27 Jul: Sinclair’s Mach1 Victory

… Mach1 Stages Rally, Sat/Sun 15/16 July …

Shaun Sinclair made up for last year’s disappointment when he and Fred MacLean won the two day Mach1 Stages Rally at Machrihanish near Campbeltown. Sinclair was leading the rally last year until the crankshaft broke, but ‘Black Magic’ did the business this year. Nigel Feeney and Phil Sandham finished second, first time out in their new MINI Countryman WRC ahead of early leaders Alan Kirkaldy and Cameron Fair in their Mk2. Early leaders? So why didn’t they win? Read on …

Day 1

There were 8 stages on the first day of the rally, 4 on the tarmac runway and perimeter roads, 2 on a new stage round ‘The Bunkers’ (just don’t hit any of them!) and 2 on the other short test that was introduced last year on a stretch of road from the Gatehouse around the airfield periphery and outbuildings.

Kirkaldy got off to a storming start, 10 seconds quicker than Sinclair on the opening 10 miler with Gordon Morrison/Calum McPherson just 2 seconds slower in their Subaru. Kirkaldy took another 5 seconds out of the Subarus on the short 1 miler, despite the damp and drizzly conditions.

Halfway round the third test, Kirkaldy slowed and as he passed the spectator areas on the second lap, the hazards were on. A rear n/s puncture dropped him to 19th place overall. That pitched Sinclair into the lead, but Morrison struck trouble in the fourth test when a power steering pipe fractured and the fluid caught fire.

Both stricken crews made it back to service with Kirkaldy inspecting the 2 minute 36 second time difference to the rally leader. A quick shake of the head and: “Let’s see what we can do,” he said. Young Cameron was going to be in for quite a ride. As for Gordon, the boys tried but there was nothing they could do for the Subaru. It wasn’t badly damaged, but it wasn’t for letting them carry on.

Last year’s winner, John Marshall and Scott Crawford got off to a slow start, over half a minute down on the leaders after 2 stages and another half minute down after 4 stages, but after lunch break he got the finger out and the Subaru started climbing back up the leaderboard – till the 8th stage.

The Subaru sounded quite sick as it exited the last stage of the day with a broken exhaust manifold. It looked like they might not make Day 2 but the DenSport boys had welding equipment and someone who could use it and the manifold was repaired late that night.

That meant they would start Day 2 in 4th place having fought back from 10th, but ahead of them were Taylor Gibb and Jane Nicol plus Nigel Feeney and Phil Sandham. Taylor had been wringing that poor wee Lancer’s neck all day, but he was still a minute behind Sinclair at close of play: “I spun twice on that first stage,” said Taylor, “and that’s the only reason Dad beat me,” referring to James’s 18 second quicker time on the opener.

Meanwhile, first time out in his new MINI WRC Nigel was struggling to stop grinning: “I just love it,” he said, “first time I’ve driven it and it’s the best car I’ve ever had.” Then he used the word “awesome” – we speak English, but the Americans abuse English!

Anyway, James Gibb and Charley Sayer-Pane had dropped back from 3rd overall after 4 stages to 5th place just ahead of Ian Paterson and Heather Grisedale who had something to say about catching cars whose drivers didn’t appear to use their mirrors! (I had to put my hand over my ears at this point, Ed.)

Tom Morris and Matt Reid were not far off the pace over the first four tests, but the Metro wasn’t running as well as it should. They changed the plugs and the coil pack, and went backwards. Summat wasn’t right so they relinquished 7th place and headed for home.

Behind them, Brian Watson and Caroline Will were 8th in an Evo10, and remember that chap Kirkaldy? He had made up 10 places and was back up to 9th by close of play on Saturday. Rounding off the top ten were Alan Wallace and Darren Robertson in the Evo6 after a fairly troublefree day.

That couldn’t be said for some of the other likely suspects. The treacherously wet and puddled conditions caught out a few of the top seeds on the Saturday morning with Bruce Edwards’ Darrian aquaplaning into a bale on the opening stage. There was little damage, but the impact squashed a radiator pipe and blew out all its water. Alistair Inglis didn’t last much longer, the Lotus Exige hitting ‘Bruce’s Bale’ when the throttle jammed open.

And as for Gary Adam, he spun off into the grass where the rear axle clouted a concrete bunker cover. The bunker cover didn’t move! Ian Woodhouse was forced to retire his Escort with an electrical fault and Billy McClleland was fast losing gears in the Lancer and that forced him out before close of play. More fortunate was Barry Groundwater. When the prop shaft bolts loosened off he stopped on the stage to find out what was up, but made it back to service. He also managed to spin off and clouted the rear n/s corner of the Mk2. It didn’t look too pretty but there was no mechanical damage, just a loss of 7 minutes!

The top 1600 car was lying a pretty impressive 12th overall at the end of the day with Gareth White and Harry Marchbank holding a somewhat secure minute and a half lead over Michael Harbour and Ian MacDougall, but Greg Inglis and Bryan Reid were out. Earlier in the day Greg and Gareth had been going at it like two terriers chasing the neighbour’s cat, but on the 3rd test it all went wrong for Greg: “I spun on mud,” he said, “just where the bigger cars had been cutting corners. The Citroen spun off almost at the same place where Dad went off, but the sequential ‘box jammed. We tried rocking it back and forth, but it wouldn’t free up, so we were stuck.”

That eased the pressure on Gareth’s Peugeot and perhaps Michael might have been a bit closer had he not been bashing bales in the wet stages with his C2. Joining Inglis on the retirement list on the first day was Ron Walker. The Ford Ka had hit ‘something’ in the grass which did for the steering and a driveshaft.

Donald Bowness and Chris Lees were leading the 1400 class and giving some of the bigger cars a bit of stick with 20th place overall. Donald had ‘borrowed’ the Corsa, as his Nova wasn’t ready, and the owner was on hand to service – and keep an eye on things – one Archie McCallum Esq. Innes Mochrie and Paul Hunter were second in class in the Metro but not in a threatening position to the class leader.

Interim Leaderboard after 8 (of 12) stages:
1 Shaun Sinclair/Fred MacLean (Subaru WRC S9) 52m 10s
2 Taylor Gibb/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Lancer) 53m 14s
3 Nigel Feeney/Phil Sandham (Mini Countryman JCW WRC) 53m 22s
4 John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza) 53m 29s
5 James Gibb/Charley Sayer-Payne (Mitsubishi Evo9) 53m 47s
6 Ian Paterson/Heather Grisedale (Subaru Impreza) 53m 54s
7 Tom Morris/Matt Reid (MG Metro 6R4) 54m 11s
8 Brian Watson/Caroline Will (Mitsubishi Evo) 54m 37s
9 Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Escort Mk2) 54m 48s
10 Alan Wallace/Darren Robertson (Mitsubishi Evo6) 55m 50s

Day 2

As if an early start wasn’t enough, crews were faced immediately with two 12 milers leaving those who had a full-fat Scottish breakfast to wonder if their sphincter muscles were up to the challenge of retaining said repast internally, and that was followed by two 10 milers. And it was dry. Talk about an adrenalin rush! The previous day’s persistent showers had been replaced by brighter skies although there was some dark grey on the horizon, and that dark grey would have a part to play in the day’s proceedings.

Kirkaldy was up and at ’em like a burst spring out of a mattress. The Escort driver the only one under 15 minutes for the opener and then went even quicker on the second one. As for the rally leader, Sinclair had a pace he was comfortable with, and he was second quickest on both tests. John Marshall had woken up full of beans too with 3rd quickest on the first one and 4th quickest on the second. Feeney was up for the fight as well. He was 4th quickest on the first and 3rd quickest on the next one.

Then the rain came. Just a short sharp shower, only lasting 10 minutes, but it wet the roads. Needless to say Taylor Gibb was still going at it too like a nudist caught in a nettle patch and it was no wonder his brakes boiled on the second of the 12 milers. Initially it was deemed he had gone ‘off course’ but quite simply the brakes failed and he slid past the entrance to a ‘lollipop’, one of those weird parts of the route where the cars had to go round the fighter plane parking spots just off the main runways. He regained the route and the organisers re-instated his stage time. Phew!

As for Jamie Smith he didn’t get beyond the first stage on Sunday morning. First time out in his Citroen DS3 the plan was to settle in and get acclimatised on the Saturday and he finished the day in 11th place overall, but come Sunday morning, he turned the wick up: “It was brain fade,” admitted Jamie, “I was too hot on cold tyres. We ran it on two thirds power yesterday and then turned it up today!” There was little damage to the car, but when he spun off on a damp patch, the car slid so far into the grass it couldn’t be seen. All that following cars saw was the triangle – but no car. “I learned a lot, the car feels really good and very confidence building – perhaps too much.” And then for the second time this weekend I heard that terrible word “awesome”, perhaps if he spent more time concentrating on his rallying rather than watching American TV programmes he might learn more.

I digress. By this point, Kirkaldy had worked himself back into 6th place. Two stages to go. Surely not? Shaun and Fred were only too well aware of the red missile’s progress and although they had more than a minute in hand, one big spin or a puncture could ruin everything. Even so they matched Kirkaldy’s time on the penultimate test and then eased off for the final one.

Kirkaldy caught and passed both Marshall and Gibb over the final stages, but Feeney was just a stage too far although 3rd overall represented a mighty effort.

Having got over his recent holidays, John Marshall sped up on the Sunday and grabbed fifth place just ahead of James Gibb in the Watson Lancer with The Sheriff himself in 8th place claiming that the only reason he didn’t beat James: “James was driving my car. I had hired it out to him so I couldn’t beat a customer, could I?” Naturally this being an airfield, it was only natural that a squadron of pigs flew overhead at this point.

Alan Wallace finished 8th: “I actually tried slicks yesterday on SS3 and 4,” he beamed, “then went back on to wets,” he added. Colin Gemmell and Derek Keir were 9th in the Escort, but guess what, he smacked it’s n/s bum cheek in exactly the same place as he did last time out with the car.

Not so lucky were Ian Paterson and Barry Groundwater. Until the penultimate stage, Ian had been right up there with the top six and was on for a superb result till a balljoint broke on the Subaru whereas Barry’s slow time on the first stage of the day was due to running out of petrol. Naturally he blamed the car’s owner ( it was the Watson Mk2) for being too tight with the fuel allowance.

Rounding off the top ten was Gareth White in the 1600 Peugeot and even a rear wheel puncture on the 9th stage couldn’t deny him the class win. Michael Harbour claimed 2nd in class with Joe Pringle 3rd in the Corsa.

Top 1400 runner was Donald Bowness in 17th place although the clutch started to slip late on Saturday and slipped some more on the Sunday, but he had a good margin over Mochrie in the mocket Metro: “It’s a bit of thing with us,” Innes explained, “we never wash a car during the rally.” The last time they did that, they rolled it. Jamie Miller was 3rd in his Nova: “We’re still running an 8 valve engine,” he said, “that means we’ve got 8 less than everyone else. We’re the underdogs!”

At the end of 88 hard fought stage miles, many felt that Sinclair had got his just desserts, his first outright victory since the 2010 Argyll Stages, but it oh, so nearly ended in disaster. The car was spotted ploughing straight on across the grass at a 90 Left. It was well off the road but still on the move as Shaun took a wild ride round the bales to get back on the road: “On the second last corner of the last stage, the brakes failed,” said Shaun, “and we had to take to the grass to get round and then we just backed off to get to the Finish line. The old girl did us proud this time.” He was referring to the Subaru of course.

Final Results:
1 Shaun Sinclair/Fred MacLean (Subaru WRC S9) 106m 36s
2 Nigel Feeney/Phil Sandham (Mini Countryman JCW WRC) 108m 02s
3 Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Escort Mk2) 108m 47s
4 Taylor Gibb/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Lancer) 108m 58s
5 John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza) 109m 05s
6 James Gibb/Charley Sayer-Payne (Mitsubishi Evo9) 110m 17s
7 Brian Watson/Caroline Will (Mitsubishi Evo) 110m 37s
8 Alan Wallace/Darren Robertson (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 113m 51s
9 Colin Gemmell/Derek Keir (Ford Escort Mk2) 113m 58s
10 Gareth White/Harry Marchbank (Peugeot 208 R2 Vti) 115m 08s

11 Tom Blackwood/Gordon Winning (Ford Escort Cosworth); 12 Ross McCallum/James Ralph (MG Maestro); 13 Kenny Moore/Richard Wardle (Hillman Avenger); 14 Michael Harbour/Ian McDougal (Citroen C2 R2 Max):15 Chris McCallum/Peter McCallum (Escort Mk2); 16 Robert Marshall/Lewis MacDougall (Escort Mk2); 17 Donald Bowness/Chris Lees (Vauxhall Corsa): 18 Alistair Dalgliesh/David Dalgliesh (Impreza); 19 Hamish Grant/Stewart Hurst (Escort Mk2); 20 Ross Auld/Richard Stewart (Escort Mk2)

Class Winners: Bowness/Lees; White/Marchbank; McCallum/Ralph; Kirkaldy/Fair; Sinclair/MacLean

Comprehensive News Roundup – [Mach1 News]