14 Aug: McCulloch wins Solway

… usecarparts.co.uk Solway Coast Rally, 12th August …

Mark McCulloch and Michael Hendry won the usecarparts.co.uk Solway Coast Rally by just 4 seconds from Stephen Thompson and Larry Higton with Shaun Sinclair and Jamie Edwards filling out the podium places. It was Mark’s fifth successive win on this event beating Ian Paterson ‘s previous best of 4 Solway victories.

The trip down to the sun drenched Costa del Solway was a wee bit different this year. Swap the word ‘sun’ for ‘rain’ drenched with the wipers sweeping all before them on the way south. On the Moffat road to Dumfries, the wipers were switched to intermittent and by Dalbeattie they were switched off. Looking good. Although it was still grey overhead with threatening light showers by the time Dundrennan was reached. Fingers crossed.

Parked safely well out of the way of the busy service area there was time to visit Rally HQ, sample the home-cooked delicacies on offer before the slog up the hill to the spectator area. I swear that bluidy hill gets steeper every year. The showers came and went throughout the morning but by mid-day it was time to shed the anoraks, expose the tee-shirts and get the sun cream on. Marbella has nothing on Dundrennan when it’s like this. OK, that’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration.

It was therefore a bit damp and slippery as the cars commenced the first loop of two stages round the MoD complex with McCulloch instantly setting the pace. Greg McKnight was only 3 seconds adrift at the end of SS1, but dropped a massive 16 seconds to the early leader on the next one. Lee Hastings was quick out of the trap too, only a second slower than McCulloch on the opener, but 6 seconds slower than McKnight on the second. David Hardie was 7 seconds down on McCulloch over the first test, but he was the only other driver under 6 minutes for the second stage.

That placed him second overall, but already 14 seconds behind the rally leader. McKnight was third a further 5 seconds back, but 6 seconds ahead of Ian Paterson followed by Lee Hastings and Iain Wilson. Having hired Dom Buckley’s RSC Fiesta R5 for the day Stephen Thompson was a cautious 7th at this early stage, but already in trouble was Gary Adam.

On the first stage, the rapid red Escort was braking for a Left hander when it locked up on the greasy surface, two wheels touched the grass and it slid off the road. Stuck, but no damage. Much worse befell Billy McClelland. The Lancer also had a lock-up on the greasy surface and head-butted a banking. The stage had to be stopped and Billy and Helen Brown were taken to hospital. Billy had fractured a vertebrae in his back while Helen had a fracture too, plus a couple of cracked ribs and a broken ankle. It also looks like Helen will be kept in for at least 3 to 4 weeks and she’s been told she can’t move until she’s told. Billy was only in for 3 days before he talked his way out, but at least Helen has had lots of visitors to keep her mind occupied.

Back at the rally, goodness knows what Mark’s Mum is lacing her tablet with these days, but he was off like a rocket again on the third test, the only driver under 5 minutes and then galloped into the lunch break with another two fastest times.

McKnight was still hanging in there but the two Lancers were now over half minute apart after 5 stages. David Hardie in the leading Impreza was a further 12 seconds behind McKnight unable to do anything about the pace of the two ‘youngsters’ ahead of him. And then there was Stephen Thompson. The grin was spreading wider after each stage. He was now lying fourth overall having set third fastest time over SS5, just two seconds down on McCulloch. Now that the sun was well above the horizon Shaun Sinclair had woken up. He was second quickest on that fifth stage, just one second slower than McCulloch and one second faster than Thompson. Lee Hastings rounded off the top six at this point as folk settled down for a bit of lunch and sun-bathing while the Solway Car Club crew re-set the route for the final 3 stages.

As for Nigel Feeney, he was out. The MINI Parked up in Stage 4. The car had punctured on SS3 but it was an electrical fault which stopped the beast (the MINI that is, not Nigel!) in its tracks. Also out was Richard Dickson. He only does a couple of events a year but by goad he’s usually on the pace at Solway. Not this year. He broke a driveshaft in the fourth stage and limped on, only for a second driveshaft to go, on the same side! And that was it for the day for him.

There was no let-up after lunch and McCulloch was fastest again on SS6 in dry and sunny conditions but by only a second from Thompson and 3 seconds from Sinclair. Hardie and Hastings both lost a bit of ground as the pace intensified ahead of them.

Then came Stage 7. Thompson scored his first fastest stage time by a second from Sinclair with McCulloch a full 50 seconds down. “I don’t know what happened,” said Mark, ” I definitely didn’t hit anything but we punctured the front n/s tyre. In fact, the first I knew about it was when I went to turn into a Sq Right and it just went straight on.” The flailing tyre tore through the bodywork as McCulloch kept his foot to the boards, then the rear end stepped out and whacked a tree jamming a huge splinter between the tyre and the rim. How that stayed inflated is down to just pure luck. The penultimate test also put paid to Hardie’s challenge: “While we were waiting to go into the stage, the engine overheated and shut down. Then we were called forward and we had to go and the car just stuttered off the Start line till it eventually picked up and got going again.” That was 15 or more seconds gone right away.

That put McKnight into the rally lead, but disaster struck on the final stage. The yellow Mitsubishi pulled up and parked up mid stage. The gearbox had broken. McKnight was out of the running.

Running first on the road, McCulloch set a blistering time over that last mad final thrash. Two seconds over 5 minutes, but would it be enough? Neither Hastings, Sinclair or Hardie could match it, but running car number 15, Stephen Thompson was still out there and he was only 1 second behind the rally leader at the start of that last stage. With the leading crews clustered round the coal-fired computerised results screen of Raymond and Stan, all they could do was wait and watch the numbers.

The Fiesta flew through the stage, stopped at the Finish line, then handed in its Timecard at the Final Control. The marshals walked the Timecard down the wee hill to Rally HQ where Raymond typed it in and the electronics changed the screen for all to see. Stephen had clocked a time of 5m 5secs for the final stage, 3 seconds slower than Mark. McCulloch’s fifth straight victory on this event was assured, by just 4 seconds.

That earned a delighted Thompson second overall ahead of Sinclair, Hardie and Hastings, but what a rally. What a pace.

Ian Paterson lost out on a top six: “I lost the use of 2nd gear,” he said, “it was still in there but it was getting noisy so I daren’t use it over the last three stages.” Iain Wilson had a gearbox problem too but finished 7th: “The gearbox mounting broke, and we finished with it tied in with ratchet straps and tie-wraps.” Alan Kirkaldy was first 2WD home in 8th place: “This is just my second time here, and first time on Notes,” and he seemed pretty content with that, but more importantly scored a handful of points in the Blackwood Plant Hire Scottish Tarmack Championship.

Ian Forgan was a contented 9th overall despite a brake overheating problem on the first two stages, but “the boys fixed it,” he said. Rounding off the top ten was another driver unused to Notes, Gordon Morrison, but a good result nonetheless given the pace at the front.

The second best fight of the day was in the 1600 class where Gareth White’s Peugeot 208 held off Angus Lawrie’s Corsa by 6 seconds to claim victory, although both drivers admitted to ‘offs’ and ‘spins’ on the final stage. Mind you it has to be said, Angus got a bit ’emotional’ at one point. He had just invested in two brand new tyres – and one got a bulge after the first stage. Happy days, eh?

Happy indeed, and what an event for Solway Car club’s 60th anniversary. All it needed was a few more cakes. There was nothing but crumbs left on the plates in Rally HQ. Damn it.

1 Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) 44m 21s
2 Stephen Thompson/Larry Higton (Ford Fiesta R5) 44m 25s
3 Shaun Sinclair/Jamie Edwards (Subaru Impreza WRC S9) 44m 45s
4 David Hardie/John McCulloch (Subaru Impreza) 45m 07s
5 Lee Hastings/Alistair Wyllie (Subaru Impreza) 45m 25s
6 Ian Paterson/Heather Grisedale (Subaru Impreza) 45m 36s
7 Iain Wilson/Mark Fisher (Subaru Impreza) 45m 39s
8 Alan Kirkaldy/Cameron Fair (Ford Escort Mk2) 45m 41s
9 Ian Forgan/Chris Lees (Hyundai Accent WRC) 46m 58s
10 Gordon Morrison/Calum MacPherson (Subaru Impreza) 47m 01s

11 John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Impreza) 47m 01s
12 Steve Retchless/Sasha Heriot (Escort Mk2) 47m 25s
13 Hamish Kinloch/Stuart Faulds (Escort Mk2) 47m 43s
14 Taylor Gibb/Jane Nicol (Lancer Evo8) 47m 50s
15 Murray Grierson/Mark Grierson (Impreza) 47m 50s
16 Brian Watson/Caroline Will (Lancer Evo9) 47m 57s
17 Stuart Paterson/Allan Paterson (Impreza) 48m 06s
18 Jim McDowall/Jamie McDowall (Impreza) 48m 10s
19 Gareth White/Harry Marchbank (Peugeot 208 R2 Vti) 48m 48s
20 Angus Lawrie/Paul Gribben (Vauxhall Corsa) 48m 54s

Class Winners:
Class 1, Donald Bowness/Robin Nicolson (Vauxhall Nova) 50m 42s
Class 2, White/Marchbank
Class 3, Kinloch/Faulds
Class 4, McCulloch/Hendry

Solway Coast Rally – [News & Blethers]