19 Aug: McKenna Storms Grampian

… Grampian Forest Rally, Sat 11th August …
Round 6 – 2018 MSA ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship …

Makes you wonder if Barry McKenna doesn’t like Scotland. He visited Aberdeenshire the other weekend and spent as little times as he could in the forests before jetting off back home to his business in the USA!

Seriously though, the man was on a mission. He’s contesting the Irish Forest Rally Championship this year and jetting backwards and forwards across the Atlantic. Such is his determination to win his ‘home’ title he came to Scotland to get some more ‘seat time’.

Poor Arthur Kierans, he didn’t get a lot of time to enjoy the scenery, it all went past in a blur as the Ford Fiesta R5 set fastest time on all 6 stages on the Grampian Forest Rally.

After a hectic rebuild of the Subaru Impreza which was rolled 6 weeks ago in Argyll, Jock Armstrong and Cameron Fair scored a convincing second place overall to take maximum points in the ARR Craib Scottish Championship. Now restored to full fitness after an off-season injury Garry Pearson finished 3rd with Dale Bowen in his rebuilt Ford Fiesta R5.

McKenna was quickly on the boil from the start, catching the Scottish regulars by surprise. He was a full 10 seconds up on Armstrong on the opening 5 miler in Drumtochty. Despite his lack of recent miles and claiming that he was going to start sensibly and build up his pace, Garry Pearson was 3rd fastest, 3 seconds behind Armstrong and 2 seconds up on Freddie Milne in the Subaru. Behind these four, the two main protagonists for this year’s ARR Craib Scottish title were having their own personal set-to, Donnie MacDonald with a 3 second gap to 6th fastest Andrew Gallacher.

It was good to see Chris Collie back behind the wheel but his re-appearance didn’t last long. An electrical fire behind the centre dash panel scuppered his chances in this first stage. As for John Rintoul, he dropped well over a minute in this opening test when the Skoda Fabia Millington struck power steering trouble (again) but he kept going although out of the hunt for honours.

Only 3 drivers recorded a sub-10 minute time for the 10.5 miler at Scare Hill (in Fetteresso Forest), McKenna quickest again from Armstrong by 14 seconds with Gallacher enjoying the longer test 3rd fastest ahead of Pearson and Milne just over the 10 minute mark. Showing signs of what’s to come, newcomer Lawrence Whyte equalled Milne’s time with Reay MacKay showing strongly, 7th equal fastest with another rapid visitor from across the water Niall Devine. MacKay was lucky though, as the Focus had rumbled over a large boulder (lying in the middle of a straight on the stage,” said Reay, “we’ve bent something underneath.”

As events turned out this stage was crucial for Gallacher as his main rival for the national title, Donnie MacDonald struck trouble in his Fiesta R5. With 3 miles to go in the second stage: “We got a right rear puncture,” said Donnie, “we tried to drive out on it but spun, and then spun again when the tyre was down to the rim.”

Top Mitsubishi driver, Bruce McCombie also lost out: “We went off in SS2. We were trying too hard and just overshot a junction, and then got stuck. We dropped about 15 seconds.”

It was McKenna again over the split Stage 3 in Durris 1 with Freddie Milne in his Impreza WRC taking time out of Armstrong and Pearson. McCombie was back on the pace after his earlier misdemeanour 1 second quicker than 6th fastest Whyte. Greg McKnight was leading the 2WD brigade at this point and punctured a rear o/s tyre over the last mile so didn’t lose much time.

With a common start, the second test through Durris 2 was almost a mile longer than the first, with McKenna quickest again from Milne, cheered on by the partisan crowds at the Spectator area, but they were lucky: “We got so far out of shape on a downhill series of fast bends that I saw Patrick (Walsh) flinch, and tighten his belts,” said Freddie, “he’s normally unflappable but that’s the first time I’ve seen him do that!”

Gallacher was again quicker than MacDonald who could only manage 9th fastest while Lawrence Whyte blotted his copybook: “We just slid off on a right hander,” said the Fiesta driver, “and found a wet bit! We had to shunt backwards and forwards to get out, losing about 2 minutes.”

Setting top ten times was Michael Binnie but a rear puncture cost him dear in this test: “We were just 2 corners into the stage on a Left4 before the Split when it punctured. We had a half spin because of the puncture and had to stop and do a 3 point turn to get going again.” Fraser Wilson had cause to grin at the end of this stage: “We had a big impact on the front corner getting stopped for a Right 7” said Fraser, “It was a ‘Don’t Cut’ and I did.” This was as far as Barry Groundwater got, the Mitsubishi sliding off into a ditch and Sandy Arbuthnott saw parts of Scotland hitherto denied to him having reached as far as the end of SS4 before the centre diff failed in the Subaru powered Ford Focus.

There was no catching McKenna through the penultimate Drumtochty test, the only driver under 10 minutes for the 10.5 mile stage. Armstrong was 13 seconds slower while Pearson and Milne tied on third fastest but MacDonald was fighting back taking 10 seconds out of Gallacher, these two split by the Mitsubishi of McCombie.

It was McKenna’s to lose as the crews headed into the final 8 mile thrash in Hurlie Bog (Fetteresso), but that wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t. Pearson was only one second behind the leader, and 7 up on Armstrong.

“It was all about getting confidence in myself and the car,” said Pearson, “I said at the start if I was on the pace by the finish, that would be a result.” And it was, third overall behind Armstrong.

“If you had told me after Argyll, that this car would finish second here today, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Armstrong, “everything is new except for the two rear doors, and we didn’t put a spanner on it all day.”

As for the winner, it was a case of ‘job done’. He currently leads the Irish Forest Rally Championship and was seeking ‘seat time’ ahead of the next round, the Lakeland Stages in two weeks time: “That was dead on,” said Barry at the finish, “the stages are different over here, narrow but very fast. I really enjoyed it.”

Going into the final stage, Milne was holding third place overall, but lost out to Pearson by 7 seconds after yet another scary, high speed, two-wheeling moment, and dropped to 4th o/a. As for Gallacher, he put his “sensible head on for the last stage” and cruised through to clinch 5th place: “I didn’t have the right tyres for the conditions,” said Andrew, “but I stuck with them because I thought although they might not be best for the final two stages, they were the best option for getting no punctures.” He still managed to hold off McCombie by 6 seconds: “I just needed another 6 miles to catch Gallacher,” grinned Bruce. It was the same for MacDonald, despite setting 3rd fastest time, he was left thinking: “If only there was one more stage.” He had closed the gap to his title rival by 21 seconds over those last two stages, but it wasn’t enough and he had to settle for 7th place overall.

Also seeking ‘seat time’ ahead of next weekend’s Lakeland was Northern Ireland’s Niall Devine who finished an excellent 8th overall: “We nearly didn’t make it,” laughed Niall, “there was a Left 3 on to a Square Right over a bridge – it made the Marshals run! It was really slippy with marbles and loose chippings on the surface but I really enjoyed the 10 miler.” He finished just ahead of Michael Binnie and John Wink rounding off the top ten after a day spent on the wrong tyres: “We struggled for grip all day,” said John, “my fault, it was the wrong choice.”

Despite setting some top ten times Mark McCulloch had to be content with 11th o/a having returned to the forests with a Subaru Impreza after his fruitless forays with the Fiesta R5: “No complaints but we were lucky on the last stage when we hit a big bump and the car reared up on two wheels – I like my air!”

Top 2WD runner on the day was Mat Smith’s Ford Fiesta R2 scoring a remarkable result for the wee car in 21st place o/a after the Escort Mk2 of Greg McKnight broke its clutch on the final stage when he was holding15th place overall.

1 Barry McKenna/Arthur Kierans (Ford Fiesta R5+) 41m 30s
2 Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Subaru Impreza) +0:56
3 Garry Pearson/Dale Bowen (Ford Fiesta R5) +1:11
4 Freddie Milne/Patrick Walsh (Subaru Impreza WRC) +1:14
5 Andrew Gallacher/Jane Nicol (Ford Focus WRC) +2:01
6 Bruce McCombie/Michael Coutts (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +2:07
7 Donnie MacDonald/Jamie Edwards (Ford Fiesta R5) +2:14
8 Niall Devine/Liam McIntyre (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) +2:51
9 Michael Binnie/Claire Mole (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) +3:00
10 John Wink/John Forrest (Hyundai i20 R5) +3:04

Class Winners
Class1, Scott Peacock/Robin Neil (MG ZR)
Class 2, James Campbell/Kevin MacIver (Talbot Sunbeam)
Class 3, Mat Smith/Giles Dykes (Ford Fiesta)
Class 4, John O’Kane/Meghan O’Kane (Ford Escort Mk2)
Class 5, Duncan Ferguson/Alex Murphy (Ford Escort BDG)
Class 6, Bobby Mitchell/Hannah Cessford (Ford Fiesta)
Class 7, Willie Stuart/Peter Carstairs (Ford Escort Mk2)
Class 8, Gordon Murray/David O’Brien (Ford Escort Mk2)
Class 9, Niall Devine/Liam McIntyre (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo)
Class 10, Jock Armstrong/Cameron Fair (Subaru Impreza)
Class 11, Barry McKenna/Arthur Kierans (Ford Fiesta R5+)


Grampian Rally – [Fastest Stage Times]
Grampian Rally – [Class roundup]