… Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally, Sat 23rd June …
Round 5 – 2018 ARR CRaib Scottish Rally Championship …
One word describes the 2018 ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship so far this year – unpredictable. Last weekend’s latest round, the Dunoon Presents Argyll Rally, provided the perfect example. Most of the pundits and their pre-event predictions were trounced when Andrew Gallacher and Jane Nicol blasted back into the winner’s circle for the first time since their victory on the series opening Snowman Rally round four months ago. Their Ford Focus WRC finished the 43 mile event just 5 seconds clear of the Ford Fiesta R5 of a revitalised and determined Donnie MacDonald and stand-in co-driver, Jamie Edwards. Also back on the podium were Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts proving that Mitsubishi can still cut the mustard.
But that was all to come as the cars lined up for the ceremonial start at Dunoon ferry pier on the esplanade watched by a fair few early morning spectators and shoppers. Coincidentally, what many folk didn’t realise was a that the ‘Dunoon Presents’ folk were proposing to fire a ‘cannon’ from the ramparts of Dunoon Castle to herald the start of the first car. It was actually rather loud in the still, bright morning air!
A slow starter on last month’s RSAC Scottish Rally, Rory Young was on the case from the word ‘go’ in the first stage at Glenbranter. He was 6 seconds faster than MacDonald through the opening test with three drivers all tied on third quickest behind him, Gallacher, Mark McCulloch and Fred Milne. However, the biggest shock was that Jock Armstrong was already out.
Just a few hundred metres after the stage start in Glenbranter, there was a long, long left hander. Armstrong’s Subaru drifted wide, got on to the loose gravel and swapped ends, smacking the car’s nose hard against the outside banking.
It was Young again from MacDonald through the second test at Beinn Lagan, this time by 7 seconds followed by Milne, with Gallacher and the fast improving Michael Binnie tied on 4th fastest. McCulloch was some 20 seconds off the pace with steering rack trouble – again, but Fraser Wilson was out. The Lancer picked up a front n/s puncture and the flailing rubber ripped out the wiring. Donald Brooker was a mite luckier, his Subaru punctured a rear tyre and although he kept going he got caught behind a slower car who couldn’t see him in their dust.
In the spectacular and natural amphitheatre of forested glens which comprise Argyll, drama is never far away. The rally leader disappeared in the third stage at Coire Ealt. Both front tyres on Young’s Fiesta R5 punctured. He switched to ‘road mode’ to drive out of the stage but “the car just understeered off the road and beached out in a ditch”. Meanwhile McCulloch’s luck went from bad to worse when his Fiesta R5 suffered steering failure and pitched the car into a roll and out of the rally.
And if MacDonald thought he would assume the rally lead he hadn’t reckoned without Gallacher who was quickest through here and again in the fourth test at Bishop’s Glen to pull into the lunch halt with a 2 second lead over his title rival. Freddie Milne was lying third first time out in a Subaru S12b as opposed to his usual S14: “It drives and handles the same but I’m having trouble with the brake balance,” he said. Only 5 seconds behind Milne was Bruce McCombie having a good run in the Mitsubishi Evo9: “We stopped at Jock’s accident in the first stage but he waved us on,” said McCombie, “then we stopped again at Mark’s in the third and reported the incidents at the Finish but that cost us a few seconds each time.”
And although he made it back to service, Brett McKenzie was going no further. “It was a Right2 into a Left 2,” explained Brett, “we just caught the tail end and it hooked us in, and we rolled. The ditch was bigger and deeper than we thought!
As for John Rintoul, he was going no further. The Fabia Millington had been slowed by steering and suspension niggles over the early stages and despite the tender administrations of ‘Barry Den’ it was recurrence of the starter motor problems which afflicted the car at the Speyside that caused it’s retirement.
The second half of the rally featured a re-run of the morning’s four stages with most folk reckoning they were better second time through. The first three twisty and technical and the fourth one fast and flowing and the best of the day.
Although Gallacher was fastest again through SS5 on the return visit to Glenbranter, the outcome was far from settled. John Wink pitched himself into the battle in the Hyundai R5 with second fastest ahead of MacDonald and McCombie, then in the next stage at Beinn Lagan 2, Milne went quickest while Gallacher and MacDonald tied on the same stage time with Wink again hunting down the top three.
There was nothing to choose between the top two as MacDonald went quickest through the penultimate test at Corrie Ealt 2 from Gallacher, McCombie and Wink to set up a nerve tingling finish.
Hugging the contours of Corlarach Hill high above Dunoon, the townspeople could watch the speeding dust trails through the final 6 mile Bishop’s Glen test. Going into that final test, Gallacher had a 4 second lead over MacDonald, and MacDonald blew it: “I stalled it on the start line,” he ruminated afterwards, “that’s the first time I’ve ever done that. It cost us 7 seconds and the chance of a victory. Even so, I came out of that stage buzzing, everything was great, it was a great day,” he added.
Watching from behind, Gallacher was counting those lost seconds too: “I was sitting there thinking that he’ll either go off or blitz a time,” said Gallacher, “but then I had a misfire off the line which cost me a few seconds. It was the first time the car had done that all day. It was upsetting, and kind of put me off, wondering ‘what the hell is going on here?’ but then it cleared.”
Milne was actually quickest through the final stage, but Gallacher took a second out of MacDonald to score his second victory of the year. Bruce McCombie did just enough to secure third place overall from Milne with Wink in 5th place while Michael Binnie rounded off the top six.
That means the championship points leaders have swapped places, Gallacher now has a one point lead over MacDonald with McCombie a further 7 points behind.
1 Andrew Gallacher/Jane Nicol (Ford Focus WRC) 41m 16s
2 Donnie MacDonald/Jamie Edwards (Ford Fiesta R5) +0:05
3 Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +0:32
4 Fred Milne/Abi Louden (Subaru S14) +0:34
5 John Wink/John Forrest (Hyundai I20 R5) +0:34
6 Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +0:56
7 Scott McCombie/Murray Strachan (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +2:09
8 John McClory/David Hood (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +2:22
9 Alan Dickson/Martin Forrest (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +2:25
10 Ian Baumgart/Dave Robson (Subaru Impreza) +2:29
11 Greg McKnight/Harry Marchbank (Ford Escort Mk2) +2:32
12 Paul McErlean/Niall McKenna (Ford Escort Mk2) +4:28
13 Keith Riddick/Kirsty Riddick (MG ZR) +4:44
14 Gordon Murray/David O’Brien (Ford Escort Mk2) +5:44
15 Fraser MacNicol/Andy Brown (Ford Escort Mk2) +6:32
16 Steven Wood/Mary Wood (Ford Fiesta Rwd) +6:45
17 Keith Robathan/Phil Sandham (BMW M3) +6:50
18 Barry Lindsay/Caroline Lodge (Peugeot 206) +6:50
19 Kevin Crawford/Claire Martin (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo5) +7:23
20 Tom Howie/Charlie MacKenzie (Talbot Sunbeam) +7:52
Niall Cowan Jnr/Thomas Bruce (MG ZR), Tom Howie/Charlie MacKenzie (Talbot Sunbeam) , Keith Riddick/Kirsty Riddick (MG ZR), Fraser MacNicol/Andy Brown (Ford Escort Mk2), David Cameron/Douglas Cameron (Ford Escort Mk2), Paul McErlean/Niall McKenna (Ford Escort Mk2), Greg McKnight/Harry Marchbank, (Ford Escort Mk2), Donald Carslaw/John Duke (Subaru Impreza), Binnie/Mole, McCombie/Coutts, Gallacher/Nicol