04 Dec: Dramatic Knockhill Finale

… Beatson’s Building Supplies Knockhill Stages Rally, Sun 3rd Dece 2017 …

Knockhill. December. Vests and long socks. Layers and thermal jackets – and the sun shone. Who’d have thought it? OK, so it wasn’t exactly warm, but the competition made up for that. Part of the new Motor Sport News Circuit Rally Championship this was the only Scottish round and although entry numbers were disappointingly low, they ensured that the on-track action kept interest levels high among the surprisingly high number of spectators.

One thing the event didn’t lack was drama, just ask Josh and Tamsyn Davey. They led the Beatson’s Building Supplies Knockhill Stages from first stage to last – almost. The Darrian stopped dead in its tracks half way round the final stage. The gearbox had jammed solid going from 4th to 3rd.

The pair had already survived a heart stopping incident just a few moments before when the Darrian boiled over waiting in the queue to start the final stage, prompting Tamsyn to leg it back to service to get some water to top up the radiator. The crew missed their starting slot but were still within their Lateness allowance as the wee rocket sled hit the track. Only for relief to be dealt a vicious blow when the transmission locked up denying them a well deserved victory. And yet the pair of them were in remarkably good humour at the finish despite the prospect of a return trip home, in the cold and the dark – all the way back to Cornwall! That’s near France by the way.

Their despair handed Chris West and Keith Hounslow a surprise victory in their impressively rapid Peugeot 306 Maxi. It looked a right twitchy handful at times in the slippery and greasy conditions, especially in the first stage. They stopped the clocks third quickest on the day’s opening test, one second behind Alan Kirkaldy and Don Whyatt in the Mk2.

Wet sorted that out in the second stage, 5 seconds quicker than the red Escort and thereafter set off in pursuit of the Darrian – till the final run in the gloaming.

Meanwhile, Nigel Feeney and Paula Swinscoe were gathering speed after a slow start: “I thought I’d be smart,” said Nigel, “I actually had a set of ice tyres in the garage and put them on for the first two stages!” Wrong move. He was 15 seconds off the leader’s pace on the first one and 9 seconds down on the second, but a change of tyre for 3 & 4 and the MINI WRC was back in the hunt. At the halfway point Nigel was up to 4th and knocking on the Escort’s boot lid just 5 seconds down.

There was nothing Alan could do as the MINI used its superior traction to sweep past but if Alan thought, he was still in with a shout for the final podium step, young Taylor Gibb had other ideas. He and Jane Nicol were a lowly 11th fastest on the first stage of the day in ‘The Sheriff’s’ Lancer but by half way were up to fifth behind the MINI.

Taylor equalled Alan’s time on the 5th test, took 10 seconds out of him on the 6th, another 5 on the 7th and then on the final test – he punctured a front tyre. “I didn’t realise at the time,” said Taylor, “it was only when we saw fibreglass flying off the front n/s wing we realised, but it didn’t cost me any time.” Even so, his final stage was still one second quicker than Alan and third place overall was his.

John Marshall was well pleased with 5th having finished the first stage in 10th place in the Subaru: “I just wanted to finish ahead of John Stone, to get the points in the MSN Championship,” he explained, “he was 6 seconds quicker than me on the first stage and after that I just kept chipping away at his times.” The plan worked, and he clinched 5th place by 13 seconds from Stone in the 2.5 Fiesta.

If folk needed a reason to be cheerful in the brisk, cold air, James Gibb duly obliged. The white Lancer with the pink wheels was sideways on the approach to the hairpin, sideways round it, and sideways out of it. Who needs brakes when you can just scrub off speed going sideways? “I switched all the drive and the bias to the rear,” said the bold James, “I don’t really like 4WD!” Marvellous entertainment, simply marvellous.

On his first visit to Knockhill, Ian Woodhouse finished 8th in his 2.5 Mk2 and relieved to have survived the slippery experience intact.

Ross Marshall was 9th in his Escort remarking: “With the brand new Knockhill tarmac surface I think it was actually slippier today than it was the last time we were here in January – on the ice!”

Rounding off the top ten was Mark Kelly denying Tom Blackwood a top ten finish. Benjamin Smith finished 12th in his Renault Clio but one of the drives of the day surely came from Graeme Rintoul in his less than sophisticated Ford Fiesta. He finished just 8 seconds behind the rapid Renault in his somewhat elderly device.

In another ‘drive of the day’ were the Arbuthnott twins, the Subaru engined Focus almost behaving itself as it finished 18th. I say ‘almost’. The car lost reverse gear in SS6 and jammed the ‘box but as Sandy and Ian rocked it back and forwards to get it on the trailer to head for home, it freed itself. That was enough for Sandy: “Come on Ian, let’s have a go at this yet.” And they did, making the last two stages on time and finishing with a top 20 result.

In the third ‘drive of the day’ Ashleigh Morris, second time out in her Fiesta R200 finished in 21st place and second in class behind the Mazda MX5 of Paul Sheard.

Andrew Gallacher failed to finish when the Focus’ gearbox failed and Ross Hunter was up to his usual giant killing antics until an errant tyre marker had the temerity to get in his way and he punctured the Peugeot’s radiator. Jim Sharp had to withdraw the Lancer when Craig took unwell and Seven Hay was well in command of Class A until the Corsa’s gearbox broke. Until that point, the Corsa provided one of the sights of the rally snapping at the tail end of an Impreza like a wee terrier chasing the postman. he caught up with him at all the corners and chicanes only for the Subaru to get away again on the straights.

Spectators were denied the sound of Kieran O’Kane’s mellifluous V6 Ascona when a valve collar broke and he wisely called it a day and Kevin Mathers was going well in the Peugeot 205 until fire broke out. That sounds more dramatic than it was but Kevin had felt the car spluttering as he started the 6th test. However, when smoke started appearing round the bonnet edges and through the tunnel it was time to stop, quickly. Hopefully there’s not too much damage done. Alistair Haw was another going well setting some good times in the Peugeot 309 till the gearbox broke on the last stage, just when a finish was in sight!

Neil Coalter was perhaps the first casualty of the day. First time out in the awfy smart Puma, he struck a truck tyre stage marker and almost knocked a front wheel off, marooning him mid stage till rescued during the break after SS2.

The final ‘casualty’ was one Donnie MacDonald Esq, or Donnie ‘the Tree’ MacDonald. He incurred a maximum time penalty on the second stage of the day when he tried to straight-line an ‘S’ bend on the twisting hillside section of the stage. According to Donnie: “I was told the line to take but I think I should have been more in the middle of the line, maybe I was too far to the left. Whatever, I got all four wheels on the grass so couldn’t steer or brake and the car spun – into a tree.” A tree? At a race circuit? Surely only one man could find a tree on a race circuit! Anyway, no real damage and ace co-driver Harry Chalmers was un-injured with Donnie adding: “I actually walked the stage myself and wasn’t sure of the line, but then again it was dark when I walked it!” There’s no answer to that.

This was the third round of the MSN race circuit based championship and it provided enjoyable entertainment with all of those taking part saying it was good and spectators heading home relatively motor sports sated. But is it ‘rallying’? I’m not really sure. There are those who are keen to promote such ‘rally events’ as they are held on a site or at a location where spectators can be controlled. And this is the biggest threat hanging over British, and indeed, world rallying. If the sport cannot ensure the safety of its spectators, regardless of who is to blame, then the authorities will seek to severely curtail one of motor sports’ last great sporting spectacles and challenges.

At the rally finish Chris West was understandably delighted with his victory but he paid an honest and special tribute to early leader Josh: “This was my first visit here,” he said, “I really enjoyed it and I’m delighted to have won, but I couldn’t get anywhere near that Darrian. Josh really deserved to win today. No doubt he’ll try and get me back at Brands Hatch.”

Top Ten:
1, Chris West/Keith Hounslow (Peugeot 306 Maxi Kit Car) 2300cc, 44m 49s
2, Nigel Feeney/Paula Swinscoe (MINI Countryman WRC) 1600cc, 44m 56s
3, Taylor Gibb/Jane Nicol (Mitsubishi Evo) 1998cc, 45m 01s
4, Alan Kirkaldy/Don Whyatt (Ford Escort Mk2) 2499cc, 45m 07s
5, John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza) 1998cc, 45m 15s
6, John Stone/Shona Hale (Ford Fiesta) 2500cc, 45m 28s
7, James Gibb/Charley Sayer-Payne (Mitsubishi Evo) 1998cc, 45m 29s
8, Ian Woodhouse/Jason Leaf (Ford Escort Mk2) 2494cc, 45m 59s
9, Ross Marshall/Denver Rafferty (Ford Escort Mk2) 2000cc, 46m 08s
10, Mark Kelly/Andy Baker (Ford Escort Mk2) 2500cc, 46m 42s

Class A: Up To And Including 1400cc
Aaron Rix/Rob Cook (Ford Ka) 51m 34s
Class B: 1401cc & Up To And Including 1600cc
Paul Sheard/Bruce Lindsay (Mazda Mx5) 49m 26s
Class C: 1601cc & Up To And Including 2000cc
Ross Marshall/Denver Rafferty (Ford Escort Mk2) 46m 08s
Class D1: 2001cc And Above – 2-Wheel Drive
Alan Kirkaldy/Don Whyatt (Ford Escort Mk2) 45m 07s
Class D2: 2001cc and above – 4-wheel drive
John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza) 45m 15s