29 Oct: Cheviot Stages – Report

… Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally, 28th Nov …

Otterburn. A 93 square mile malevolent patchwork of heather, grass, tarmac and water. And even snow. It’s not a set pattern either. It changes throughout the day. Yesterday there was a distinct feeling that somebody ‘up there’ was constantly shuffling those patches throughout the day. It made for unpredictable conditions and uncertain outcomes.

In such treacherous conditions, it was no surprise that a third of the entry didn’t make it to the finish of the Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally. Even the winners, Peter Taylor and Andrew Roughead had a lucky escape. Two corners after the start of Stage 10 (out of 12), the Fiesta crested a brow as the sun was setting, momentarily blinding the oncoming drivers: “I was going too fast,” admitted Peter, “and I just caught the sun and the tail stepped out. We were sideways for 40 yards or more, another 10 degrees of steering lock and I might have got away with it.” As events turned out, he didn’t quite get away with it, smacking the co-driver’s door against a traffic sign – a 30 limit sign!

In second place, and showing some signs of emotion, were Jason Pritchard and Phil Clarke in the Ford Focus. When Daniel Harper spun off and out of the fray in the MINI, all they had to do was finish to clinch the 2018 Protyre MSA Asphalt Rally Championship title. And the emotion? That was down to a family memory: “My Dad finished 2nd in the Championship to John Price 30 years ago on a tie-break decider ere at this very place, Otterburn,” said Jason, “he always seemed to be the bridesmaid, so it’s nice to have the Pritchard name on the trophy at last!” There was luck here too when the Focus overshot a junction on the same stage as Taylor, but didn’t strike any road sign – Peter had already removed it!

It is said that good things happen in threes, hence Gordon Morrison and Calum MacPherson’s excellent third place in the Subaru: “We hit water on a corner in SS4 and spun off,” said Gordon, adding, “we actually cleared a ditch and landed in a field. How we got back on I don’t know!” He was even luckier than that. During the lunch break service halt, the boys were having a good look under the car and spotted a crack in the front sub-frame. They just managed to source a genny big enough to power their welding equipment and got the car fixed in time to carry on ahead of a proper repair when they get back home.

Stephen Simpson finished 4th in the Fiesta, but he too admitted to a healthy slice of luck: “We had two complete 360s in Stage 4,” said Steve, “just like everyone else!” Completing the top six was the Gallowegian Subaru double-act of David Hardie and Mark McCulloch. Initially David led Mark by 3 seconds after the first three stages, then it rained and Mark got in front by two at the lunch halt.

“Those first six stages were as slippy as anything I’ve ever been on,” remarked David. A telling statement from such an experienced driver. As it dried (a relative term you understand) in the afternoon David got back in front with just 13 seconds separating the close friends and rivals by the finish. Mind you, Mark might have been a bit closer had it not been for two punctures, but not just any punctures, these were M&S punctures: “The tyres exploded,” said Mark, “they didn’t just hiss and go down, they went bang.”

Paul MacKinnon was having a run out in the Buckley RHD Fiesta ahead of next month’s Pokerstars on the Isle of Man and finished 7th but would have fared much better had it not been for a driveshaft failure on the first stage. Then on the stage before lunch he snapped a steering link, but managed to get back to service for repairs.

From a personal viewpoint, the ‘star of the rally’ finished in 8th place. Barry Lindsay in the 1600 class winning Peugeot 106 was scintillating to watch in the wet and treacherous conditions. He even set a 3rd fastest time on the second run over the Riverside road. Co-driver Caroline Lodge must have nerves of steel, or none at all, or maybe just shuts her eyes when the pocket rocket is in full re-heat mode.

There was another ‘star driver’ too. Rounding off the top ten behind 9th placed Lee Hastings was Keith Robathan in his taxi. The BMW looked like a wild refugee from the sales rep’s car park but it did the business: “We had a problem during the blizzard,” said Keith, “when the screen misted up and we had no intercom over the first loop of stages.” As for Lee, he had Number 1 son Cole on the Notes (No.2 was on the spanners!) on his first serious ‘Note rally’ so a cautious approach was called for. That was another surprise, the words ‘cautious approach’ and ‘Hastings’ don’t normally feature in the same sentence, but 9th place was a good result for the youngster on such a technical event.

Other good results included 11th placed Graham and Owen Malthouse in the family Lancer while Welshman Rhidian Daniels finished 12th o/a and 2nd in class behind Lindsay in his butch looking Citroen C1. The secret here is under the bonnet where lurks a 1600cc Vauxhall unit: “More power for less money,” said Rhidian.

Drew Gallagher appeared in the Subaru and was rewarded with 13th while Ricky Wheeler was happy with 15th: “After my problems with the ‘good’ engine,” said Ricky, “I dug out the old Pinto from under the bench. It was originally built for my son Mark 14 years ago, and it didn’t miss a beat today.” Ross McCallum was 18th in the MG Maestro while James Thomson finished just outside the top 20 in 21st place with the Nova and Michael Harbour was 23rd in the C2 despite missing a bridge. How do you miss a bridge? You sail straight past the 90L on to it with brakes locked and wheels locked. But don’t ask me about Cobble Shop Scottish Tarmac Championship points. Even Davie Hatrick couldn’t help me out. In fact, the points scoring system here would defy Merlin.

Alex McClelland got a good result finishing 25th in the Chevette and newcomer David McIntyre seeded number 94 did well, finishing 36th o/a in his Nova. Malcolm McDougall wasn’t far behind in 44th place in his Nova and Robert Cumming 48th in the Astra. Adding to the Scottish presence was Louise Thomas and she finished in 50th place in her Mini as this event counted towards the Mini Sport Mini Cup and Mini Sport Junior Mini Cup series. Shannon Turnbull’s co-driving career took another step forward with a successful outing alongside Joel Simpson in a Nissan Micra. They finished an excellent 32nd o/a although the Nissan was missing a few bits of bodywork by the finish.

Nearly half the entry didn’t make it to the finish, including top seed Damien Cole who was just one among many who took an uncharacteristic trip into the scenery, the Focus finding a particularly boggy field in the 6th test in which to come to rest. Michael Glendinning was also choosey about where he parked the Subaru: “I came over a crest to find cars off all over the place,” he recalled, “so I just had to go for the biggest gap I could find. The sumpguard grounded and launched us over a ditch.”

This was the same place that caught out Daniel Harper: “We came over the crest at about 80mph,” said Daniel, “and that was after braking 50 yards earlier than usual because of the conditions. The car snapped left, then right, got a wheel on the grass and that was it. The scary thing was it speeded up on the grass and we took out a post and carried it across the field!”

And there was more, much more. Ian Paterson retired the Subaru with a broken engine mounting on SS7 while the Grierson boys cowped the Subaru in SS11. Stevie Irwin sailed straight on at a 90R in SS4 spinning into a field and ripping a rear wheel off the Nova while Edward Todd retired the GTM with head gasket failure. Kenny Moore and Richard Wardle had a ‘biggie’ in SS11 with Richard taken to Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital just down the A696 in Cramlington for a check-up, although the Avenger will need rather more serious attention! Alan Wallace was out with a rear diff problem in the Lancer and Greg Inglis was going well till the Lotus smacked a bale and damaged the radiator. The Dalgliesh boys retired the Subaru with an oil leak and Willie Beattie Jnr had a nasty one when the Escort got two wheels on the grass along Riverside. The car snapped round and spun back across the road to end up on its ear in the river. Fortunately a very small and shallow river.

Michael Robertson didn’t even make the first stage when the Honda developed a fuel blockage on the way from service to the start of the first stage. Dirty fuel was the cause but by the time they got it cleaned out they were OTL. Colin Smith had a woopsie with the Vauxhall Astra going straight on at a 90R and smacked a sign post, although he got going again only to retire later with an electrical fault. Cameron Craig was another early retiral when the Peugeot stopped dead 500 yards into SS1. The master electrical ‘kill’ switch failed and by the time they got it fixed they were OTL. Martyn Douglas and Thomas Purvin had a serious ‘off’ avoiding previously stricken cars with Thomas also being carted off to Hospital for a check-up. The Polo was none too healthy after it either, and Graeme Sherry was out with a burst radiator in the Honda Civic despite the heroic efforts of one Graham Provest Esq who attempted a temporary fix. He inserted a wheel stud into the hole and fired it in with a powered wheel gun! It worked – for a while!

1, Peter Taylor/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta WRC) 48m 38s
2, Jason Pritchard/Phil Clarke (Ford Focus WRC) 49m 04s
3, Gordon Morrison/Calum MacPherson (Subaru Impreza) 49m 40s
4, Stephen Simpson/Patrick Walsh (Ford Fiesta) 50m 11s
5, David Hardie/John McCulloch (Subaru Impreza) 50m 53s
6, Mark McCulloch/Michael Hendry (Subaru Impreza) 51m 06s
7, Paul MacKinnon/Rob Fagg (Ford Fiesta) 52m 05s
8, Barry Lindsay/Caroline Lodge (Peugeot 106 GTi) 53m 05s
9, Lee Hastings/Cole Hastings (Subaru Impreza) 54m 25s
10, Keith Robathan/Ken Bills (BMW M3) 54m 49s