13 Jun: Granite Stages Roundup

… News & Blethers from the Granite Stages at Leuchars …

Although he didn’t finish after a driveshaft failure and a gearbox problem, Alistair Inglis was better pleased with his Lotus Exige at Leuchars. “That’s the first time it has run cleanly since the Mach1 last year,” said Alistair, “we had just fitted throttle bodies, electronic paddle shift and electronic pedals but the throttle was jamming on when braking and that was why we retired then. We’ve tried everything to find out what was causing the problem. We suspect that the Master Switch was sending a spike to the ECU and blowing it – I wish I’d stuck to carburettors!” he added. Anyway he got four competitive stages in before the transmission problems: “It’s still a great wee fun car to drive,” he said, “standard pump fuel, standard discs and brakes and doesn’t eat tyres.”

For most folk their first trip to a foreign event outside the UK might appear daunting, but thanks to his sponsors LHS Logistics, the job was made much easier for Finlay Retson. They have made all the travel arrangements for the small team to get themselves to and from the Renties Ypres Rally in just over a week’s time. He brought his Fiesta R2 to the Granite Stages at Leuchars to get some tarmac mileage in ahead of his Belgium trip for the next round of the Prestone BRC series. “This will be my first tarmac event since I left the Juniors,” said Finlay, “so today was all about seat time and trying different settings.

Speaking of our lot going abroad, there were quite a few entries from this side of the water who were in action last weekend at the Rally van Wervik in Belgium. David Bogie was there as the roads in the area are very similar to what will used at Ypres and came away with 7th place overall, a minute and 28 seconds behind CA1 Sport Fabia R5 team mate Rhys Yates. Lancastrian driver and Mull regular Daniel Harper was 12th overall in his MINI WRC just 7 seconds clear of Barry Groundwater in his Lancer, while rival Wayne Sissons who looks after Barry’s car finished 14th, 3 seconds behind his customer! Lawrence Whyte was 18th in his Fiesta R5. If you fancy rallying abroad then Belgium isn’t that far away and it’s not as expensive as you might think, and best do it now before Brexit gets in the way!

Subaru Impreza driver Harry Chalmers was co-driving for Finlay Retson after his bump testing ahead of the RSAC Scottish. “It was a soft roll,” said Harry, “but a front corner of the ‘cage came down so that’s why we didn’t start the event. I don’t know whether to look for a new ‘shell or go for something else.”

Ever the dedicated professional (!) Alan Kirkaldy fired up the Escort the week before Leuchars: “It’s six months since I last drove the car,” he said, “so I had to take it for an MOT. On the way down to the garage I had to stop at the traffic lights and then took off a bit sharply – leaving some rubber behind. I had forgotten just how quick it was.” A boy-racer at heart, eh? A lesser known fact about the winner’s efforts was the fact that he did most of the first stage driving with one hand. The catch broke on his door and he had to hang on to it with the other hand. Proving that ingenuity is the spirit of invention, he solved the problem at service – taping the door shut.

Or perhaps ingenuity comes as the result of desperation. Roy Ness was having trouble with his Fiesta which was cutting out in the stages and he had to stop, switch off and re-set each time. When he got back to Service he tie-wrapped and taped a fault identifying Code Reader to the dash so that he could see what was causing the fault – just don’t tell the Scroots. Whatever, the Heath Robinson approach worked and they finally finished 27th overall, and not last.

Although entered in the Hyundai, Ian Forgan appeared at Leuchars with a Subaru Impreza: “I bought the car without a Logbook or Passport,” said Ian, “so there was a lot of work to be done. It’s now sort of half GrpA compared to my previous GrpN car and this will be its first time out here.” He survived a two wheeling incident on SS4 when he turned in too early and too quick to a corner, hit the marker and rode up on 2 wheels. If he was expecting any screams or criticism from the left hand seat, the answer came there one: “Oh! Keep it going,” cried 14 year old daughter Sarah on her first rally with Dad, so he did. Good advice, eh?

Creeping old age can be a terrible affliction, it is said. Colin Gemmell dropped over 20 seconds in Stage 7 when he spun twice: “I got confused, I couldn’t see which way to go after it.”

Martin Page appeared at Leuchars with a new MINI in a tasteful (?) shade of orange: “I’ve built up a new car from the ex-Gary Dawes bodyshell,” said Martin, “it feels good, but there are problems with the sequential shift. It keeps sticking and I have to stop in the stage, get out and waggle a few things under the bonnet.” Wonder if he learned that from a Haynes Manual? However, it wasn’t that which sidelined the MINI: “It started selecting gears at random – and not the ones I was wanting,” said Martin. So much for autonomous cars then, eh?

Kenny Moore hasn’t had a lot of luck with the Avenger this year and the misery continued on the first stage when his newly rebuilt engine let go. There was no need to ask what went wrong, he left a trail of shrapnel when a bearing failed. Apparently the engine builder (across the water) had received a batch of faulty ‘shells so it wasn’t just Kenny’s engine that would need looking at.

The Sutherlands got stuck in SS4 at Leuchars when the Opel Manta broke its suspension on the yumps stranding the car mid stage.

Any bloke will tell you that chafing can be painful. It can also cause more extreme trouble, just ask Alan Stark. When the Peugeot broke an engine mounting the resultant movement caused an oil pipe to chafe against the bodywork and the car lost all its oil. Back at service the lads set to repairing the mounting and cutting the Aeroquip and fitting a new end, ready for action. A similar fate befell Peter Oag’s Citroen C2 when an engine mounting broke and caused the gear linkage to break. That plus a puncture and a broken anti-roll bar concluded a ‘perfect’ day!

“I couldn’t see for steam,” said Stuart Millar, when the Astra blew its head gasket on the second stage, and that was after gear selection problems on the opening test.

You have to wonder at the dedication of some rally competitors. Take Kayleigh Strachan for instance. As faither James approached the start of the first stage in the new Peugeot, there she was, strapped in, clipboard on knees – and texting furiously with both hands on her phone. “I’ve got to update my Facebook page,” she said. However, it wasn’t inattention that curtailed their activities: “It was our first time out with the car,” said James, “we’ve got an electrical problem – no spark and no fuel.”

The highs and lows of rallying were in evidence at Leuchars when young Andrew Blackwood struck trouble in the Junior Rally. He was having his best drive of the season and was leading at the half way point when the gearbox broke. Other folk might have given up and gone home but the lad had a spare ‘box in the van so the team set to, missed SS8 and had him back out for the final 3 stages. He didn’t win but full marks for effort, and you know what, he was still smiling at the end of it. Some of the ‘seniors’ could learn a thing or two from the youngsters.

We all know that F1 cars have a plank under them, so it might come as a surprise to know that Johnnie MacKay was having trouble with a plank. At one point in the stage, the cars had to cross a kerbed walkway and the organisers had laid a plank on the approach and on the exit. Even so, Johnnie’s Suzuki Alto was grounding out both times as it bellied out and scraped the kerb. It obviously didn’t slow him down, he won the Junior Rally.

It would appear that Lewis Haining has a wise and thinking head on his young shoulders, something he didn’t learn from his Dad then, eh? Compared to his previous Toyota Aygo, the Skoda Citigo is quicker: “There was a big gap between 1st and 2nd in the Aygo so when you changed up, you had to wait for it, there was no point in trying to force it. With the Skoda it’s so much better but it seems to be a bit slower than the last time I was out with it. I was having to wait for it today. I think we’ll need to take it up to Andrew Gallacher’s place and get it on the rolling road.” Even so he finished 2nd overall in the Junior Rally, but only after the tie-decider had been used to separate him, from Oliver Hunter’s Peugeot. Given the fact that they both tied at the finish, Oliver must be ruing his Stage 5 mistake: “We hit the chicane in the first stage and the door flew open, so I had to catch it,” said Oliver, “but I dropped nearly 20 seconds in Stage 5 – I just got lost in a confusing section.” A touch of the Gemmellitus then?

Speaking of youngsters, a lot of folk at rallies go out to watch the big names and top seeds but there can be just as much pleasure and fun to be had watching those at the other end of the entry list. The opening two tests commenced with a long, long, long left hander into a tighter left then right and it was good to see the big cars twitching under grip and acceleration with drivers trying to match revs, speed and grip to get round. There was no such indecision with young Martyn Douglas in the VW Polo. He was on it from the green light, and on it all the way round the left hander. As the rear end started to drift out, he stayed on it, and by the time he got to the sharp left the wee thing was way out of line, drifting round the top end of the curve – but perfectly lined up for the entry to the tight left, then it was on the brakes and round to the right. Magic. Loved it.

And finally …

Halfway round the first stage at Leuchars, the brakes disappeared on Ian Paterson’s Subaru. “My ain fault,” he said, “I hadn’t bed them in properly, the pedal went soft and I had to pump them to get any pedal at all. I think I need Viagra to keep them hard!”