the next ones.” Peter Stephenson was on the pace too just a second down on the previous round, Snowman Rally winner. As for Andrew Gallacher, he had a bit of a squeaky-bum moment taking off over a crest flat-out, getting two wheels on the edge of the ditch on landing, but kept the power on and got away with it. Dale Robertson wasn’t quite so fortunate: “I didn’t lift either, and took off over the same jump, but we landed on one wheel and it broke a driveshaft,” said Dale, “That meant we had to do the next two stages before service with only front wheel drive.”

SS2, Cardrona, 4.26 mls
1, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 3m 59s
2, Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell, 4m 02s
3, Shaun Sinclair/Kirsty Riddick, 4m 04s
4= Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 4m 08s
4= John MacCrone/Rhianon Gelsomino, 4m 08s
6, Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry, 4m 12s

It was Jock again in Cardrona, by 3 seconds from Garry this time and Sinclair still on the boil just a couple of seconds adrift. Faulkner tied on fourth fastest, despite an overshoot near the finish, with the Fiesta R5 of John MacCrone: “I’m happy enough with that,” said John, “I just want to play myself in and get back on the pace without taking risks.” Like Faulkner, Mark McCulloch was complaining about lack of traction and back at service there was a debate with the team about suspension settings with the technical detail of sufficient complexity to confuse an F1 technician, but he was still sixth fastest. The first of the top seeds to strike real trouble was Peter Stephenson whose Focus plunged down a banking. There was little damage but it would need more than spectator-power to get it out.

SS3, Elibank 1, 7.32 mls
1, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 6m 37s
2, Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell, 6m 38s
3, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 6m 39s
4, Shaun Sinclair/Kirsty Riddick, 6m 41s
5, John MacCrone/Rhianon Gelsomino, 6m 44s
6, Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry, 6m 52s

Armstrong was quickest again in Elibank but by only ONE second from Pearson with Faulkner a further single second behind, so although Jock had the lead going into main Service the pursuit was getting awfy close. Sinclair was still in contention, but 2 seconds behind Mike: “I’m still braking way too early,” said Shaun, “it keeps wanting to go straight. Even on full lock out of a corner, plant it, and it just pulls you straight again. It’s faster than the Subaru.” MacCrone and McCulloch were fifth and sixth fastest again.

SS4, Yair, 5.09 mls
1, Shaun Sinclair/Kirsty Riddick, 4m 37s
2, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 4m 40s
3, Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell, 4m 41s
4, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 4m 44s
5, Andrew Gallacher/Jane Nicol, 4m 49s
6, Donnie MacDonald/Paul Beaton, 4m 51s

Sinclair took his first fastest time of the day, 3 seconds quicker than Armstrong: “That was my own fault,” said Jock, “I forgot to put it in gear on the start line. That cost me 3 or 4 seconds and could so easily have cost me the rally.” Pearson was third quickest just a second down on Armstrong with Faulkner fourth fastest ahead of Gallacher and MacDonald while Bruce McCombie lost out with a puncture.

SS5, Elibank 2, 8.34 mls
1, Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell, 7m 52s
2, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 8m 00s
3, Shaun Sinclair/Kirsty Riddick, 8m 02s
4, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy, 8m 05s
5, Dale Robertson/Stuart Loudon, 8m 14s
6, Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts, 8m 22s

It was Pearson’s turn to set a fastest time as he and Sinclair turned up the pressure on Armstrong, with Garry a full 8 seconds quicker than Jock, and Shaun 2 seconds behind: “The car filled with dust in there,” said Shaun, “I couldn’t see a thing. If it hadn’t been for Kirsty, I would have been off.” Garry was lucky too as he crossed the Finish line with a front wheel puncture, but it didn’t cost him any time.

Faulkner was fourth quickest, but back on the pace was Dale Robertson, Although he was now too late to make any real impression on the front runners, he was fifth fastest: The diff light is flashing, ” said Dale, “that means the centre diff isn’t working. It hasn’t been working since we changed the driveshaft this morning.” Another to make his first appearance in the top six, was Bruce McCombie: “I was just too cautious this morning,” said Bruce, “the stages are really good and really fast down here, but they were slippery with lots of loose gravel on the surface.”

As for John MacCrone, the Fiesta was spotted on the road side with the bonnet up. A turbo pipe clamp bolt had snapped in stage and the car was going no further.

SS6, Craik 2, 9.49 mls
1, Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell, 8m 59s
2, Shaun Sinclair/Kirsty Riddick, 9m 05s
3, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe, 9m 08s
4, Dale Robertson/Stuart Loudon, 9m 13s
5, Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry, 9m 15s
6, Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts, 9m 17s

Going into the final stage, Armstrong had 9 seconds on Pearson and 10 seconds on Sinclair with just over 9 miles of Craik to sort it all out. Faulkner was fourth, but over half a minute down on the leader although he had MacDonald on his tail. Based on stage times so far this was going to be a simple three way shootout for victory.

Tempering his final run with caution, Armstrong’s best was only good enough for third fastest, 3 seconds behind Sinclair. Then came Pearson’s time, 9 seconds quicker than Jock. It was dead heat. It was at this point co-drivers reached for the Regs and Blue Book, but it was confirmed at the rally finish that Jock had scored his first ever victory on the Border Counties.

Dale Robertson finished his rally with fourth fastest on the final test ahead of McCulloch and McCombie with Faulkner slowed by a top end misfire when a sensor failed, but he still claimed fourth overall. Also striking trouble on the final stage was Donnie MacDonald, the dust streaked Lancer appearing at the Stop line with a front left puncture which dropped him to 8th place in the overall rankings behind McCulloch, McCombie and Robertson who just made it back into the top ten after his morning troubles.

Andrew Gallacher lost over a minute on the penultimate test when his Lancer rumbled out of the stage on two flat tyres on the same side and he finished 10th overall behind Barry Groundwater.

Top 2WD runner on the day was Steve Bannister in 16th place while top 1600 runner in an excellent 26th place overall was Scott Beattie. Angus Lawrie was top 1400 runner in his Corsa and he finished 39th.

Added to his fourth place finish on the Snowman Rally, Pearson’s second place puts him provisionally at the top of the ARR Craib Scottish Championship points tables on 53 points, with Donnie MacDonald on 52 and Dale Robertson sharing 51 with Mark McCulloch. Next month there is a change for the Scottish rally crews, it’s Elgin instead of Aberdeen as the Speyside Stages assumes the Round 3 role.

Final Results:
1, Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe (Subaru Impreza) 0:41m 17s
2, Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell (Ford Fiesta R5) 0:41m 17s
3, Shaun Sinclair/Kirsty Riddick (Ford Focus WRC08) +0:00:07
4, Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV) +0:00:45
5, Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) +0:01:47
6, Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Mitsubishi Evo) +0:02:03
7, Dale Robertson/Stuart Loudon (Mitsubishi Evo 9) +0:02:09
8, Donnie MacDonald/Paul Beaton (Mitsubishi Evo 9) +0:02:35
9, Barry Groundwater/Neil Shanks (Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X) +0:02:37
10, Andrew Gallacher/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Evo 8) +0:02:46

11, John S Wink/John Forrest (Mitsubishi Evo 9) +0:03:12
12, Alisdair S Graham/Laura Stuart (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +0:03:21
13, Scott McCombie/Mark Fisher (Mitsubishi Evo 9) +0:03:32
14, Ross MacDonald/Matthew Johnstone (Mitsubishi Evo 8) +0:03:34
15, Scott MacBeth/Daniel Forsyth (Mitsubishi Evo) +0:03:39
16, Steve Bannister/Kim Baker (Ford Escort Mk2) +0:03:45
17, Stephen Freddy Lockhart/Richard Wardle (Mitsubishi Evo V1) +0:03:47
18, Iain Wilson/Keith Riddick (Subaru Impreza) +0:04:07
19, Ian Baumgart/Mike Dickson (Subaru Impreza) +0:04:10
20, Keith Morris/Martin Forrest (Mitsubishi Evo 6) +0:04:29
21, Craig Rutherford/Chris Hamill (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) +0:05:00
22, Darren Moon/Richard Crozier (Ford Escort Mk2) +0:05:02
23, Andy Kelly/Campbell Roy (Ford Mk1 Escort RS 2000) +0:05:06
24, Grant Inglis/Robert Gray (Ford Escort) +0:05:23
25, Greg McKnight/Chris McKnight (Ford Escort Mk2) +0:05:43
26, Scott Beattie/Russell Fair (Talbot Sunbeam) +0:06:03
27, Sean Will/Daniel Paterson (Mitsubishi Evo) +0:06:13
28, Brian Watson/Caroline Will (Mitsubishi Evo) +0:06:14
29, Steven Smith/Daniel Johnstone (Ford Escort Mk2) +0:06:25
30, Michael Andrew Binnie/Greg Halfpenny (Mitsubishi Evo 5) +0:06:29

Class 2: Angus Lawrie/Jeannette Kvick (Vauxhall Corsa) 0:49m 54s
Class 3: Scott Beattie/Russell Fair (Talbot Sunbeam) 0:47m 20s
Class 4: Steven Smith/Daniel Johnstone (Ford Escort Mk2) 0:47m 42s
Class 5: John McIlwraith/Scott Young (Ford Escort RS) 0:48m 27s
Class 6: Steve Bannister/Kim Baker (Ford Escort Mk2) 0:45m 02s
Class 7: Alan Cowan/Katie Stimpson (Vauxhall Astra) 0:52m 51s
Class 8: Grant Inglis/Robert Gray (Ford Escort) 0:46m 40s
Class 9: Donald Brooker/Rachel Brooker (BMW 130i) 0:52m 51s
Class 10: Grant Inglis/Robert Gray (Ford Escort) 0:44m 38s
Class 11: Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV) 0:42m 02s
Class 12: Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe (Subaru Impreza) 0:41m 17s
Class 13: Garry Pearson/Robbie Mitchell (Ford Fiesta R5) 0:41m 17s