08 Jul: Argyll Rally main report

… Dunoon Presents Argyll Stages Rally, Sat 24 June …
Rd06, ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship …

Argyll. An ancient kingdom in its own right with its cathedral at Lismore dating back to the 13th century. A land of pixie glens and exotic gardens. Majestic mountains with forested slopes. A land where legends were once forged in the heat of battle and rivers of blood, and where fairy tales did happen.

Like 1974 when Tony Pond won the Dunoon based Burmah Rally in an Opel and three times winner Roger Clark was 41st in a Ford, and also where a charismatic young blond, and very handsome (so I’m told) Finn scored a remarkable victory way back in 1976. His name was Ari Vatanen.

There were epic battles aplenty in the years that followed – Gallacher versus Heggie, Grierson versus Samson, and Wood versus Wood, but the attraction and the sport withered away as fewer made the journey westwards citing long distances and congested roads. Congested with logging trucks and caravans that is, plus hordes of dithering tourists keen to see for themselves the splendour and history of the county. And, it has to be said, some of the local politicians were less than helpful – till the Americans upped-sticks and departed in 1992.

At that time there were 4,300 Dunooners and 4,000 Americans at the Holy Loch nearby. When half of a local populations disappears virtually overnight, it can have a huge impact on the local economy. And it did. At one time there more taxis per head of population in Dunoon than anywhere else in the UK.

In all fairness, the town made a good stab at inviting rallyists back this year, but more needs to be done to ensure that those who made the trip will be re-attracted back for next year, starting with the stages. Not that they were bad, but work needs to be done.

In such a location, a new legend would be welcome to set the pulse racing, and so it was. It has been two years since Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton last stood on the podium top step after a rally where the top three were covered by 31 seconds at the end of the first ‘Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally’.

Going into the final stage they were 4 seconds behind Jock Armstrong and Paula Swinscoe, and after 6.5 miles of pedal to the metal motoring emerged 4 seconds in the lead. Shaun Sinclair and Jamie Edwards were only 2 second slower than Armstrong through that final high speed blast but had to be content with third place overall.

That was all to come as the first of the 70 cars left Dunoon for the opening 9.3 mile test in Glenbranter. This was a rather different stage to the original all those years ago, up one side of a glen round the top and back down the other side, but in the intervening 25 years much of the road had been reclaimed by grass and one section had been hastily repaired with little time to settle.

Even so, Armstrong set the pace. The orange Subaru was a full 12 seconds quicker than Sinclair’s Impreza WRC: “How we didn’t get a puncture I don’t know,” said Shaun, “But I was well told NOT to cut,” before adding, “oh, and we had one spin as well!”

Faulkner’s Lancer was a further 4 seconds adrift appearing at the finish with a puncture: “There was a 400 yard rough bit two thirds of the way through the stage,” said Mike, “so that’s where we got the rear puncture.” Fourth quickest Thorburn appeared with a puncture too: “The first 3 miles were grassy and slippery,” said Euan, “then the next mile was boulders – we were driving round them!”

At the end of it Jock explained: “There were two clear black lines through the grass (from the Course Cars) which we followed, but it was so slippery off line it was like driving on green snow.”

Not so fortunate were Freddie Milne, Iain Wilson, Michael Binnie, Fraser Wilson and John Rintoul amongst others who all lost time off road, slipping and slithering on the wet grass. As he drove out of the stage finish, Iain Wilson remarked: “Just about every car ahead of us was parked up changing punctured wheels so it was difficult for us to find a space. Luckily we were carrying two spares, as we had two punctures, and one wheel was smashed.” He added: “Having watched Bill Sturrock’s DVD before the rally I reckoned on two spares!”

After the disappointment of the opening test, Bishops Glen to the south of Dunoon, high on Corlarach Hill overlooking the resort town, was a belter. In actual fact the cars could be seen from the Dunoon Stadium service park as they sped across the contour lines but binoculars would have been needed to identify them.

Armstrong was quickest again, but by only a second from Faulkner tying with Thorburn, and Sinclair a couple of seconds off the pace. “Big difference,” said Jock, “it was dry and there was grip.”

The short Succoth third test also featured some ‘green snow’ but Thorburn had now woken up and the Fiesta was 7 seconds quicker than the rally leader’s Impreza. “We had a problem in the wee short stage,” said Jock, “we set off not quite knowing where we were. The Notes didn’t match the start of the stage at all.”The fightback was on, but not for Faulkner, who also reckoned he was ‘off Notes’ at the start: “We just got two wheels on the grass over a crest and that was it, we were off the road and on to the grass. There was no damage but we were stuck for over a minute and a half.”

That pitched Sinclair and his Impreza WRC into third place as the crews headed towards Glen Croe where Thorburn was the only driver under 7 minutes for the forest test which runs parallel with the old Rest and Be Thankful Hillclimb. Faulkner was second quickest but by only a second from Armstrong. For Scott McCombie it was a stage too far, the Lancer plunging off the road and into retirement.

In the meantime, and after consultation with drivers and the Stage Commander, the second planned run at Glenbranter was cancelled by the organisers on the grounds of surface conditions and safety which left the final stage at Bishops Glen to decide the outcome. This was a re-run of the second stage, a 6.5 mile blast along the hill-tops, but with precious little time to admire the views.

Ahead of that final run, Armstrong still had 4 seconds on his rival. It wasn’t enough. “It was drier and the grip was more consistent this time,” said Thorburn, “but more importantly, I got the finger out!” Victory was assured.

Making no excuses, Armstrong said: “I hit something in there and it broke the exhaust manifold. I don’t really think it affected anything, fair play to Euan, he drove well.” Reinforcing that view was third placed Shaun Sinclair: “I thought I did well on that last stage – till I saw Euan’s time. I don’t know where he got that from. He was on a different planet.”

Fighting back from 10th place o/a after SS3, Faulkner failed to catch Mark McCulloch who finished fourth: “I’m pleased with the result, but not with my times,” said McCulloch who had spent the day constantly adjusting his suspension set-up.

Steven Clark completed the top six while behind him, three ‘Challengers’ finished inside the top ten, with Simon Hay scoring top points for the ‘newcomer’s’ section for the first time in seventh place. John Wink was 8th and revealed one of his secrets: “I didn’t have any problems with the Notes at all. I arrived early at the pre-event Briefing and was therefore the start and heard about the shortened stages.” Some good advice there for all latecomers, eh?

Despite a puncture on the first stage, Stephen Lockhart was pleased enough with 9th on his first run out since the Border Counties while third Challenger, Michael Binnie rounded off the top ten: “Three miles from the end of the first stage we got a puncture an backed off to ensure a finish, but the rest of the stages were good.

Top 2WD runner was Duncan MacDonald in his Escort Mk2 finishing 13th and 23 seconds clear of second placed Mike Stuart while regular front runner Dougal Brown succumbed to the slippery section in the opening test. Keith Riddick had a relatively easy time winning the 1600cc class in his MG ZR, a task made easier by Angus Lawrie’s disappearance in the slippery first stage. Neil Coalter was top 1400 runner in his Suzuki Ignis despite having to use a near standard engine after his Suzuki ‘Sport’ unit blew up on the previous round.

With two rounds to go, Thorburn has extended his ARR Craib Scottish Championship points lead, and at the rally finish jubilation was tinged with relief: “I was taking some cuts in that last stage – whether told to or not,” said Thorburn, “we were right on the edge!”

Final Results
1 Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (Ford Fiesta R5) 32m 38s
2 Jock Armstrong/Paula Swinscoe (Subaru Impreza) 32m 42s
3 Shaun Sinclair/Jamie Edwards (Subaru Impreza WRC S14) 33m 09s
4 Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Mitsubishi Lancer E9) 34m 02s
5 Mike Faulkner/Peter Foy (Mitsubishi Lancer E9) 34m 3s
6 Steven Clark/Paul Brown (Mitsubishi Lancer E5) 34m 37s
7 Simon Hay/Calum Jaffray (Mitsubishi Lancer E6) 34m 50s
8 John Wink/John Forrest (Mitsubishi Lancer E9) 34m 58s
9 Stephen Lockhart/Cameron Fair (Mitsubishi Lancer E7) 35m 06s
10 Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Mitsubishi Lancer E5) 35m 25s

11 Freddie Milne/Abi Louden (Lancer E9) 35m 29s
12 Iain Wilson/Will Rogers, (Subaru Impreza) 35m 32s
13 Duncan MacDonald/Neil Ross (Ford Escort Mk2) 36m 03s
14 Mike Stuart/Sinclair Young (Escort Mk2) 36m 26s
15 Fraser Wilson/Craig Wallace (Lancer E9) 36m 51s
16 Paul McErlean/Niall McKenna (Escort Mk2) 37m 06s
17 Keith Riddick/Mairi Riddick (MG ZR) 37m 31s
18 John Rintoul/David O’Brien (Lancer Evo) 37m 59s
19 Matthew Thomson/Ian Graham (Impreza GC8) 38m 12s
20 Robbie Beattie/Dave Findlay (Peugeot 205 GTI) 38m 58s

Class Winners
Neil Coalter/Hannah Cessford (Suzuki Ignis)
John O’Kane/Meghan O’Kane (Escort Mk2)
Tom Coughtrie/Jim Carty (Escort Mk2)
Luke McLaren/Phil Kenny (Fiesta ST)
Ken Wood/Gordon Wood (Triumph Dolomite Sprint)

Argyll Rally – [Stage Times]

Argyll Rally – [Class Roundup]

Argyll Rally – [News & Blethers]