11 Mar: Knockhill Blethers

… Knockhill Blethers …

There wasn’t a rally car in sight at the recent Strathpuffer 24 hour Mountain Bike Race but there were four weel kent faces underneath those weird cycling helmets. Donnie MacDonald, Andrew Falconer, Scott MacBeth and Jordan Black comprised the 4 rider team ‘Peaky Bikers’ which took part in the World’s only 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race held in Winter Conditions. The venue was the woods up behind Contin to the north west of Inverness where the route comprised a loop of forest trails, tracks, burns and moors. Oh and a few of other things like snow, frost, ice and 17 hours of darkness. Nutters. The lot of them. But they did awfy well. The three boys and the ‘ol’man’ finished 46th out of 139 four-person teams. Apparently their pre-event and on-event preparations were the envy of many as Donnie had taken his service van and rally car marquee offering full catering services, heating and shelter for the squad whilst most other folk shivered working out the back of their cars.

Speaking of other sports, there was another champion visiting Knockhill – and offering a bit of encouragement and moral support to his ol’man! Having won the Scottish Curling Championship last month, Grant Hardie is off to Las Vegas at the end of this month for the World Championship. Maybe he needs to give his Dad some tips about sliding on ice! Just bring back the trophy Grant.

Taking an interest in what was going on at Knockhill was the carless Alan Kirkaldy. He hadn’t entered his Escort Mk2 as he was planning to contest the Donington Rally at Donington Park race circuit the following weekend. “I was supposed to do the Jack Frost Stages in Peter Smith’s Ford Fiesta R5,” said Alan, “but that didn’t come off because of the weather so the plan was changed to do Donington instead. I didn’t want to wheel out the rear wheel drive Escort for this and get comfortable, and then jump into the 4WD car next weekend.” As things turned out he didn’t get to Donington either. It was snowed off.

Grant Construction Knockhill Stages rally winner John Marshall reckoned he was lucky to make the start line at all. “The oil pipe fractured at the Snetterton Stages last weekend,” said John, “it sprayed hot oil on to the exhaust and it ignited. The on-board fire extinguishers didn’t put the fire out but thankfully the Marshals were able to finish the job with their hand-helds.”

Third placed Lee Hastings had a bit of luck too at Knockhill. Both kinds, good and bad. The good luck happened when he and son Cole survived a two wheeling incident with the Subaru: “I clipped one of those big tyres which launched the car up on two wheels,” he recalled, “and all I could hear over the intercom was ‘Dad! Dad!’, but it was fine.” Earlier he had an electrical problem, but it wasn’t actually the ECU which was at fault. That was down to a wiring problem. It appears that some of the terminals had not been properly crimped by the car’s previous owner allowing intermittent contact. The boys found a few more loose ends when they were fault finding so the car will need to undergo a complete check before it’s next outing in Ireland in a couple of weeks’ time. So they were keen to point out that the Steve Simpson built ECU performed faultlessly.

Just missing out on the podium was Donnie MacDonald. Having recovered from his mountain biking adventure, he brought the Lancer out at Knockhill and finished 4th. “That was the first single venue rally I’ve finished,” he said, “normally when I do one of these I break something but the car was fine. That was a great day. I lost it on the first stage, too cautious, that was the difference.”

First time out in the ex-Marshall Skoda Fabia, John Rintoul’s debut was curtailed on the first stage when the car slid off and got stuck. “The paddle shift failed and I had to switch to manual operation and I just got caught out going into a corner when I got two gears instead of one. I went off and got beached on the only hole at Knockhill.” Nephew Graeme Rintoul didn’t get much further. The Fiesta’s engine seized!

The Adam family were out in force at Knockhill with the two boys, Kyle and Connor in the 1600 Escort competing under the watchful eye of faither Gary and grandpops Gordon. Kyle did Crail last year but didn’t get far when the gearbox failed so this was his first proper run out. Times were good until the penultimate test when they dropped over 3 minutes. Meanwhile, Gordon is still wearing his ankle ‘boot’. He snapped his Achilles tendon at Crail last year. Ouch!

Without wishing to insult him, Chris McCallum is a couple of spanners short of a toolbox. That’s not actually a euphemism, but at Knockhill the Escort was suffering a wee oil leak from the top of the gearbox. The only way to get at it was to hacksaw the ends off a couple of spanners to be able to reach it without dropping the ‘box out. Explain that to the warranty man at Snap-On.

Keith Robathan appeared at the Knockhill Stages with his latest rally weapon, the ex-Jimmy Knox 3 litre BMW coupe. Having bought a (well) used 1600 BMW to do the Mull Targa Rally late last year, Keith got a taste of cheapo rallying, hence his latest choice. “I’ve rebuilt the suspension and fitted a new LSD,” said Keith, “but the biggest difference compared to the Escort is that the BMW runs 18 inch wheels so I can buy used WRC tyres at a fifth of the price of my Escort tyres.” After 5 stages, Keith and Phil Sandham were lying 27th o/a but on the next test the clutch failed.

4th in class was a disappointment for MG ZR driver Stuart Thorburn. “On the first stage we clipped a tyre and spun off, but at least we were able to get back on and keep going,” said Stuart, “we had been chasing another car at the time. He clipped it and we just missed it, but when we came back round again on the second lap it had been moved again so we couldn’t miss it this time. That cost us about 30 seconds.”

Non-finisher Sean Will was forced out with clutch failure in his Lancer. “We clattered a tyre on the first stage and got a puncture,” said Sean, “and did the second stage with no brakes. But when the clutch pivot point sheared off the gearbox that was us out for good.”

Peter Oag’s rally was curtailed when he clobbered a tyre marker too. The Citroen snapped a steering arm and although Peter had a couple of spare ends, he had no spare shaft. End of story.

On only his second event as a driver, Martin Watterston was happy just to finish despite doing the last stage with the Subaru’s exhaust held in place with a trailer ratchet strap.

Steven Alexander failed to finish in his Saxo when he clipped a tyre marker, broke a track rod end and ended up amongst the trees.

And finally …

If you thought rally driving was easy, think again. For sure, all you do is sit down and press a few pedals now and again, push and pull a stick or flick a paddle while turning a spoked wheel around with two hands every so often. You don’t even need to concentrate on what you’re doing or where you’re going because someone is sitting beside you and telling you. What could be easier? Best have a word with Iain Wilson before you decide. The former Nova and Impreza pilot was having his first run out in a RWD Escort Mk2. “That was really hard work in the twisty sections,” he said afterwards, “hanging on to the steering wheel and it kept kicking back. On the hilly part of the stage it was corner after corner, this way and that way. I was knackered. That was much harder than I expected. A point echoed by concerned co-driver Chris Williams: “All I could hear over the intercom was ‘Pech .. Pech .. Pech .. and even more Pechs’!”