… Grant Construction Knockhill Stages Rally …
What a way to kick off a championship season! The first round of this year’s Blackwood Plant Hire Scottish Tarmack Championship featured a humdinger of a fecht between Arron Newby and Alan Kirkaldy. They went at it like two hungry weans squabbling over a toffee apple. But there can only ever be one winner in this game and that was Newby. But for one mistake the gap could have been much closer, but as it was, Kirkaldy had to settle for the runner-up position.
There was another fight going on behind them though. Marshall Junior just edged out Marshall Senior by 21 seconds to claim third place on the season opening Grant Construction Knockhill Stages Rally.
Thanks goodness the competition was hot, because it wis gey cauld at Knockhill. When folks arrived on Saturday morning the Paddock was sheet ice and hardly safe to walk on let alone drive round. The Knockhill staff got to work with their wee Kubota truck and salt barrows and even had to spread salt on the track in places. That delayed the start for an hour and prompted calls for a processional run round the stage before venturing out at speed. Wise move.
Throughout the day snow showers scudded across the landscape, but didn’t last long, and neither did the snow although there was one particular hail shower with tiny hailstones which stung like frozen needles. Welcome to sunny Scotland.
The first stage was therefore a very tentative affair with folk trying to find the limit of grip, indeed trying to find where the grip was, if any. No surprise that the 4WD Subaru of Newby was quickest, but by only 1 second from the 2WD Escort of Kirkaldy. Where did that come from? First time out in the new Skoda Fabia S2500, Ross Marshall wasn’t far away either, 2 seconds down on Kirkaldy, but 2 up on John Marshall in the Subaru.
Top seed Gary Adam was first out of the starting blocks, and suffered as a result of running first car on the road. He was 20 seconds off the leaders’ pace on that first run alone leaving him to fight back all day. It wasn’t a day for making early mistakes. Stuart Walker stalled the Skoda on the start line of the first stage and that left him coming from behind all day too.
However, the biggest thrill for the frozen spectators under the shelter at the Hairpin was provided by Iain Wilson. He set the Subaru up sideways long before the hairpin and held it full broadside all the way round till he straightened up and powerd out on the exit. It wasn’t the fastest approach or line through the corner, but it was marvellous to behold. Almost as if he had done it deliberately. Time well spent watching drift videos, eh?
Second best through the hairpin was Ross Hunter in the Peugeot. He had softened it up considerably prior to Knockhill and although it looked awfy dramatic and ungainly leaning well into the bend, he found grip where others found nothing but slipperiness. Needless to say, Quintin Milne was at it too. Out “for a hooley” in his Mk2, he was steering the bluidy thing with the rear end bringing big smiles to frozen faces.
On the second run of this stage, Kirkaldy set fastest time, by 3 seconds from Newby and then he took another second out of him on the third stage. There was disbelief around the circuit. Get with the script. 2WD beating 4WD in wet and slittery conditions? Surely not.
It all went wrong for Kirkaldy on the fourth test: “It was up on the hill section of the stage,” said Alan, “the concrete was wet but OK as I braked for a left hander. I had two wheels on the concrete but the inside wheels just slipped on to the gravel, the car locked up and slid on. It was either hit the boulders or go for the escape road. I went for the escape road, even so I got a wee dent in the front air dam. Better that than taking a wheel out on the boulders.” In total, it cost him 10 seconds, a real gift for Newby.
That left the gap between the two battlers at 7 seconds after 4 of the day’s 8 stages. Ross Marshall was a further 12 seconds behind but more crucially, 13 up on ‘Pops’.
Ian Paterson had been holding fifth place, but Adam took 3 seconds out of the blue Subaru on the last stage before lunch to nip ahead. Gordon Morrison was a wee bit surprised to be in 7th place: “The diffs weren’t working properly on the first two” said the Impreza driver, ” but it was better for the next two. Call it work in progress.”
Iain Wilson had moved up to 8th, once he stopped playing to the gallery, with Ross Hunter in 9th and James Gibb going well, first time out in Brian Watson’s Evo WRC. Not faring quite so well first time out in his new Evo10 was Nigel Feeney: “It’s 7 years since I last drove a LHD car but that last stage (SS4) was the first one I had a smile. We’re just getting the car sorted now.” Bob Grant was feeling his way round in a new car too. He has bought John Rintoul’s Hyundai Accent WRC and it’s a wee bit more complicated than what he’s used to: “I think I’ve spent too long in a Subaru,” said Bob as he surveyed the electronic dash and myriad controls. Normally on the pace round here, Charlie Shaw fell victim to the conditions and modified the rear bodywork when he slid off backwards into a tyre barrier.
After a partial thaw out, it was back to the action, and with his nose in front, Newby wasn’t about to let go. He was 2 seconds up on Kirkaldy on SS5, but Kirkaldy snatched one back on SS6, before Newby cemented his lead with quicker times over the last two. Victory was his by 20 seconds.
Ross Marshall was quicker than John Marshall over 3 of the final 4 stages and although John took 4 seconds back on the penultimate test, it was Ross who filled the third placed podium position. Gary Adam was still 7 seconds behind at this point so had to settle for fifth place with Ian Paterson rounding off the top six. Wilson was 7th, Morrison 8th and making a late charge over the final tests, young Taylor Gibb in an Evo9 beat the ol’man in the Mitsubishi to snatch 9th place by 2 seconds, which gives him bragging rights – till the next round. That put Hunter out of the top ten, but 11th place overall in the Peugeot and the Class 3 win wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.
Quintin Milne didn’t finish and neither did Bob Grant. Quintin thought he smelled smoke inside the cabin and decided to stop rather than risk the new engine. It was only oil seepage on to the exhaust, but better safe than sorry. As for Bob, the Hyundai just got a wheel in the glaur on the penultimate stage and dragged the car off the road where it sunk up to its axles. No damage, but no further.
The year has barely started, but this was Newby’s second victory of the season having already won the Brean Stages Rally in Somerset last month: “I just loved it,” said Arron, “I haven’t enjoyed a rally this much for ages. Knockhill’s got a bit of everything, fast stuff and slow, gravel and tarmac, and Alan (Kirkaldy) gave me a hard time. I can just manage to get ahead of him on the gravel section, but he takes most of the time back when we get on the circuit.”
With Alan Kirkaldy winning Class 4, Gary Adam had to be content with 2nd in class ahead of Tom Blackwood who had a good run out in his Mk2 for the first time taking 3rd and 15th place overall. Just 3 starters in Class 4 – and 3 finishers.
Ross Hunter won Class 3 by a healthy margin from the Ford Ka of Ian Forgan who had thoughts of a non-finish flashing before his eyes when Charlie Shaw spun off and back on right in front of him on the third stage scattering bits of rear bumper all over the road: “I was laughing that much at Charlie’s antics I nearly went off myself,” said Ian. Graham Rintoul was third in his Fiesta but only after faither Jim had attacked it with a couple of huge spanners when the ‘blow-back’ oil pipe came off. Kenny Moore was 4th in the Avenger and Robert Marshall 5th in the Mk2 after spending more time sideways than was distinctly necessary in the conditions. Chris McCallum was 6th in his Escort ahead of Ross McCallum in his MG Maestro but the Honda engined device suffered severe traction problems all day, spinning up the wheels at the slightest provocation. Robert Cumming was 8th in his Astra ahead of the Fiesta ST of Roy Ness who slid off on the third stage, striking a rock and bending the sumpguard, but there was no mechanical damage. Final class finisher was Leonard Jones in his Chevette after he slid off on SS5 and got stuck in the mud. His explanation?: “Too much power – – – at the wrong time!” George Ross retired his Escort with a transmission fault and Lindsay Taylor’s Fiesta ST broke its gearbox.
Gareth White was the Class 2 winner, scoring an impressive 16th overall in the 1600cc Peugeot 208 R2 with Greg Inglis 2nd after a big spin on to the grass on SS4 with the Citroen C2 R2. Joe Pringle survived a lurid 360 and a bit more on the first lap of the first stage at the Hairpin but calmed down after that to finish 3rd in his Corsa. Peter Oag was 4th in his Citroen C2 VTS but had a lucky escape on SS6: “I was just too late on the brakes at the chicane and hit the tyre barrier. Damaged the front bumper but nothing broken.” First time out in his newly acquired big-winged Ford Ka, Ron Walker had a steady run round to score 5th in class ahead of Jim Sharp in a Suzuki Swift. It was Jim’s first outing in the Suzuki after a succession of Subarus and Mitsubishis but he enjoyed the craic. John Kean was 7th in his 205 after a spin on SS5 with Allan Watt 8th in his Peugeot 106 on his third rally. Gordon Milne was 9th first time out in his Honda engined VW Polo but there’s still a lot of work to be done to the car. Carin Logan was 10th in a Peugeot 106 which stubbornly refused to fire on all 4 cylinders all day. It started up fine in the paddock and trundled down to the stage ok, but once it got on to the stage, it spat out the dummy and Ginge couldn’t get to the bottom of it at all. I would have said he was tearing his hair out in frustration, but that went long ago. George Fell finished last in class after the Puma went off at Duffus and got bogged down eventually getting towed out and back to the paddock. Greg Turner retired his Peugeot 206 after an early accelerator problem was fixed before the clutch failed and Iain Miller had the Peugeot 106 back on the trailer after 2 stages when a driveshaft broke. Normally a simple thing to replace, he was stuck this time, it had chewed up the inner bearing as well.
One of the day’s many highlights was the antics of Michael Robertson in the Class 1 winning Peugeot 106, finishing just outside the top 20 in 21st place. He was lucky on more than one occasion particularly halfway round SS4 when he caught another car approaching a chicane, went into it far too hot, late on the brakes, caught it, skittered round on the wrong line ending up rumbling over the tyre markers on the exit. Did he lift? Did he heck! Matt Red was a much more sensible and cautious 2nd in class in the Ford Puma with Michael Cruickshank taking 3rd in his Nissan Micra just ahead of Eamon Kilmurray in the Suzuki Swift. Alan Falconer was 5th in his Nova with the Nissan Micras of Marc McCubbin and John MacKay 6th and 7th. Stuart Thorburn was 8th after spending SS2 stuck in the glaur with his MG ZR and Marcus Tinsley was the final class finisher in his Peugeot 205. And for a man who learned his craft on the narrow, unforgiving roads of Mull, the wide open expanse of Knockhill must have confused Archie MacCallum: “We went off in the sheuch, we went ploughing. No damage, just got stuck!”
1, Arron Newby/Andrew Leach (Subaru Impreza) 45m 55s
2, Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Escort Mk2) 46m 15s
3, Ross Marshall/Ross Hynd (Skoda S2500) 46m 41s
4, John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza) 47m 02s
5, Gary Adam/Connor Adam (Ford Escort Mk2) 47m 09s
6, Ian Paterson/Heather Grisedale (Subaru Impreza) 47m 35s
7, Iain Wilson/Robin Neil (Subaru Impreza) 47m 50s
8, Gordon Morrison/Callum McPherson (Subaru Impreza) 48m 04s
9, Taylor Gibb/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Evo9) 48m 15s
10, James Gibb/Charley Sayer-Payne (Mitsubishi Evo9) 48m 17s
Class 5: Arron Newby/ Andrew Leach (Subaru Impreza) 45m 55s
Class 4: Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Escort Mk2) 46m 15s
Class 3: Ross Hunter/Callum Atkinson (Peugeot 205) 48m 39s
Class 2: Gareth White/Harry Marchbank (Peugeot 208 R2) 49m 35s
Class 1: Michael Robertson/Ellie McAuliffe (Peugeot 106) 50m 52s