08 Mar: Marshall Takes the ‘Hill

… Grant Construction Knockhill Stages Rally, Feb 25 …

John Marshall and Scott Crawford came out on top at the Grant Construction Knockhill Stages Rally, but the pressure on the winners was unrelenting. At the half way point of the 8 stage event, David Hardie and Mark McCulloch were just 5 seconds behind. As things turned out, even that wasn’t enough. Ian and Alan Paterson finished 2nd with Lee and Cole Hastings in 3rd place. Three Subaru Imprezas in the top three places. It’s a long time since we’ve seen that.

Who’d have thought it? Mid winter in Scotland, and sunshine at Knockhill. Admittedly, it was pretty weak sunshine, but there was snow the week before and snow predicted the week after. And there we were high in the hills with the sun glinting off the tower tops of the Forth Road Bridge and Queensferry Crossing.

OK, it didn’t last long and it was certainly cold on arrival, and bitter by the end of the day, but it was dry. However, the big uncertainty ahead of the first stage concerned the amount of ice that glistened on-track as the top seeds approached the Start line.

Running first car on the road was therefore a serious disadvantage to the top seed John Marshall. “There was ice all the way round the track,” said John, “and I had to decide whether to follow the tracks left by the Course Cars or take the ‘proper’ racing line and drive on the ice!”

Marshall’s exploratory run was therefore a very cautious affair, and yet he shared second fastest stage time along with the Subarus of Ian Paterson and Gordon Morrison. Five seconds faster than these three was the Mitsubishi Lancer of Number 9 seed, James Gibb, while John Rintoul was on the case too. First time out in his Skoda Fabia Millington he was only 4 seconds adrift of the second fastest stage time. First of the front runners to fail was Kenny Moore. The Avenger’s engine poked a con-rod through the block.

As the weak and watery sun rose into the clear blue sky, conditions improved for the second stage with Marshall and Hardie equal fastest. Gibb and Hardie shared the second fastest time, but of Morrison and Rintoul there was no sign. “I found the only hole at Knockhill and just slithered into it on the ice,” said John, “no damage but there wasn’t enough grip to get it out.”

Morrison’s retirement was rather more worrisome. Great plumes of white smoke erupted from the far side of the track where cars left the circuit for the hillside. The Subaru had smacked a gatepost, damaging the front corner. Oil dripping on to the manifold caught fire and it took more than the on-board system to put the flames out as Marshals had to rush in with their hand-helds. “It looked worse than it was,” said Gordon, “but it’s bad enough, we’ve bent a chassis leg too.”

Conditions were much improved for the 3rd stage with some cars even kicking up dust on the gravel section, but Gibb lost the rally lead. Naturally he blamed his tyres and claimed it had nothing to do with playing to the gallery! The Lancer’s full broadside attack on the Hairpin, and well held all the way round, was spectacular to watch warming up the cockles of spectator cold hearts. He dropped 20 seconds with the spin: “The tyres were going off,” said James, “and when I spun off I had to reverse out, that was what cost the time. It was understeering into the hairpin, that’s why I had to throw it in.”

Hardie was quickest over Stage 4 nipping back 3 seconds on Marshall, but Ian Paterson was still on the boil just 2 seconds slower than Marshall’s second fastest time.

With 4 stages gone, Marshall was leading at the half way point, but by only 5 seconds from Hardie. Ian Paterson was 3rd a further 7 seconds back ahead of James Gibb and Lee Hastings who was now on the move in his Subaru after a cold start. Rounding off the top six was Willie Paterson. First time out in over 12 years, he was using Brian Watson’s Lancer and was showing worrying signs of enjoying himself. Donnie MacDonald actually shared the same total as Willie P but was 7th ahead of the top 2WD car, the Escort of Tom Blackwood which was now setting some stirring times as conditions improved.

On the first stage after lunch, Hardie snatched back 5 seconds on Marshall. They were now tied for the rally lead. Ian Paterson was only a second adrift while Hastings and MacDonald matched times setting 4th equal fastest.

Hardie snatched the rally lead on SS6, taking 6 seconds out of Marshall with Paterson and Hastings sharing equal third fastest stage time with the Beatson’s Subaru. Getting in on the act now was Donnie MacDonald who actually set the second fastest time on this 6th test.

50 seconds covered the top five as they headed out to the penultimate stage where the rally lead changed again. This time Marshall was on top. Head down and tuned in he was fastest by 4 seconds from Hastings. Donnie MacDonald was next up ahead of Tom Blackwood and Ian Paterson. As for Hardie, he had dropped 17 seconds to the new rally leader: “It just cut out on me in there, twice,” said David, “but it fired up again and we finished the stage.” When the yellow Subaru came into service the boys had a good look round, but there was no obvious fault so the beast was fired up and went out for the final thrash.

Marshall sat in the pre-start area. Windows up, helmet on and looking neither to right nor left. He had a lead of 11 seconds over Hardie. Surely that was enough? Should he go for a steady run and hope, or should he just go for it and risk it?

Full marks to him, he went for it: “That was some f’n run on that last stage,” he said, “that was inch perfect. I tried to match my time on the previous stage – and took 5 seconds off it. That was the icing on the cake today.”

Hardie was up for the challenge, but the car wasn’t. On the final test, it hiccupped again mid-corner, clipped a tyre marker and slid off the road just 100 yards short of the finish line.

That promoted Ian Paterson to second place overall running his Subaru with the same rear tyres all day. “I only had four softs for the front,” said Paterson, “and two wets for the rear. The car was sliding about quite a bit – but it was good fun.”

Lee Hastings therefore scored a surprise third: “If it hadn’t been for a wiring problem on the first stage, I might have been more in the mix,” he reckoned.

Just missing out on the podium was Donnie MacDonald. “I was far too cautious on the first stage, I dropped half a minute to the other boys, that was just too much to pull back.”

Gibb recovered from his earlier indiscretion to take 5th overall with Tom Blackwood rounding off the top six and scoring top 2WD in his Escort. First time out in his new Mk2, Iain Wilson was 7th despite driving through a fence: “It was nothing to do with Chris (Williams) it was all down to me,” said Iain, “the road went left and I went right!” Willie Paterson’s rallying return was rewarded with 8th overall and that was despite a tattered front n/s corner after bowfing a tyre chicane on SS5. However, the grin at the finish would suggest that he’s not yet finished with rallying having just re-started.

Scoring a mighty impressive 9th overall was the 1400 class winning Vauxhall Corsa of Joe Cunningham. The North of England Tarmac Championship leader said: “I had no intention of doing the full championship, but I felt I just had to come to Scotland after winning the first two rounds, and I’ve won the class again!” Stephen Bethwaite finished second in his Nova while top local was Martyn Douglas in his VW Polo a further 8 seconds behind Bethwaite. Martyn was more than happy with that as the new Polo is still taking shape in the workshop.

Completing the top ten overall was the 1600 class winning Vauxhall Nova of Stevie Irwin winning the class by 8 seconds from Michael Harbour’s Citroen C2. “It might have been closer than that,” admitted Michael, “I clattered the tyre chicane on the Start/Finish straight on SS6. I just couldn’t get it stopped in time. It all seems intact although some parts of the grille are missing.”

Finishing just outside the top ten in 11th place was Class 3 winner Chris McCallum having a tentative run-out: “The engine was rebuilt after the Pendragon,” said Chris, “the inlet manifold was porous and losing water so that has been fixed too. We had a wee oil leak after SS4 today and have been keeping an eye on that. It’s coming from the top of the gearbox so it’s hard to get at.”

1 John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza) 41m 56s
2 Ian Paterson/Alan Paterson (Subaru Impreza) +00.34s
3 Lee Hastings/Cole Hastings (Subaru Impreza) +00.50s
4 Donnie MacDonald/Alison Horne (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +00.58s
5 James Gibb/Paul Tonner (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8) +01.08s
6 Tom Blackwood/Gordon Winning (Ford Escort Mk2) +01.46s
7 Iain Wilson/Chris Williams (Ford Escort Mk2) +)1.46s
8 Willie Paterson/Euan O’Neill (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) +02.01s
9 Joe Cunningham/Marc Fowler (Vauxhall Corsa) +02.05s
10 Stevie Irwin/Ian Middleton (Vauxhall Nova) +02.51s

11 Chris McCallum/Richard Stewart (Escort Mk2) +02.54s
12 Michael Harbour/Ian MacDougal (Citroen C2 R2 Max) +02.59s
13 Terry Clarke/Ronnie Roughead (Escort Mk2) +02.59s
14 Willie Beattie/Steven Beattie (Escort Mk2) + 03.24s
15 Robert Marshall/Lewis MacDougall (Escort Mk2) +03.33s
16 Ross McFadzean/Shona Hale (Impreza) +03.41s
17 Ross McCallum/James Ralph (MG Maestro) +0355s
18 Michael Robertson/Murray Milne (Honda Civic) +04.00s
19 Harry Chalmers/Andrew Logan (Impreza GC8) +04.04s
20 Adam Hanner/Wayne Wood (Peugeot 205 GTI) +04.29s
21 Alan Wallace/Darren Robertson (Lancer Evo) +04.48s
22 Stephen Bethwaite/Ann Forster (Nova Sport) +04.54s
23 Simon Cole/Steve Waggett (BMW E30 325i) +04.55s
24 Martyn Douglas/Thomas Purvin (Volkswagen Polo) +05.02s
25 Larry Carter/Tony Walker (Peugeot 206 XSi) +05.06s
26 Finlay Brock/Phil Shaw (Fiesta ST) +05.24s
27 Stuart Thorburn/Rowena Hey (MG ZR) +05.26s
28 James Thomson/Sean Douglas (Nova) +05.31s
29 Fraser Smith/Ian Parker (Civic) +05.50s
30 Mark Thompson/Phil Kenny (Peugeot 206 GTI) +06.15s

Class Winners:
Class 1: Joe Cunningham/Marc Fowler (Vauxhall Corsa)
Class 2: Stevie Irwin/Ian Middleton (Vauxhall Nova)
Class 4: Chris McCallum/Richard Stewart (Escort Mk2)
Class 3: Tom Blackwood/Gordon Winning (Ford Escort Mk2)
Class 5: John Marshall/Scott Crawford (Subaru Impreza)